How Personalized Learning Models Can Meet the Needs of Students with Disabilities: Thrive Public Schools Case Study

By: Stephanie Lancet

The Center for Reinventing Public Education contracted with NCSECS to conduct case studies on school models and practices that effectively serve students with special needs. This brief highlights how a San Diego charter school network is using personalized learning to meet the needs of its students with disabilities. The other case study, How School Culture and Support Systems Can Improve Disciplinary Outcomes for Students with Disabilities, examines Mott Haven Academy Charter School in New York City and the impact of its positive school culture and behavior support systems on disciplinary outcomes.

About Thrive Public Schools and Its students

Thrive Public Schools is an independent charter public school network in San Diego founded with a unique vision: to build a school that adapts to each individual student and ignites passion for learning and self-confidence. The network enrolls higher percentages of students with disabilities and English language learners compared to the city and the state. Thrive students are in the top 1 percent nationally for reading growth, and in 6 out of 10 grade levels, its students are meeting or exceeding national math growth targets.

What makes personalized learning work well for Thrive’s students with special needs?

Key aspects of the charter school network’s model include the following:

  • Students with disabilities are fully included in general education. There is no discernable distinction between students receiving special education services and students who are not.
  • Teachers use technology-based education programs to supplement instruction and develop data-driven individualized support that benefits all students, particularly those with disabilities.
  • All teachers receive training about special education and learn effective strategies for meeting individual student needs. Special education teachers work alongside general education teachers and share responsibility for all students, not just those with disabilities.

NCSECS researchers conducted document reviews of both publicly available and privately shared resources; interviewed school administrators, teachers and staff, students, and families; and observed educators and students in action. The case study reflects school visits and data from Thrive’s three campuses in the fall of 2017.

How School Culture and Support Systems Can Improve Disciplinary Outcomes for Students with Disabilities: Mott Haven Academy Charter School Case Study

By: Stephanie Lancet

The Center for Reinventing Public Education contracted with NCSECS to conduct case studies on school models and practices that effectively serve students with special needs. This brief highlights how a New York City charter school is using a positive, inclusive environment and restorative discipline practices to improve outcomes for students with disabilities. The other case study, How Personalized Learning Models Can Meet the Needs of Students with Disabilities, highlights Thrive Public Schools in San Diego and its personalized learning model.

About Mott Haven Academy and Its Students

Mott Haven Academy is an independent charter public school in New York City serving pre-K through 6th grade. It is the first school in the nation designed explicitly to focus on the specific needs of children in the child welfare system; 49 percent of its students are in the foster care system or considered at risk of placement in foster care. Haven Academy provides wraparound services to its families through partnerships with several child welfare agencies and community-based organizations that provide housing, medical, and mental health supports.

What makes Haven Academy’s school culture and behavior supports work well for students with special needs?

Key aspects of the academy’s model include the following:

  • Admissions and enrollment processes proactively include and support student populations at risk of being marginalized, including students with disabilities.
  • Teachers and school leaders address behavior with methods tailored to individual students, which preemptively deter behavioral issues and incorporate opportunities for intentional reflection and growth.
  • The school culture and behavior supports are infused with social-emotional learning and address individual needs of students as shaped by their lives beyond the classroom.
  • Students learn in a restorative environment that is safe, stable, structured, and understanding, particularly benefiting students with disabilities by fostering full inclusion.

NCSECS researchers conducted document reviews of both publicly available and privately shared resources; interviewed school administrators, teachers and staff, students, and families; and observed educators and students in action. The case study reflects school information from the 2017-2018 school year.

New York City’s Brooklyn Laboratory Charter Schools: Supporting Students with Disabilities via a Robust Teacher Pipeline and Personalized Instructional Strategies

By: Stephanie Lancet

As part of its effort to share best practices with the special education community, The National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS) identified several public charter schools across the country as “Centers for Excellence” and is communicating how each school uniquely leverages its autonomy to benefit students with disabilities. Here is a spotlight on one of them.

Brooklyn Laboratory Charter Schools (Brooklyn LAB), a New York City charter network with four growing campuses, serves students from 6th to 9th grade. Aiming to personalize educational experiences and unlock all students’ potential and strengths, Brooklyn LAB leaders explicitly and intentionally integrate their commitment to serving students with diverse learning needs into the mission, vision, and practices of the school. While Brooklyn LAB offers an enrollment preference to students with disabilities (via its lottery weighting formula), it does not operate as a school solely dedicated to special education, instead striving to enroll a natural proportion of students with disabilities compared to its surrounding district. To achieve this, the school utilizes a dual approach in removing barriers that often stand in the way of the learning of all students, and particularly the learning of those that learn differently: a robust teacher pipeline and a combination of personalized instructional practices.

