Access for Students with Disabilities Critical Component of Charter Sector “Health”

by Paul O'Neill

In a recent blog post, http://charteringquality.org/demystifying-school-choice/, Parker Baxter of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) made two good points. First, he called out the importance of the new state-by-state report on the health of the charter school movement that was released last week by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools NAPCS). The report introduces important data and reinforces the need for transparency in the charter sector, http://www.publiccharters.org/chartermovement/. In particular, we were pleased to see NAPCS include enrollment of students with disabilities as one of the metrics used to assess the relative health of the charter sector in the respective sample states. While we remain committed to ensuring both the quality and quantity of data regarding students with disabilities improves, the NAPCS report is a step in the right direction.

Second, Baxter noted some recent public comments made by Scott Pearson, the Executive Director of the D.C. Public Charter Schools Board (DCPCSB) about that authorizer’s attempts to ensure equity in the charter schools it oversees. Mr. Pearson described the DCPCSB “Mystery Shopper Program” through which staff randomly calls charter schools, anonymously inquiring about whether a hypothetical student with disabilities would be welcome there. Schools are warned in advance that such calls may be coming. Those that repeatedly discourage “mystery shoppers” from enrolling such a student are subjected to further scrutiny and potentially severe consequences. Measures such as this reflect a commitment to truly open admissions and access by students with disabilities that is proactive and creative. As we consider the health of the charter sector, it is encouraging to see this sort of commitment from a major authorizer and instructive to note that such steps are too rare.