Report: Charter schools are becoming more inclusive

student in a wheelchair in a classroom writing
Charter Schools More Inclusive

Despite their reputation for excluding students with disabilities, charter schools are improving their special education efforts, according to a report [PDF] released November 10 by the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools.

“To date, much of the discussion regarding the extent to which charter schools serve students with disabilities has been driven by anecdotes and single cases,” the report states. “The purpose, historically, was to advance an agenda either for or against charter schools as a construct, as opposed to credible data or a commitment to ensuring that students with disabilities are guaranteed their right to a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment in every public school across the country.

“Our secondary analysis of the Civil Rights Data Collection stands as the first comprehensive examination of the status of students with disabilities in charter schools compared to traditional public schools according to: enrollment; service provision; and, discipline….”

For the report, the Center examined data from the 2011-12 school years from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. It found that 10.42 percent of all students enrolled in charter schools nationwide receive special education services, compared to 12.45 percent for general education schools.

This enrollment gap is narrower than that reported in 2012 by Government Accountability Office, which found just 7.7 percent of charter school students receive special education services, compared to 11.3 percent in the public school population. That report examined data from the 2009-2010 school years.

Further, the Center found that charter and general education schools have near identical student suspension and expulsion rates. In both categories, about 13.5 percent of special education students are suspended and 0.5 percent are expelled.

“The discipline data confirm that students with disabilities are disproportionately disciplined in both types of schools but appear to challenge perceptions that charter schools discipline students with disabilities notably more than traditional district schools,” the report states. “Regardless of school type, the discipline data are disconcerting given the significant protections in place and the long-term negative impact of discipline on at-risk-students.”

In regard to the actual education provided, the report found that charter schools, in fact, provided a more inclusive curriculum. In charter schools, 84 percent of special education students spend 80 percent of their time in general education classrooms, compared to 67 percent in public schools.