To effectively sustain its commitment to inclusion and its culture of individualization, Brooklyn LAB utilizes a system of teacher staffing structures that cultivates a supply of special education teachers capable of effectively implementing key school instructional and philosophical techniques. This intentional, internal pipeline improves the recruitment, induction, and retention of teachers by offering individuals the opportunity to progress through four talent-development levels. Made possible in part by this staffing structure, Brooklyn LAB provides a robust combination of evidence-based personalized instructional practices that intentionally meet the needs of students with diverse learning needs. The students receive whole class, small group, and one-on-one instruction, as well as additional support from technological learning platforms that individualize and monitor student progress.

The robust teacher pipeline and personalized instructional practices support the school’s commitment to inclusive success, as demonstrated by comparing student growth and performance on statewide ELA and Math exams to the NYC District and community District. To learn more about Brooklyn LAB and its approach to serving students with learning differences, read our full case study here.

In case you missed them, check out our profiles on Denver's Cole High School and Indianapolis’ Paramount School of Excellence.

Students with Disabilities Continue to be Disciplined Twice as Often as their Peers

Analysis of CRDC Data Finds That Charter School and Traditional Public School Discipline Rates Remain Similar From Two Years Ago; Report Also Finds That Contrary to Public Opinion, Charter Schools Enroll Students with a Range of Disabilities and That Students Are Served in More Inclusive Settings

Washington, DC – A new report released today by the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS) finds that students with disabilities continue to be disciplined twice as often as their peers and that charter school and traditional school discipline rates remain similar to what they were two years ago.

The report, Key Trends in Special Education in Charter Schools: A Secondary Analysis of the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), is a follow up to an analysis completed two years ago, offering a direct comparison on what has changed in the areas of enrollment, placement, discipline and specialized schools.

Today during a panel discussion featuring education leaders, experts and advocates in Washington, DC, NCSECS Executive Director and co-founder Lauren Morando Rhim stated, “The data shows that while we’ve made slight improvements and are headed in the right direction, we have a lot of work to do to improve supports and services for students with disabilities in both charter schools and traditional public schools.  Every student deserves high quality learning opportunities, including students with disabilities.  We must improve, and that starts by collecting the hard data and using it to inform policies and spark more efficient collaboration between education leaders at the federal, state and local levels.”

Key Findings from the report include:

  • Suspension Rates overall are twice as high for students with disabilities: Although the suspension rates are down, charter schools (12.28%) and traditional schools (11.56%) suspend students with disabilities at a rate approximately twice as high as the average suspension rate for all students (6.61% for charters, 5.64% for traditional schools).  This is slightly lower than two years ago (7.40% charters, 6.88% traditional).
  • Expulsion Rates were slightly lower than two years ago: The expulsion rates for students with disabilities vs. students without disabilities were 0.39% vs. 0.18% for charter schools and 0.51% vs. 0.23% traditional public schools. This lower than reported in 2011-12 at 0.55% vs. 0.25% for charter schools and 0.46% vs, 0.23% for traditional public schools.
  • Traditional public schools continue to enroll more students with disabilities than charter schools: The enrollment gap still exists, as traditional public schools enroll 12.46% students with disabilities and charter schools enroll 10.62% (up from 12.55% and 10.42% respectively).
  • Charter schools are more inclusive: Charter Schools are serving students with disabilities in more inclusive settings, as 84.27% of students with disabilities in charter schools were educated in the general education classroom for 80% or more of the day compared to 68.09% in traditional public schools (slightly up from two years ago at 84.11% and 66.85% respectively).
  • Charter Schools Enroll Students with a Range of Disabilities: Contrary to popular belief, charter schools are enrolling and educating students with a range of disabilities including students with autism, emotional disturbance, intellectual disabilities, developmental delays, speech and language impairments, and other health impairments.

Morando Rhim added, “We believe that data is critical and in conducting the respective analyses, our goal is to provide federal and state policy makers as well as practitioners and researchers with a solid foundation for a more productive examination of the issues in an effort to drive changes that could discernibly benefit students with disabilities.

Checkout the full report here.

On President Trump's Proposed Budget for Fiscal Year 2019

“The billions of dollars in proposed cuts to the education budget is troubling, particularly when services and supports for students with disabilities are already significantly under-funded.

We need to increase recruitment and training of teachers for students with disabilities and increase IDEA funding levels. The proposed budget cuts do neither.

“And while we are pleased to see that charter school programs are a priority, it is critical that any investments in school choice ensure that these programs support students with disabilities and rights conveyed by IDEA.”