Federal report: Charter schools enroll fewer students with disabilities than traditional public schools

The Government Accountability Office issued a 46-page report on charter schools and students with disabilities, finding that charters enrolled a lower percentage of students with disabilities than traditional public schools in 2008-2009 and 2009-2010.

Nationwide in 2009-2010, students with disabilities represented 8.2 percent of all students enrolled in charter schools. In traditional public schools, students with disabilities accounted for 11.2 percent of students.

In the prior year, charter schools enrolled 7.7 percent of students with disabilities, compared with 11.3 percent in traditional public schools.

In Georgia, charter schools had 2 percent fewer disabled students than traditional schools, according to the GAO report, which was based on federal Department of Education data.

GAO draws no conclusions in its straightforward report about why this disparity exists, noting:

Against the backdrop of a growing and changing charter school landscape, we found that enrollment of students with disabilities in the aggregate is lower in charter schools than in traditional public schools.

Whether these enrollment differences will persist or continue to narrow is difficult to predict, given the lack of information about factors underlying these differences and how they affect enrollment levels. By issuing guidance that raises awareness about the practices that might be perceived as an attempt to discourage enrollment, officials in the states we visited have already begun to take steps to forestall the possibility that charter school admission practices play a role in lower enrollment levels in charter schools.

However, the guidance Education issued in 2000, while important in providing basic information to charter schools with respect to students with disabilities, does not provide more detailed information on the acceptability of specific admission practices under applicable civil rights laws. Moreover, while Education sponsored research several years ago that pointed out problems in charter school admission practices, we believe that the study’s findings do not adequately address the range of possible factors affecting enrollment raised in our report.

For its report, the GAO visited 13 charter schools and interviewed staff, writing:

Officials representing about half of the 13 charter schools we visited said that having sufficient resources to serve students with more severe disabilities, including providing a self-contained classroom when needed, was their greatest challenge. For example, two officials said that their school facility could not provide a self-contained classroom. A third official explained that providing a self contained classroom is especially challenging because of the need to provide separate classrooms for each grade grouping as well as teachers.

Thus, if a school had 3rd and 4th graders requiring self-contained classrooms, they would need to have space to accommodate two separate classrooms. The official said that the charter school would not have enough teachers to cover those different grade levels. According to representatives of charter school organizations we interviewed, providing services to students with severe disabilities can be very costly and some charter schools could face severe financial difficulties serving students with very severe disabilities.

Charter schools that cited insufficient resources as a challenge included both charter school LEAs and charter schools within a district. Other resource challenges school officials cited included the cost of specialists’ services, and obtaining staff qualified to serve their students’ needs, such as a bilingual special education teacher or a specialist to teach an autistic child. However, two charter schools within a district said that, because the district provided all services needed, the cost of services was not a challenge. Both charter schools were located in the same school district.

–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

89 comments Add your comment

Poor Boy from Alabama

June 27th, 2012
5:02 am

MD,

The GAO report is essentially a big, fat “nothing burger”. The differences between charter and traditional public schools noted in the report are small and the number of charters reviewed was too limited to draw any meaningful conclusions about the differences. The US Dept. of Education says as much in the comments section of the report (Appendix IV)..

http://www.gao.gov/assets/600/591435.pdf

One has to wonder why the GAO even bothered to issue the report.

There are those who claim that charters cherry-pick their students, but they won’t find any ammunition in this report.

Enjoy your vacation!

Fed Up

June 27th, 2012
6:39 am

“Charter schools enroll fewer students with *** than traditional public schools.”

1) That sentence works for disabled students, minority students, ESL students, etc. Charter schools make it known up front that students AND parents need to be more involved — responsible for their own education (e.g., mandatory volunteering). Some people can’t / won’t do that.

2) Add to that the tiny amount of money that they receive, and it becomes completely unrealistic to expect extraordinary accommodations. Fulton County receives $9000 / student. Our charter school received $3,500 / student one year. If you ask me, it’s barely enough to run the place. I would think that most reasonable parents would recognize the limitations and self-select themselves out of that situation.

mountain man

June 27th, 2012
6:43 am

“Federal report: Charter schools enroll fewer students with disabilities than traditional public schools”

No Sh*t, Sherlock! And if you look at private schools, you will see that they enroll even less. Why do you think they “look better”.

mountain man

June 27th, 2012
6:45 am

“Our charter school received $3,500 / student one year.”

