NEPC Review: Special Education and English Language Learner Students in Boston Charter Schools
A report investigates the enrollment and achievement of students with disabilities and students with English language learning (ELL) needs in oversubscribed charter schools in Boston. The report concludes that Boston charters and Boston Public Schools enroll similar numbers of both special populations and that charter attendance has a positive statistically significant effect for those who enter Boston’s charter school lottery and then enroll after being offered a seat. This review finds that econometric models used to estimate the effects are appropriate, but also more limited than the report would suggest. The report finds some interesting patterns that deserve further study; however the effects cannot be generalized to charter schools outside Boston or even to most students inside Boston. The study also offers no context to compare the size of reported gains and it does not adequately examine how or why the reported test score gains are realized; for example, it does not account for peer effects or spending differences. Ultimately, while this report takes an important step in studying how oversubscribed charters may affect the academic achievement of special needs students, a closer examination is needed in order to accurately inform those making education policy.