Dear Commissioners McLaughlin and Brock:
We are writing in response to your request for input regarding research priorities at NCER/NCSER. The mission of the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS) is to advocate for students with diverse learning needs to ensure that if they are interested in attending charter schools, they are able to access and thrive in schools designed to enable all students to succeed. To date, 42 states and the District of Columbia have enacted charter school laws. The charter concept is based on deep commitment to quality and equity; schools of choice operating autonomously from traditional districts can serve as incubators of innovation and leverage market forces to ensure more students have access to exemplary public schools. Over the past 20 years, federal, state and local governments have provided significant funds to support this innovation and on many counts, charters have met these ambitious goals. Yet, when it comes to educating students with disabilities, the sector has not fulfilled its potential. On average, charter schools enroll fewer students with disabilities than their traditional counterparts and the sector has not generally invested adequate resources to develop exemplary programs for students with disabilities.
As stated in your letter: The mission of NCER is to support rigorous research that addresses the nation’s most pressing education needs, from early childhood to postsecondary and adult education. Similarly, NCSER sponsors a comprehensive program of special education research designed to expand the knowledge and understanding of infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities. And, knowing that the Institute for Education Science’s overall mission includes a commitment ‘to building the capacity of states and school districts to conduct research, evaluate their programs and make sense of the data they are collecting,’ we respectfully offer the following comments for you to consider:
NCER/NCSER Question: What are the characteristics of education and special education studies that have had the most influence on policy and practice during the past 10 years? What lessons can we draw from these studies to inform NCER’s and NCSER’s future work?
NCSECS Response: Research over the past ten years has helped inform and establish best practices in education and helped shape policy across the nation. Examples of this research are:
- Studies substantiating the efficacy and effectiveness of valid early childhood interventions and Response to Intervention (RTI) in ways that help schools see that providing targeted services and support to young children—including infants and toddlers—makes a critical difference in their future success and that effective early intervention services can diminish the impact of disability or reduce long-term educational needs and costs by reducing the need for special education and related services for school-age children.
- Studies based on longitudinal measures that allow researchers, advocates, policymakers and others to have access to a range of critical data that can be used to inform policymaking, budgeting, instructional practice and more.
- Studies focused on general-education teacher preparation related to educating students with disabilities because the majority of students with disabilities spend most of their day in the general-education classroom.
NCER/NCSER Question: What are the critical problems or issues on which new research is needed?
Examine access issues for students with disabilities in a demographically rich and representative sample of states allowing charter schools. This should include a wide swath of schools and should not be limited to the very few (i.e., approximately 105) that target students with disabilities for enrollment. It should also differentiate charter schools according to whether they operate as autonomous LEAs or part of an existing, traditional LEA as this characteristic greatly influences provision of special education and related services.
- Develop studies – in partnership with the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) – to examine the implementation of the Results Driven Accountability (RDA) initiative as it relates to state reporting on the State Performance Plan (SPP); paying particular attention to states identified as in Need of Improvement. Critical questions remain as states move to this new model for tracking, monitoring and reporting as it specifically relates to: whether the monitoring leads to changes in technical assistance; the provision of instruction and services to students; to whether student performance [and other indicators moving in a favorable direction]; and, the sustainability of targeted assistance and intervention/practices over time.
NCER/NCSER Question: How can NCSER and NCER target their funds to do the most good for the field?
Examine the impact of funding policies on special education practice. In the field, we continue to rely on work conducted by Dr. Tom Parrish in 2000
(See: http://www.casecec.org/documents/JSEL/JSEL_14.1.pdf). To date, the U.S. Department of Education has not funded a reliable examination of federal, state and local funding practices related to students with disabilities including the impact of funding policies in the states with charter schools.
Create robust measures that utilize all of the data [and related indicators] available via required reporting at the U.S. Department of Education such as: the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and related reporting with the SPP, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Civil Rights Data Collection.
Invest in dissemination efforts that provide ready access to timely data and support secondary analyses. By investing in disseminating data, the Department can optimize the value of the data collected by ensuring researchers and policy makers can analyze the data to answer critical questions and inform policy.
Thank you for considering our input. We look forward to continuing a dialogue with you.
Lauren Morando Rhim, Ph.D.
Executive Director and Co-Founder