New NACSA Report Highlights Trends From 3,000 Charter Applications

By: Paul O’Neill, Senior Fellow of NCSECS

Last week, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) issued an engaging new report on its review of nearly 3,000 charter school applications submitted to authorizers in 20 states over the last several years. Called “Reinvigorating the Pipeline: Insights into Proposed and Approved Charter Schools,” the report identifies a range of significant trends, including these:

  • The “no excuses” model is becoming much less prevalent – with authorizer approval of such applications falling 40% over the last 5 years.

  • In contrast, “diverse by design” school models are surging, with authorizers approving such applications at a rate of nearly 65% nationwide.

  • Schools designed specifically to serve a special education population comprise only 2% of the charter applications NACSA reviewed; such applications were approved about 42% of the time, a rate comparable to that of more general applications.

NACSA acknowledges that this analysis is just scratching the surface of what we can learn from the data it has identified. One element it wants to drill down on is equity and access issues. That inquiry could shed important light on special education considerations, including these:

  • What sorts of information about serving students with disabilities do authorizers require of applicants?

  • What are applicants saying about how they will serve diverse learners? How much knowledge do authorizers have about this when they are deciding whether or not to approve an application?

  • Are certain approaches to special education finding favor with authorizers? Are others less likely to be approved?

Currently, this sort of information is scarce and very localized; a national study would be of tremendous value in understanding the current charter environment and fostering positive change. NCSECS looks forward to NACSA’s continuing work in this area. The full report can be found here.

Mississippi Charter School Needs to Release Emails to Public

The charter sector in Mississippi is in its infancy. Although the state has technically had a charter school law on the books for more than 20 years, only five applications have been approved with three schools currently operating.

As a new public education sector in the state, the growing cohorts of charter schools have the opportunity to learn from other states and get it right from the beginning. A 2016 case involving allegations of harsh discipline of a student with a learning disability and the school’s subsequent rebuffing of an open records request is one of many potential forks in the road in which the sector can elect to embrace its publicness and take steps to build a solid foundation or select a path that will fuel those opposed to the core tenets of charter schools (i.e., autonomy, accountability, and choice).

The case stems from allegations that a teacher at a charter school grabbed a student with a disability and dragged him down the hall and then slung him against a wall. The mother subsequently filed a lawsuit against the school alleging that the school failed to keep her son, who has a learning disability, safe. While the mother’s lawsuit is pending, the Clarion Ledger, citing the Mississippi Public Records Act, requested emails sent by the principal for the month following the incident and emails from the charter school network’s servers pertaining to the employee involved. The charter school refused to share the emails on the grounds that the school is exempted from the state’s Public Records Act and that only documents produced by its governing board are subject to disclosure. This directly contradicts prior decisions by the state Ethics Commission that emails written by teachers related to school business are public records.

While it is unclear whether the respective documents might actually be protected under the Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the argument that charter schools are exempt from Public Records Act is disconcerting on multiple fronts....

Continue reading article here.

New CRDC Findings Reveal Unacceptable Trend of Discriminatory Discipline in Schools Continues

Black students and students with disabilities are subject to disciplinary practices that exclude them from classroom instruction, creating additional barriers to their learning.

Washington, DC – The following statement was released today by Lauren Morando Rhim, Executive Director of the National Council for Special Education in Charter Schools, in response to the latest Civil Rights Data Collection findings:

“These findings confirm the unacceptable trend of black students, especially boys, and students with disabilities being subject to disciplinary practices that exclude them from classroom instruction, thereby creating additional barriers to their learning. In line with the 2014 guidance published by the Department of Education, we must continue to not only track data regarding these practices but also take focused steps towards introducing school and classroom level policies and practices that will provide critical supports to students and teachers that, if implemented with fidelity, can decrease the need to exclude students from opportunities to learn. We are discouraged by the data, but are confident that our community of advocates will reverse these trends through research, communications, and smart policymaking at the federal and local levels.”


Today, the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights released the findings of the 2015-2016 Civil Rights Data Collection. The massive database includes data from 17,337 school districts representing 96,360 schools enrolling 50.6 million students. The CRDC provides invaluable data regarding the status of students' civil rights across the nation and reflect OCR's commitment to ensuring that discussion related to civil rights are informed by data.

As with prior releases, NCSECS will be conducting a secondary analysis of the data set to examine the progress of both traditional public schools and charter schools. However, the data highlights published by the Department provide a somewhat discouraging preview. Most notably:

  • Black or African American students represent 15% of enrollment in public schools, but 31% of referrals to law enforcement or subjected to school-related arrests
  • Black males represent 8% of the population, but 25% of those receiving one or more out of school suspensions and 23% of the expulsions. 
  • Students with disabilities represent 12% of enrollment, but 28% of law enforcement referrals and subjected to school-related arrests, 26% of those receiving one or more out of school suspensions, and 24% of the expulsions.
  • Black or African American students represent 15% of the population, but 27% of the students restrained and 23% of the students secluded.
  • Students with disabilities represent 12% of the population, but 71% of those restrained and 66% of those secluded.

For more information on the NCSECS analysis of CRDC data, visit this NCSECS webpage.



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.