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.

New York City’s Brooklyn Laboratory Charter Schools: Supporting Students with Disabilities via a Robust Teacher Pipeline and Personalized Instructional Strategies

By: Stephanie Lancet

As part of its effort to share best practices with the special education community, The National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS) identified several public charter schools across the country as “Centers for Excellence” and is communicating how each school uniquely leverages its autonomy to benefit students with disabilities. Here is a spotlight on one of them.

Brooklyn Laboratory Charter Schools (Brooklyn LAB), a New York City charter network with four growing campuses, serves students from 6th to 9th grade. Aiming to personalize educational experiences and unlock all students’ potential and strengths, Brooklyn LAB leaders explicitly and intentionally integrate their commitment to serving students with diverse learning needs into the mission, vision, and practices of the school. While Brooklyn LAB offers an enrollment preference to students with disabilities (via its lottery weighting formula), it does not operate as a school solely dedicated to special education, instead striving to enroll a natural proportion of students with disabilities compared to its surrounding district. To achieve this, the school utilizes a dual approach in removing barriers that often stand in the way of the learning of all students, and particularly the learning of those that learn differently: a robust teacher pipeline and a combination of personalized instructional practices.

To effectively sustain its commitment to inclusion and its culture of individualization, Brooklyn LAB utilizes a system of teacher staffing structures that cultivates a supply of special education teachers capable of effectively implementing key school instructional and philosophical techniques. This intentional, internal pipeline improves the recruitment, induction, and retention of teachers by offering individuals the opportunity to progress through four talent-development levels. Made possible in part by this staffing structure, Brooklyn LAB provides a robust combination of evidence-based personalized instructional practices that intentionally meet the needs of students with diverse learning needs. The students receive whole class, small group, and one-on-one instruction, as well as additional support from technological learning platforms that individualize and monitor student progress.

The robust teacher pipeline and personalized instructional practices support the school’s commitment to inclusive success, as demonstrated by comparing student growth and performance on statewide ELA and Math exams to the NYC District and community District. To learn more about Brooklyn LAB and its approach to serving students with learning differences, read our full case study here.

In case you missed them, check out our profiles on Denver's Cole High School and Indianapolis’ Paramount School of Excellence.

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!

Supreme Court Establishes a New Standard for Educational Benefit

Supreme Court Establishes a New Standard for Educational Benefit

By: Paul O'Neill

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a unanimous 8-0 ruling in the landmark Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District case. The amicus brief we submitted in partnership with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools can be found here. Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Roberts stated that, “[t]o meet its substantive obligation under IDEA, a school must offer an IEP [Individual Education Program] reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.”

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