That probably is what the public schools spend on the average student if you take out the “special” educations.

The formula is highly skewed – $3500 for a “normal” student, $30,000 for a SPED student – average – $9000.

mountain man

June 27th, 2012
6:47 am

“There are those who claim that charters cherry-pick their students”

Of course they do! Just making parents apply to get their kids into a charter school is a filter. Let alone any other requirements.

Poor Boy from Alabama

June 27th, 2012
7:08 am

Fed up and mountain man,

I suggest you check out what the National Center for Education Statistics (part of the US Dept of Education) says about charter schools:

http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=30

The percentage of charter schools that were high-poverty schools—where 75 percent or more of students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL)—increased from 13 percent in 1999–2000 to 30 percent in 2008–09. In comparison, 19 percent of traditional public schools were considered high poverty in 2008–09. During this time period, the percentage of charter schools that were low poverty (25 percent of students or less were eligible for FRPL) decreased from 37 to 24 percent.

Does that sound like cherry picking to you? Keep in mind that the US Dept of Education says there are minimal differences in the percentage of students with disabilities at charter schools vs. traditional public schools.

US Dept. of Education data does not support the contention that charter schools cherry pick their students.

Poor Boy from Alabama

June 27th, 2012
7:18 am

Fed Up and mountain man,

Use this link if you want to compare minority student enrollment numbers for charter schools vs. traditional public schools:

http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d06/tables/dt06_097.asp

This data from NCES also shows higher percentages of minority students at charter schools than at traditional public schools.

Make your case with facts and figures from credible sources if you still feel that charter schools cherry pick their students.

Mountain Man

June 27th, 2012
7:21 am

You can always cherry-pick the best of the poor students, the ones who have a mother who cares about education, leaving the dregs behind in the public schools.

Charter schools are specifically created to avoid some of the “onerous” regulations associated with regular schools. That is the reason they exist.

Howard Finkelstein

June 27th, 2012
7:25 am

Oh brother. Here comes more of the “Fairness Doctrine” and with it the attempted destruction of something that works.

“But Mommy, its not fair.”

Jessica

June 27th, 2012
7:35 am

Why is it a surprise or a problem these specialized learning environments are not set up to cater to the wide range of special needs that exist? It would be ridiculous to expect them to do so.

Looking back over the topics of the past few weeks, I’m starting to think this blog is being used to wage a campaign against charter schools…

BC

June 27th, 2012
7:37 am

And the victory goes to….Mountain Man!

m

June 27th, 2012
7:41 am

God, the AJC writers are pathetic. Crap article with skewed descriptive statistics just to generate blog hits.

Mountain Man

June 27th, 2012
7:46 am

“Make your case with facts and figures from credible sources”

Check out this link to the Charter of the Ridgeview Charter School in Sandy Springs:

http://school.fultonschools.org/ms/ridgeview/Documents/Charter/RCS%20Renewal%20petition%202010%20FINAL%20FCS%20Approved%20042211.pdf

Specifically look at the Waivers stating on page 54. One such requirement that this charter school has is mandatory parental involvement, including membership in the PTA and ten hours of service work.

This certainly sounds like cherry-picking to me.

Mountain Man

June 27th, 2012
7:50 am

It is not that I have a problem with charter schools, especially charter schools that address issues that public schools seem not to want to address: attendance, discipline, parental involvement (homework). I just can’t understand why public schools don’t address these issues.

old school doc

June 27th, 2012
8:03 am

Sometimes I wish the powers-that-be would just admit that this is what happens and , instead of denying it, claim it as such.

Why not, in each area of town, have a school for kids /parents who care (of whatever SES level) and have strict rules about how a child may stay at that school? And in each area have schools loaded with extra help/support/ more teachers for kids whose parents, for whatever reason, cannot be involved in their kids education.

As it is, families of all SES/races do not want their kids’ education hijacked by litigious kids/parents who disrupt class, who do not really care about education, and who expect all to only try for the minimum. They flee– to charters, to homeschool, to privates.

