Charter schools

Charter schools are generating buzzy, positive headlines thanks to a study showing most of their students have made bigger gains in reading and math than kids in traditional public schools (TPS).

But guess who’s left out of all the good news: Special education students. In fact, the study revealed they did worse than if they had attended public schools.

The study, As a Matter of Fact: The National Charter School Study III, is out of Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). It covers the school years 2014 – 2019 and shows student progress as measured by state achievement tests. It includes data from 29 states plus Washington, D.C., and New York City, the largest school district in the U.S.

The 2023 breakdown found gains across a broad range of students, with some significant variation. Black students, for instance, showed the most gains in both reading and math:

  • Black and Hispanic students in charter schools advance more than their TPS peers by large margins in both math and reading;
  • Multiracial, Native American, and White students in charter schools show equivalent progress to their TPS peers in reading — but had weaker growth than their TPS peers in math;
  • Asian students in charter schools showed similar growth to their TPS peers.

However, special ed students lost out badly. They lost an average of 13 days of reading growth and 14 days of math relative to kids receiving special ed outside of charters.

The inequity is one of the few sore spots revealed by the study and charter schools should be “taken to task” for the collective failure, Margaret Raymond, director of CREDO, told

“With the exception of very few charter schools that specialize in particular kinds of special education, the sector has basically thrown up their hands and said, ‘This isn’t our job,’” she told the news site.

It’s not entirely surprising charter schools fail students in special ed. Charter schools typically receive less public funding than traditional district schools, and some are perceived to be unable or willing to educate students with disabilities. At least one charter school network, the Success Academy in New York, was found to have violated the civil rights of students with disabilities.

The Standford study also says that due to the COVID-19 pandemic student academic performance “has regressed by two decades in math and fallen steeply in reading, with the most severe performance declines found among minority, poverty and special needs populations [highlight mine] that were already struggling before the pandemic,” making the search for solutions all the more important.

Photo: CDC via Unsplash

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