REVERSAL BY NEW YORK CITY AUTHORITY ON THE MOBILITY OF CHARTER SCHOOL STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES

by Paul O'Neill

In January of 2014 the New York City Independent Budget Office issued a “Schools Brief” entitled Staying or Going? Comparing Student Attrition Rates at Charter Schools with Nearby Traditional Public Schools. Their report found that, on average, charter school students in New York City tend to stay at their schools at a higher rate than do students at nearby traditional district schools. But the report noted that:  

The one major exception is special education students, who leave charter schools at a much higher rate than either general education students in charter schools or special education students in traditional public schools. Only 20 percent of students classified as requiring special education services who started kindergarten in charter schools remained in the same school after three years.

The National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools reviewed the January 2014 Schools Brief and raised some concerns about its methods, assumptions and findings (See “Research Critical to Informed Policymaking,” January 21, 2014 http://www.ncsecs.org/blog/?offset=1396903920000). Other authorities, such as researcher Marcus Winters, expressed similar concerns at that time.

One year later, the City’s Independent Budget Office has come out with a significant update.  
http://bit.ly/1CCVf33. Adding an additional year of data to its analysis and switching to “a broader definition of special needs students than we did in the previous report… yields results that are quite different from our previous findings regarding the relative attrition rates of students with special needs.” In a nutshell, their 2014 methodology only focused on the relatively few students with severe needs,  and their 2015 methodology includes all student identified as having a disability in kindergarten. With this correction in place, the Independent Budget Office now finds that:

When we consider any student identified as having a disability in kindergarten as a special needs student, these students remained at their charter schools through the 2012-2013 school year at a higher rate than similar students at nearby traditional public schools.

This is the opposite of what the City found last year. NCSECS is pleased that the Independent Budget Office reconsidered its methodology and issued new findings. We are proponents of accurate studies and reliable data – regardless of whether such information shows charter schools in a positive or negative light. In this instance, it appears that New York City charter schools are retaining students with disabilities at a greater rate than originally reported, and in numbers greater than that of nearby district schools.  This speaks well of charter school in the City. It is also notable because New York law requires each charter school to enroll and retain students with disabilities (as well as English Language Learners and students eligible for free or reduced price lunch) in numbers comparable to those of traditional district schools in order to earn renewal at the end of its charter term. The new Schools Brief suggests that they are collectively doing well by that standard.