Virtual School Meanderings

November 9, 2013

Charter School Special Education “Gap” Report Reviewed

From Thursday’s inbox…

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Julie Mead, (608) 263-3405,
Dan Quinn, (517) 203-2940,

Charter School Special Education “Gap” Report Reviewed

Review examines special education enrollment in NYC charter schools, further demonstrates need for more study

EAST LANSING, Mich. (Nov. 7, 2013) – Charter schools are often accused of pushing out vulnerable special education students. A recent study analyzed the lower enrollment rates of children with disabilities in charter schools in New York City and concluded that disparities in enrollment patterns are attributed to lower application rates and not active measures by charter schools to push or “counsel” out students with special needs. An academic review released today finds limitations to the study and calls attention to the need for further analysis of enrollment imbalances of children with special needs in charter schools.

The study, Why the Gap? Special Education and New York City Charter Schools, authored by Marcus Winters, was jointly issued by the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) and the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MIPR). Dr. Julie Mead of the University of Wisconsin-Madison reviewed the report for the Think Twice think tank review project. The review was produced by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

Mead found that the report raises issues about application and transfer patterns in charter schools, yet it fails to provide useful results to adequately inform policymakers. “While the report represents its findings as instructive for policymakers, its limitations actually render it of little use to officials concerned with the issue. There are simply too many unresolved questions raised by the study to rely on it for policy formation.”

She further finds that the report neglects any review of related literature and ignores alternate explanations for the statistical patterns found. The use of a restricted, non-representative data set further limits the usefulness of the findings and conclusions that are drawn.

The report does confirm the existence of enrollment disparities between charter and traditional public schools in New York City and the growth in these disparities over time. In her review, Mead finds that the report draws attention to the need to better understand the influences on parents’ decisions to apply to a charter school or not.

Mead says that “This study appears to be another report designed to further an advocacy goal and to blunt criticism that more attention is needed to ensure that children with disabilities and their parents have non-discriminatory access to charter schools.”

While the report sheds light on a complex issue, the evidence presented simply does not justify the elimination of accountability efforts to reduce enrollment disparities.

Find the Think Twice Review on the Great Lakes Center website:

Find Why the Gap? Special Education and New York City Charter Schools on the web:

Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policymakers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible by funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The review can also be found on the NEPC website:


The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice is to support and disseminate high quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.

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