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....

Continue reading this article here.

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.

Indianapolis’ Paramount School of Excellence: Supporting Students with Disabilities via its Frameworks

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.

Located in Indianapolis, Paramount School of Excellence (Paramount) serves students from Kindergarten to 8th grade. School leaders attribute their success and strong performance on statewide assessments by prioritizing school-wide cohesion, consistency in practice, and clear communication; this is specifically supported by the school’s “Frameworks,” Paramount’s policy and instruction guide designed to support teachers’ practices.  

Reflecting the mission and vision of the school, Paramount’s Frameworks highlights the school’s commitment to true, explicit, intentional inclusion and shapes teachers’ approaches to curriculum, instruction, behavior, school culture, and more. For example, Frameworks enables and encourages general and special education teachers to regularly collaborate, co-plan, co-teach, and receive inclusivity training; this has created a school culture in which all Paramount teachers maintain high expectations and feel responsible for the success of all students, including those with disabilities. Regarding classroom teaching and learning specifically, Frameworks enables and promotes school-wide adoption of individualized instructional practices that benefit all students, such as problem solving and differentiation, as well as regular collection and evaluation of data to appropriately adapt and improve such practices.

Frameworks serves as the backbone for the school and distinctly reflect its commitment to truly inclusive, evidence-based practices. To learn more about Paramount and and its approach to serving students with learning differences, read our full case study here.

In case you missed it, check out our profile on Denver's Cole High School.

Denver’s School of Science and Technology - Cole High School: Supporting Students with Disabilities via Curriculum/Instruction Modification and Coaching

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.

Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) - Cole High School (Cole), a public charter school within the DSST network, serves students from 9th to 11th grade. Cole educates one of the largest proportions of students with mild disabilities in inclusive classrooms in its district, and, in 2016, ranked as the fifth highest-performing high school in Denver and the third highest in ELL proficiency growth. In order to effectively serve students with diverse learning needs, Cole modifies its network’s relatively structured approach to instruction. Our case study specifically explores the school’s modified curriculum and instruction, as well as its professional development model.

Cole teachers cite the ability to create new courses or to modify the curriculum as essential to supporting students' success. Guided by the school’s mission and objectives, for example, teachers may add foundational courses or make adjustments to the 10th grade trimester internship program as needed. This allows teachers the flexibility to meet the needs and foster the strengths of individual students. Moreover, the school supports intensive co-teaching practices, such as shared planning and professional development, to promote effective differentiation.

Coaching, a vital part of DSST and Cole’s professional development model, provides teachers the opportunity to continuously improve and hone their skills with each other’s assistance. Utilizing tools such as video commentaries and observation annotations, the school fosters a sustained cycle of professional feedback, reflection, and modification, with the ultimate objective of improving the experiences of students with disabilities. This practice contributes to a positive school culture, one which nurtures inclusion via comprehensive teacher support.

Together, Cole’s flexibility in curriculum and instruction and its coaching model support the school in balancing and maintaining an inclusive educational model with rigorous learning goals and high expectations. To learn more about DSST - Cole High School, and its approach to serving students with learning differences, read our full case study here.

California Reports Strong Results Based on Inclusion of Students With Disabilities

California Reports Strong Results Based on Inclusion of Students With Disabilities

The California Charter Schools Association recently released a report detailing special education practices in 10 California charter schools. The schools examined are diverse in size, instructional model and student demographics, but all represent strong outcomes for students with disabilities. The report, Meeting the Needs of Every Student Through Inclusion, offers an in-depth look at the philosophies, practices, and policies that allow these schools to successfully educate students with disabilities. Inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classes along with non-disabled peers is highlighted as a best practice to achieve positive results. 

Read More