Happy National Charter Schools Week!

by Paul O'Neill

The National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools supports this opportunity to focus public attention on the value of charter schools and the benefits they offer to families, including students with disabilities, in 42 states and the District of Columbia. It also seems like a fitting moment to stop and reflect on the progress of our fledgling organization to date. 

We launched NCSECS in October 2013 with startup support from the Oak Foundation, which focuses its giving on learning differences, and the Walton Family Foundation, which has long supported the charter school space. It seems fitting that our hybrid role as a link between these sectors was enabled by the joint support of those two founding benefactors. Their resources enabled us to set up shop and enthusiastically dive into our work on the research, policy and practical fronts. 

With support from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, we have drafted and continue to produce white papers and guidance documents addressing key policy and practical concerns that impact the success of students with disabilities in charter schools. Our work supporting policy makers as they develop important federal and state issues has grown into a major focus as well. We are pleased to be frequently asked to offer analysis and educational materials on bills, regulations, guidance and other initiatives with the potential to impact the students we serve. We also express our voice in traditional and new media outlets on issues that relate to our mission. Our website has become a widely relied upon source of information and resources; our regular blog posts are read by many and our Twitter feed is viewed by many more. Both are growing dramatically month-to-month, and have proven an effective way to provide very up to date information. 

Another core area that has developed quickly is our technical assistance work. Through support from the Newark Charter Schools Fund we have been on the ground for months in Newark, New Jersey, working with charter schools to identify strengths and weaknesses in their special education programs and developing resources to help them succeed. We have recently launched a similar initiative in Tennessee, providing expertise to the Achievement School 

District as it grows its efforts to turnaround the lowest performing schools in the state. Our build-out goes on. In addition to our other work, we are currently in the process of pulling together what we call our Equity Coalition, an advisory body comprised of leaders from across the special education and charter school sectors, who will help us wrestle with the most challenging issues we face and lend their collective expertise to solving them. 

Although it is a little daunting to describe all of this activity, the work is exhilarating and we feel honored to be able to engage in it. Thank you to all of those who have supported and engaged with us. More to come.