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N.Y.C. Charters Hold Onto Special-Needs Students at Better Rates, Study Finds

The already contentious fight between advocates for charter schools and regular public schools in New York City got even more so this week when the city's Independent Budget Office revised earlier figures that now show that charter schools do a better job of keeping children with disabilities and English-language learners than regular district schools.

The data from the Independent Budget Office released on Thursday, updated a January 2014 report. It buttressed arguments by charter groups that their schools are increasingly serving more of the city's disadvantaged students and pushed back against critics that argued that charters were "creaming" students.

The report looked at a cohort of 3,043 students in 53 charter schools and 7,208 students in 116 nearby regular public schools who entered kindergarten in September 2008.

The new numbers showed that charter school students stayed in their schools at a slightly higher rate than district schools.  According to the report, 64 percent of students entering charter schools in kindergarten in 2008-09 remained in the same school after four years, compared to 56 percent of students attending nearby regular public schools.

Kindergarten students with disabilities remained in their charter schools at a higher rate than similar students at nearby regular public schools: 53 percent of those students were likely to remain in the same charter school for four years, while that number was 49 percent for regular public schools.

For the updated report, the Independent Budget  Office expanded the definition of disability. A spokesman for the office told The New York Times that last year, the department classified as disabled only students who were in full-time special education programs. This year, the office included students who were identified as having a disability, whether or not they were in a full-time special education program.

Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter group which has been campaigning to get the Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration to come up with a comprehensive plan for students stuck in failing schools, seized on the report.

"This study clearly shows that charter schools educate and retain students of all needs better than district schools, putting to bed myths and falsehoods about charter attrition and creaming," said Jeremiah Kitteridge, the group's CEO. "With 143,000 students trapped in failing schools, we must support and grow excellent public charter schools."

The group used the report as an opportunity to expand on its own findings.

According to the group:

  • 429 regular public schools enrolled English-language learners at a rate that was less than half of their district's rate
  • 29 regular public schools had no ELL students
  • 101 of the city's traditional public schools enrolled students with disabilities at a rate of less than half that of other regular public schools in the district.

The New York City's teacher's union also released its own charter-related report on Thursday that looked at 25 school districts in New York. The results showed that traditional public schools tended to serve students with more challenges. According to The New York Times, in 23 of those 25 districts, regular public schools averaged a higher percentage of students with disabilities, English-language learners, and students living in temporary housing.

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