By: Paul O’Neill
When the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools launched 5 years ago, there were not many opportunities for people in the charter sector to sit down together and brainstorm about how best to serve kids with disabilities; how to innovate; how to work collaboratively to support teachers and educators and families. We certainly have a long way to go before those sorts of considerations are part of every education reform conversation, but it is gratifying to see the progress that has been made. Within networks and among them, at the authorizer level and at state charter organizations, special educators and educational leaders of all sorts are talking to each other, sharing best practices and ideas about ensuring equity. NCSECS has committed to fostering this collaboration by creating an Equity Coalition comprised of leaders from both special education organizations and charter school groups; and a CMO Network consisting of charter management organization representatives who focus on special education.
In an effort to further broaden this conversation and the stakeholders involved in it, NSCSECS recently teamed up with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools to convene a special meeting at the National Charter Schools Conference of leaders from across the charter sector and across the country. School Principals, funders, network heads, authorizers, non-profit leaders, researchers, attorneys – the breadth of participants extended to nearly every corner of the sector. They focused on what is hard, what is promising, and what is possible for serving students with disabilities in charter schools, airing challenges such as How do we encourage schools to be more innovative when accountability structures focus solely on traditional performance metrics? and How can schools serve more students with high needs without funding to support that work? Many perspectives and ideas were shared. We took notes, and will find opportunities to build on this exchange. That will include more convenings; more minds collaborating on thorny, hugely important challenges that must be aired and addressed together in order to be solved.