Let’s solve the right problems for Detroit’s students with disabilities — not recycle old ones

As Superintendent Nikolai Vitti approaches his first anniversary of leading the struggling Detroit Public Schools Community District, I commend him for his energy and vision. In particular, I applaud his focus on developing a robust curriculum and hiring great teachers, the foundations of any great school district.

However, his recently announced plans to create new specialized programs for students with disabilities are disconcerting to me, given decades of research demonstrating the benefits of inclusion.

Specifically, Vitti has discussed the possibility of creating specialized programs for students with autism, dyslexia, and hearing impairments. The motivation is twofold: to meet students’ needs and to offer distinct programs that will attract parents who have fled Detroit in search of higher quality schools.

I’ve spent 25 years both studying and actively trying to improve schools for students with disabilities, and I can understand why Vitti’s proposal may have appeal. (I’m now the head of the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools.) But while the specialized programs might fill a critical need immediately, I have seen the downside of creating such segregated programming....

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A Much-Needed Resource for Charter School Authorizers

By: Paul O'Neill

There is nothing easy about public education, but there are quite a few things that raise the level of difficulty even higher. One of these is meeting the needs of students with disabilities. Another is engaging in effective oversight of charter school programs. 

A new resource from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) and the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS) provides crucial, comprehensive guidance regarding the crossroads of these two challenges.

Their toolkit highlights best practices with the hopes that more authorizers will consider the needs of students with disabilities during each phase of the charter school lifecycle. For example, the toolkit offers a useful summary of applicable laws and regulations; profiles exemplary authorizers who are effectively addressing special education; and addresses important financial considerations relating to special education in charter schools.

Meeting the needs of students with a wide range of disabilities and navigating layers of federal and state compliance obligations is a complex challenge. By providing authorizers with critical information and empowering them to ensure that schools understand and meet the challenges of serving all students, we are hopeful that supports and services for students in charter schools will improve.

Access the Special Education Toolkit here!

NACSA Authorizer Voices Series: Serving Students with Unique Needs

Featuring NCSECS Executive Director, Lauren Morando Rhim, the fifth video short in NACSA's Authorizer Voices series centers on how authorizers ensure access to charter schools for students with unique needs. Authorizers first give parents quality options. They leverage school autonomy. They expect schools to reflect their neighborhoods and cities. And they partner with schools to fix problems.

See the video here.