Helping Charter Schools Better Serve Students with Disabilities

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WASHINGTON, D.C.- A new report released today by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools outlines the complex maze of laws governing special education and recommends best practices charter schools can use to strengthen the recruitment of and services provided to students with disabilities.

Stanford University's Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) recently found that students with disabilities enrolled in charter schools outperformed their peers in math, but there are still opportunities to increase the number of students with disabilities served by charter schools. Improving Access and Creating Exceptional Opportunities for Students with Disabilities in Public Charter Schools, authored by Lauren Morando Rihm and Paul ONeill of the newly-formed National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools, outlines the federal, state, and local laws that govern special education in all public schools and makes key recommendations for how charter schools can leverage current programs to best serve students with disabilities.

As a country, we have come a long way in our efforts to provide better educational opportunities for students with disabilities, but there is more work to be done, said National Alliance President and CEO Nina Rees. Because of the flexibility charter schools are given to innovate to serve their students, they are well positioned to give special needs children a world-class public education. This report provides practical solutions for public charter schools hoping to increase the number of special needs children they enroll and how to serve them best once they are there.

The report identifies several key recommendations for charter schools, including:

  • Advocate to address policy barriers. Charter schools often face challenges, such as inequitable funding or limited access to critical special education infrastructures. Where they haven't already, charter operators and support organizations should form coalitions and mobilize parents to advocate for giving charter schools the funding and tools district schools can access.
  • Adopt key instructional strategies to support all students. The report highlights several best practices for educating students with disabilities, such as early childhood education, Universal Design for Learning, and Response to Intervention programs.
  • Identify strategic partnerships and coalitions. Charter schools can partner with local community organizations to expand their reach and capacity to serve students with special needs.
  • Hire intentionally and well. Charter school educators often wear many hats. Hiring educators that understand the needs of students with disabilities will help charter schools be better prepared to educate them.

Rees said charter schools have demonstrated they can take student groups with unique challenges and help them achieve at high levels. A disproportionate share of low-income and minority children are enrolled in charter schools and a recent study by CREDO found that charter schools do a better job educating low-income and minority children than traditional district schools. There is no reason that charter school can't replicate these successes with students with special needs. In fact, we are already on our way. Students with disabilities enrolled in charter schools are outperforming their peers in math.

Click here to read Improving Access and Creating Exceptional Opportunities for Students with Disabilities in Public Charter Schools.


About the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is the leading national nonprofit organization committed to advancing the public charter school movement. Our mission is to lead public education to unprecedented levels of academic achievement by fostering a strong charter

National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools
The National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS) is a nonprofit organization founded to proactively work with states, charter authorizers and advocates, and other stakeholders to improve access, create dynamic learning opportunities and address barriers that may impede charter schools enrolling and effectively educating students with