I wonder what would happen if bright children/families were given a choice, what would they choose: a. a school with strict entry recs/ attendance/ parent involvement/ high expectations, but with perhaps fewer of the extras,
OR
b. a school that caters to kids who may have troubled home lives, educational deficits, behavioral problems, that is chock full of support services and teachers/therapists, etc? This choice would of course be a smaller school, but with higher per pupil expenses.

I would gladly choose the former.

Lee

June 27th, 2012
8:03 am

“Charter schools enroll fewer students with disabilities than traditional public schools”

So what?

“In traditional public schools, students with disabilities accounted for 11.2 percent of students.”

I wonder how many of those “disabilities” would be cured by a good diet, exercise, and sunshine? Quite a few, I would wager….

Poor Boy from Alabama

June 27th, 2012
8:23 am

Mountain Man,

The traditional knock on charter schools is that they only take the best students. Data from the US Dept of Education shows that charters have higher percentages of low income and minority students and about the same percentage of students with special needs as traditional public schools so that argument goes out the window.

You seem to be saying that charter schools somehow manage to get the best of the low income students, as if that would offset the overall demographic advantage traditional public schools enjoy.

I’m not familiar with Ridgeview Charter in Sandy Springs, but I’ve worked in charter schools in several states. I can assure you that most charters have to compete with traditional public schools for students. Very few of them have the luxury of rejecting potential students. Most welcome the opportunity to serve any and all students.

What parents often find appealing about charter schools is that they welcome and encourage their involvement. I’ve been in a K-8 charter school that had a “Grandparents Week” where students and grandparents went to class together. Many grandparents flew in from around the country to participate. Have you ever seen a public school do that?

Charters have boards that often include parents with children enrolled in the school. While they have to comply with the same regulations and have to meet the same standards as public schools, charters usually have more flexibility when it comes to work rules and other aspects of their operations. Teachers and other staff members often find the resulting environment invigorating. Students and parents usually like it too. That’s the difference between charters and traditional public schools, not selective admissions.

atlmom

June 27th, 2012
8:43 am

So what? Who cares? Are charters doing better for our kids? That should be what matters. Or should we just accept crappy public schools because they are more ‘equal’? Is that *really* what we want?
If another type of school is doing better for a whole bunch of children – shouldn’t we celebrate that? Rather than try to knock it down with idiotic numbers that are meaningless?
If parents choose to send their kids to charters…that means that parents are deciding that they like them better than the public school. What is so bad about that? I think we can all agree that public schools are failing *all* children in this country – incredibly. For anything to be even slightly better – shouldn’t we applaud that? Shouldn’t we want that?
And then if the public schools do serve kids with disabilities better – shouldn’t that be where they should go?

Mountain Man

June 27th, 2012
8:44 am

“Most welcome the opportunity to serve any and all students. ”

Does that include the discipline problem students? Does it include students who miss school 40 days a year because their parent (mother) is too lazy to get them up? Does it include the SPED student that requires a full-time nurse to be with them and change their diaper, whose education runs a cost of $30,000 per year?

mark.

June 27th, 2012
8:44 am

This state spending per a capita is near the bottom. If this continues, we will be reading more stories about Atlanta’s business future being hindered. At some point, large companies will not be able to attract workers due to our educational system. Every dollar spent on Education, makes $5 of growth in the future. If our elected officals would fully fund QBE, instead of saying, ” oh well, not enough money”, local govt’ make cuts” Then we would have plenty of cash for charter and public. until these elected “so called leaders” get their act together, this blog will be a slam on charter schools, since they do take money out of the states funds and send it to Florida.

EduKtr

June 27th, 2012
8:45 am

So the enrollment difference here in Georgia is only 2 percent? Why are we even talking about this? Just another excuse to stand in the school doorway and block parental choice?

Just a taxpayer

June 27th, 2012
8:59 am

Mountain Man: Go back to school. Your stated “average” of $9k per student isn’t an average. The formulas for cost per student are more complex than your understanding.

Using self selection as a mechanism for weeding out students/people with disabilities is a common practice in child care and other businesses. What’s a parent to say when the administrator says “your child probably won’t get the – attention/education/be safe/etc. – he needs here at the ABC Charter School.” No parent of a child with a disability is going to send their child someplace they won’t prosper.

