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Dueling Reports Focus on Special Needs Students in N.Y.C. Charter Schools

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It's the war of the reports in New York City. At issue: Are charter schools hemorrhaging students with disabilities, or aren't they?

That's a claim long leveled against the charter sector. It was most recently resurrected by the city's schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, when she said that to inflate their scores, some charter schools push out struggling students come state test time.

According to a new report by the Independent Budget Office, the answer the question is no. Or at least the attrition rate is slightly higher among regular district schools than in charters. It's a near reversal of the conclusion the IBO came to in a similar study last year. 

The non-partisan government watchdog agency found that the city's charters still serve fewer students with special needs overall, according to the Associated Press. The IBO has been tracking over 10,000 students who entered charter and district kindergarten programs in 2008.

Meanwhile, a study by a New York City's teachers' union released a day later found that, on average, charters enroll a smaller percentage of students with disabilities and those learning English or living in temporary housing compared to district schools.

The New York Times has a good write up on how the different methodologies led to different findings.

But it doesn't end there. 

A charter advocacy organization, Families for Excellent Schools, did its own analysis, and concluded that students with special needs are being segregated into failing district schools.

Some of these studies and counter-studies are likely aimed at lawmakers in Albany after proposals made by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo put several education reform initiatives front and center of the state legislative session. Not least among them is a push to raise the cap on the number of charter schools allowed to open in New York City—where affordable real estate is scarce, and charters and regular district schools often end up sharing buildings.


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