Acting Comm. Christopher Cerf directly rebutted “myths” about charter schools at a State Board of Education meeting, according to The Record. Contrary to claims by anti-charter proponents, says Cerf, NJ’s charter school admit very poor kids and children with disabilities, and perform better than traditional public schools in Abbott districts.
Here’s the powerpoint.
For example, in NJ 15.87% of kids are classified as eligible for special education services. (We rank second in the nation in this category. First is Massachusetts. Then again, the classification rate at Wildwood High is 24.6%, Asbury Park High is 20.2%, John F. Kennedy in Paterson is 24.1%, and Camden Central High is a stunning 33.6%. But back to charters.)
According to Cerf’s data, charter schools count 8% of their enrollment as eligible for special education. So are these non-traditional public schools “creaming off” non-disabled kids and discriminating against cognitively needier students, thus inflating their aggregate performance? (See here for Bruce Baker’s argument.)
Actually, any small general education school – charter or otherwise –- would be hard-pressed to come up with a good model for kids with significant special needs. That’s why NJ tops the nation in the number of kids sent out-of-district to private special education schools. In a land of small, sometimes tiny, districts, there’s not enough kids to make up a classroom within a specific disability. (It’s also a reason why our cost per pupil is so high. Tuition at private special ed schools is not cheap!)
In special education, scale is important. How do you put together a cohort of kids who learn best from a specific model among a small enrollment? Kids with autism, for instance, often require a fairly rigid kind of environment, structure, and instruction to progress educationally. If your charter school enrollment tops out at a few hundred kids (often less), then it’s unlikely you can put together adequate numbers to create a good program.
If the challenge to charter schools is to increase enrollment of kids with significant disabilities, then they need larger facilities and greater reach across neighborhoods in order to attain scale. Otherwise the social and educational needs of those children can’t be met effectively or efficiently in a small charter setting. Parents of kids with special needs know this. Which may be why they are opting out of general education charter schools.