Public educator

June 27th, 2012
9:05 am

This is precisely the reason there was a huge lawsuit in Georgia over charter schools–Gwinnett County and other counties sued (and won) over having to give up their limited tax revenue to charter schools like Ivy Prep that, as some of you have called it, “cherry pick” their students. Ivy Prep in particular may take low-income students and minority students, but they refuse to provide special education services, so they do not admit students with disabilities. That’s why Gwinnett refused to approve their charter initially. After the supreme court ruled that the state could not override local control to approve charter schools last year, Ivy Prep applied to Gwinnett County again, and Gwinnett approved them and offered a per student funding amount for regular education students. Ivy Prep turned down the offer because they wanted the same per student funding the rest of Gwinnett County schools receive, which is ridiculous since they do not provide the same services (transportation or special education). They just wanted to “have their cake and eat it too.”

RCB

June 27th, 2012
9:13 am

Some disabilities are obvious, but I have to wonder what the guidelines are that make this such a fast-growing demographic. We really have THAT many disabled kids??

Fed Up

June 27th, 2012
9:14 am

I looked through the first 10 pages, trying to find a definition of “disability.” Is it physical? Is it medical? Is it psychological? (I personally feel that most of these ADHD diagnoses are bogus, especially for boys. We need to let boys be boys, if we ever expect them to grow up to be real men.)

Most charter schools I know don’t offer transportation and don’t have hot lunch cafeterias (i.e., pack your lunch every day), so that feeds into the “parent involvement” differential as well.

Maureen Downey

June 27th, 2012
9:17 am

@Fed up, Keep going. Toward the end of the report is a chart with a list of disabilities.
Maureen

Poor Boy from Alabama

June 27th, 2012
9:29 am

Mountain Man @ 8:44

The short answer to your question is yes, most charter schools welcome any and all students, including those with a variety of disabilities. Go to Figure 7 in Appendix III of the GAO report:

http://www.gao.gov/assets/600/591435.pdf

It shows that the differences between charters and traditional public schools are modest across all disability types:

Gotta’ run. Life calls!

NTLB

June 27th, 2012
9:36 am

@mountainman–Ridgeview Charter School’s student population is mostly African-American, HIspanics and ELL students. I have worked there, trust me on this, there is no cherry picking going on there.

As for the required parental involvement, what is on paper and what really happnes are two different things.

Fed Up

June 27th, 2012
9:55 am

I looked at the chart in Appendix III. The percentages look neck-to-neck to me, across all categories. Sometimes public schools had more enrolled students, sometimes charter schools. I’m sure if you ran a “margin of error” calculation (especially given the 40-to-1 difference in sample sizes), they would be statistically equal.

T-Square

June 27th, 2012
9:58 am

Holy crap Batman! It is such a horrible thing (to read Mountain Man’s comments anyway) to expect a student’s parent(s) to be involved with their child’s education. Let me guess, you think packing your kids off to the government to be babysat is a better solution? Do you not think that parents should be involved in their children’s educations? Now, I realize that people work, but if you’re going to take on the responsibility of having a child, shouldn’t you also be able to take on the responsibility of playing an active role in that child’s upbringing and education?

Jarod Apperson

June 27th, 2012
10:06 am

@Mountain Man. Since charter schools, by nature, are a really diverse bunch, it is difficult to make statements about the group as a whole. Lots of things vary from school to school. But I don’t think the notion that most charter schools succeed by simply cherry picking students whose parents care is supportable. Look at cities with high numbers of charter schools and you will see that its not just a couple of parents applying to the lotteries. In central Harlem 75% of parents are applying for a spot in a charter school.

I think all parents want their children to have a great education, and some charter schools have done an excellent job of raising the bar and letting parents know from the beginning (kindergarten) what is expected of them if their child is going to succeed.

Caroline Hoxby of Stanford University did an interesting study that showed students who won a charter lottery outperformed students whose parents also applied for the lottery but weren’t selected.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/22/education/22charters.html

teacher&mom

June 27th, 2012
10:13 am

Research seems to consistently show that charter schools and traditional public schools basically produce the same results. You have rock star charter/traditional schools and you have subpar charter/traditional schools. Since the data supports that neither one is better or worse, supporters of traditional or charter will cherry-pick the data to support their side.

