Review of New York State Special Education Enrollment Analysis

Robin Lake, Betheny Gross, Patrick Denice
Center on Reinventing Public Education
December 6, 2012

This report asserts that differences in charter and district school special education rates are far smaller than claimed in recent reports. While the report does show that under-enrollment patterns vary by grade level and to some extent by location, it downplays the fact that the largest subset of charter schools in its sample—elementary and K-8 schools, most of which are in New York City—do systematically under-enroll such children. Among traditional public schools, the report excludes special education schools while including selective middle and secondary schools; it retains special-education-focused charter schools, thus stacking the deck in its analyses—albeit still not achieving the authors’ desired result. The authors infer—without evidence or foundation—that charter elementary schools may provide better early intervention and avoid entirely whether variations in disabilities by type and severity exist between charter and district schools. Data from New Jersey and Philadelphia show that charter schools often serve sizeable shares of children with mild specific learning disabilities, but very few children with severe disabilities. The report’s objective seems to be to provide the appearance of an empirical basis for an advocacy goal: convincing policymakers it would be unnecessary to adopt “enrollment target” policies to address a special education under-enrollment problem that may not exist. The report’s own findings do not support this contention.

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