Building Stronger Advocacy for Students with Disabilities in Charter Schools

National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools Awarded $1.2 Million by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

October 19, 2018 (NEW YORK)  -- The National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS) will expand its advocacy capacity for students with disabilities with the support of a $1.2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Because students with disabilities are chronically under-served, NCSECS will leverage its unique perspective, expertise, and robust data to improve the educational opportunities and outcomes for students with disabilities in the growing charter sector and the broader public education system.

The autonomy charter schools enjoy represents an opportunity to develop and disseminate effective and innovative approaches for educating students with disabilities. Yet, to date, the charter sector has struggled to fully leverage this opportunity.

 “Our goal is to ensure that the context in which charter schools operate fosters equitable access and appropriate services as well as innovative and effective practices for all students with disabilities. This investment will support NCSECS in (1) building capacity to advocate at the national level for efforts that improve outcomes for students with disabilities and (2) leveraging research to inform state efforts to ensure students with disabilities in charter schools thrive across the nation.,” says NCSECS Executive Director Lauren Morando Rhim.

By leading and participating in convenings with federal and state leaders, conducting research, and producing reports, NCSCES aspires to:

  • Strengthen coalitions and champions in support of priority issues at the federal and state levels;

  • Increase use of evidence in policy analyses by decisions makers at the federal and state levels; and

  • Secure resource allocations for priority issues.

About the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS)

Co-founded by Lauren Morando Rhim and Paul O’Neill in 2013, NCSECS advocates for students with diverse learning needs to ensure that if they are interested in attending charter schools, they are able to access and thrive in schools designed to enable all students to succeed.

Laurie VanderPloeg Appointed as OSERS’ New Director of Special Education

Join NCSECS in congratulating Laurie VanderPloeg on her appointment to serve as Director for the Office of Special Education Programs in the United States Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. Laurie has dedicated the past 38 years to ensuring that students with disabilities have access to a high-quality education and has been an important partner in fulfilling NCSECS' mission.

In February 2016, we published a case study highlighting promising practices at Kent Intermediate School District (ISD). Laurie was their Director of Special Education at the time and was an instrumental guide during our research. Under her leadership, Kent ISD built a special education support infrastructure for both traditional district schools and public charter schools. Laurie brought regional collaboration to the way the ISD works, both with the school districts and with their community partners. She and her team have increased the amount of dollars brought directly into the classroom by providing essential services, collaborative initiatives and valuable learning for the region’s students and teachers.

Read more about Laurie's work at Kent ISD and stay tuned for the opportunities for students with disabilities that she will be sure to foster through her new role.

Washington D.C.’s Two Rivers Public Charter School

Supporting Students with Disabilities via Responsive Classroom® and Student-Led IEP Meetings

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.

Two Rivers Public Charter School (Two Rivers), a Washington D.C. charter network composed of two school campuses, serves students from Pre-K to 8th grade. Two Rivers utilizes a dual approach to embrace inclusive education and improve success for learning diverse students: student-led IEPs and Responsive Classroom®.

Believing that learning should remain not only student-focused, but also student-led, the school teaches students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) to be active voices in their IEP process. Students learn how to set their own goals, talk about their progress, identify their strengths and needs, and articulate their progress toward meeting their goals, with the assistance of faculty members and various training materials and rubrics.

Two Rivers is also committed to using Responsive Classroom®, an evidence-based practice of that addresses social and emotional growth and enables individuals to learn through social interaction and problem solving. Research highlights how the students of schools that use Responsive Classroom® techniques tend to experience positive outcomes such as increased academic growth and enhanced feelings of support and safety in the classroom. Given its high teacher and student retention rates across years, Two Rivers illustrates how this student-focused practice fosters a school environment ripe for learning.

Evidenced by strong performance on statewide ELA and Math exams compared to the DC Public School District, Two Rivers’ school wide practices nurture a positive learning environment by reflecting its cohesive school philosophy and mission. To learn more about Two Rivers and its approach to serving students with learning differences, click here.  

Key Trends in Special Education in Charter Schools

A Secondary Analysis of the Civil Rights Data Collection 2011–2012

The National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS) is an independent, non-profit organization formed by a coalition of national experts on special education in charter schools. It is committed to proactively ensuring that students with disabilities have equal access to charter schools and to fostering innovations that will benefit students with disabilities in both charter and traditional public schools. To fulfill its mission, NCSECS focuses on four key areas:

● Establish and Communicate Facts

● Inform Policy

● Build Bridges Between a Diverse Coalition of Stakeholders

● Identify and Foster the Creation of Models of Excellence

This report represents a key pillar of our effort to establish and communicate the facts about 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 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; as well as an examination of the prevalence and focus of specialized charter schools. In conducting the respective analyses, our goal was to provide federal and state policy leaders 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. This report reflects our deep commitment to students with disabilities and using data to inform both policy and practice to ensure equity for them in the growing charter sector.

Principles of Equitable Schools

NCSECS and Equity Coalition members developed the Principles of Equitable Schools, to establish a standard of equity intended to help parents, policy makers and other stakeholders weigh their options when choosing a school. Through these essential principles, NCSECS and the Equity Coalition aim to establish core principles that should be upheld by any school enrolling students using public dollars. With one unified voice, the Equity Coalition offers the following Principles of Equitable Schools, to collectively preserve and promote access and quality for all students.