So here goes some “cherry-picking” on my part:

Charters tend to be small. There are exceptions, New Orleans for example, but most are small schools. I like small schools. A Lot. However, small public schools are constantly fighting consolidation. We’d rather house way too many students in a small university setting, pack them into large classrooms, and pat ourselves on the back for the “economic” savings. We don’t or won’t listen to naysayers who protest that large schools are not necessarily in the best interest of child…especially high-needs learners. One one hand, the public willing supports a small charter school but on the other hand, resents public tax dollars supporting a smaller traditional school. Why?

Charters don’t have to provide transportation. This is a huge expense. The state currently funds around 12% of transportation costs. Local districts have to pick up the other 82%.

Charters are not always held to the same accountability standards. I once worked for a charter school and AYP was determined by EOCT scores and not GHSGT. Given the nature of the charter, we also did not have to worry about attendance. Flexibility is a good thing. It allowed the charter school to better address the unique needs of the population we served. The public school in the same district was not given the same freedom.

Charters can require parental involvement. Public schools can not. I suspect the charters with strong parental involvement are also strong schools. Charters that struggle with parental involvement probably struggle to meet AYP goals. Same with traditional schools.

Perhaps the discussion should not be charter vs. traditional. Perhaps the discussion should be about flexibility and funding.

old school doc

June 27th, 2012
10:18 am

teacher&mom–
Well put.

T-Square

June 27th, 2012
10:21 am

teacher&mom – Charters don’t have to provide transportation. This is a huge expense. The state currently funds around 12% of transportation costs. Local districts have to pick up the other 82%.

Out of curiosity, who picks up the other 6% of the cost?

Jarod Apperson

June 27th, 2012
10:22 am

@teacher&mom. All good points. I especially agree with you on the flexibility charter schools have to demand parental involvement. It’s a huge advantage, and it would be great if there was a way to give traditional schools similar flexibility.

teacher&mom

June 27th, 2012
10:25 am

@T-Square: LOL…I should never attempt simple math before my first cup of coffee. Thanks for catching my error. :)

T-Square

June 27th, 2012
10:26 am

I was going to make a snarky comment hoping you didn’t teach math, but decided I shouldn’t be a butt this early in the day. :)

KWDMom

June 27th, 2012
10:37 am

Quote from NTLB: ” Charter School’s student population is mostly African-American, HIspanics and ELL students. I have worked there, trust me on this, there is no cherry picking going on there. ”

I hope you are out of the education field. The fact that you chose the race (AA and Hispanic) and then said there is not cherry picking is simply appalling! Your statement insinuates that if a school is made up of mostly African-Americans and Hispanics then they don’t have many bright students. White does not equal “cherries”. As a Hispanic woman who teaches middle school, I believe and know that race does not determine intelligence. I’m glad you no longer work there and I hope you don’t ever work in another education field. Having that prejudice already in your mind will set up those minority students to fail because YOU believe they will fail.

teacher&mom

June 27th, 2012
10:49 am

Here’s an example of flexibility:

A neighboring school district decided to become a charter district. I pulled up their charter on the web and was very impressed with their plans for the high school. They have been given a great amount of flexibility regarding seat time, academic credits, and standardized testing. This flexibility spills over into “how” the students earn credits. More students can participate in dual-enrollment, work-based learning, on-line learning, etc. Their charter has three or four different options for students to complete high school. There is still accountability. However, the district was able to tailor the accountability to better meet the goals of their charter.

The “one-size-fits-all” is replaced with flexibility to meet the needs of a diverse student population.

My question is this: Why must a district/school become a charter in order to implement innovation? Does anyone know the answer?

EduKtr

June 27th, 2012
10:52 am

@KWDMom: Let’s leave your own race-baiting rhetoric out of the conversation, shall we? Unless you want to open your eyes to the motives of African-American parents THEMSELVES in fleeing the inner-city.

T-Square

June 27th, 2012
10:53 am

teacher&mom – I’m going to guess because of state/federal regulations, and as much as people here aren’t going to like it (and I do realize that there aren’t “real” teacher’s unions here, but there are close approximations) teacher’s unions/organizations and their lobbying power with the state/federal government to keep those regulations strong.

