NEPC Review: Why the Gap? Special Education and New York City Charter Schools (Center on Reinventing Public Education and Manhattan Institute, September 2013)
This report attempts to shed light on the lower enrollment rates of children with disabilities in charter schools in New York City. It concludes that distinct differences in enrollment patterns can be largely attributed to lower application rates and not active measures by charter school officials to push out or “counsel out” students with special needs. While the report raises interesting issues about application and transfer patterns, it ultimately fails to provide useful results to inform policymakers. It neglects any review of related literature and therefore ignores alternate explanations for the statistical patterns found. Use of a restricted, non-representative data set places severe limitations on the generalizability of the findings and the conclusions that may be drawn. The report asserts but does not provide evidence that “counseling out” is minimal or does not occur, nor does it answer “why” disparities persist. The results do confirm the existence of enrollment disparities between charter and traditional public schools and growth in these disparities over time, and the report draws attention to the need to better understand the influences on parents’ decisions to apply to a charter school or not. The report also provides evidence that further research is necessary and suggests the need to employ student-level data, to track lottery applicants, and to employ a variety of research methods to ascertain both the precise contours of the “gap” and why it occurs in charter schools in New York City.