KWDMom

June 27th, 2012
10:59 am

@ KduKtr: It wasn’t at all race baiting. The only thing NTBL wrote to show proof that they weren’t cherry picking was RACE. Can you read?

Jarod Apperson

June 27th, 2012
11:01 am

@teacher&mom. I’m not completely sure what the answer is on that.

When it comes to charter districts like the one you mentioned, I think T-Square is right. The change to charter is a way to remove regulations which currently exist.

When it comes to individual charter schools within a district, they naturally have more flexibility because each parent has specifically elected to attend that school rather than being zoned for it. If they don’t like the programs at that school, they still have their zoned school as an option. I think the fact that parents have an alternative makes it easier for charters to implement whatever programs they think work. If you were to implement the same programs in zoned schools, the program would be pushed down on parents rather than elected. I imagine that change in dynamic would cause more pushback, even if the programs had been shown to work.

EduKtr

June 27th, 2012
11:10 am

@teacher&mom: The plethora of restrictive and special needs mandates placed upon school districts accepting federal funding—are in too many cases promoted by teachers’ unions to support their goals: jobs for life for their members with little of no accountability when it comes to product, and the broadening of the Democratic Party’s base by way of increasing dependency on government.

But dismal results, especially in the inner-city, has caused friction with a major Party constituent—black parents. Hence, charter schools came about as an attempt to ward off even greater reform.

EduKtr

June 27th, 2012
11:18 am

@KWDMom: You may choose to ignore the consensus opinion of black parents fleeing inner-city schools—but please leave self-righteousness out of your arguments. I’m sure the rest of us are perfectly able to read NTBL’s comments in context.

Beverly

June 27th, 2012
11:31 am

Charter schools are bastions of blatant discrimination – choosing only the brightest non-disabled students (mentally, physically, or behaviorally). Certainly this elitist class of students will excel on standardized tests, giving charter schools an unfair advantage will comparing their scores to public schools.

T-Square

June 27th, 2012
11:43 am

TIL that smart children, with good parental supervision and quality teachers have an “unfair advantage” when it comes to taking tests. Who would have thunk it?

living in an outdated ed system

June 27th, 2012
11:53 am

@Maureen, you keep trying to find any article that will fulfill your agenda of bashing charter schools. Let me tell you and your readers something. I am JEALOUS. What am I jealous at? I’m jealous at Delaware. There’s a reason why Delaware won the national Race to the Top competition. Have you or your readers seen Vision 2015? When I read it, all I kept saying was, “Why can’t Georgia do this?” They found a way to get all of the stakeholders to buy off on a common strategic roadmap. I don’t think Georgia is capable of doing that, and as long as Georgia continues to blame the lack of funding for not innovating years ago, I have no problem with giving charter schools some fuel and provide some alternate school design models for our state’s children. They may not all be stellar schools, but I can practically guarantee they will graduate more qualified students.

I truly hope we can reform our public schools in Georgia. After all, I am a public school graduate, but will always enroll my children in a school environment where real learning is taking place, and where I know they will hone the skills they need to get the jobs that haven’t even been created yet.

I love teaching. I hate what it is becoming...

June 27th, 2012
11:54 am

Okay. I don’t get it.

It seems every time teacher complain about standardized testing, merit pay, unfunded mandates, increased accountability measures, etc. we are told that we NEED all those regulations in public schools to insure teachers are doing their jobs properly, and that it is the “unions” that are fighting against such regulations being implemented.

Now, when a teacher asks why charter schools can have more flexibility and opt out of mandates and regulations when traditional public schools cannot, she is told that it is the “unions” that are insisting those strong regulations remain in place.

So which is it?

teacher&mom

June 27th, 2012
12:15 pm

“The plethora of restrictive and special needs mandates placed upon school districts accepting federal funding—are in too many cases promoted by teachers’ unions to support their goals: jobs for life for their members with little of no accountability when it comes to product, and the broadening of the Democratic Party’s base by way of increasing dependency on government.”

Any chance you can provide a few examples that are the direct result of teacher unions? *with appropriate citations…..of course*