Post’s Op-Ed on charter schools and special education doesn’t serve reality or students

It’s disappointing to continually hear the half-truths and what I will call “misconceptions” around charter schools and special education students in Oakland.  A little fact checking would have helped—but let me do some here.

Many of these were raised in a recent op-ed in the Oakland Post in the op-ed, Charter Schools in Oakland do not Serve All Children—lets go through a couple

The article starts with this

In the 2015-2016 school options guide, Oakland Unified School District published that 40 out of 62 Oakland charter schools do not serve special education students.  Somewhere between half-truth and misconception

Fact– The language in the guide was an error, and that language has been changed.  In fact every charter school in Oakland serves special education students, some at greater rates than neighboring district schools and some with lower rates.  Overall the percentage of special education students in charters is slightly lower than the Districts percentage.  So the article leads with a “misconception”.

(T)here is a difference between providing a service and providing a range of services. OUSD provides a range of services to meet the needs of all students. Oakland charter schools do not…When a student has additional needs, charter schools typically push them out. And that’s because charters usually only provide a very basic level of support. The limited range of programs forces charters to exclude students who need additional support.  Half-truth to “misconception”

Yes and no, every Oakland district school does not serve every student, some students go to specialized programs that are not at their neighborhood school.  The District as a whole has an obligation to serve all students, not every site.  And to take one example and extend it to the range of schools is fallacious reasoning.

Charters are obligated to meet the range of needs of admitted students, and I can personally attest to the efforts that some charters go to meet those needs.  I don’t think it’s true that charters “typically” push out higher needs students.   And indeed charters like the Community School for Creative Education, who embrace more high needs students, become a magnet.  But, as I have written before, I do think the charters have some bad actors and bad acts, and we need to confront those, and authorizers need to hold schools accountable.

This is a complex policy issue though, and I would love to see more real discussion about the facts and solutions.  And we will be speaking with schools and families in the coming months around the real issues in special education.

(C)harters don’t fully contribute to the cost of providing special education services to Oakland students . Currently, only 11 out of the 62 Oakland charter schools have joined OUSD’s Special Education Local Plan Area or SELPA. SELPAs are responsible for developing a local plan on providing special education services to students in their area. Half-truth

Every charter school has to be part of a SELPA and the SELPA is responsible for services, the schools pitch in their special education funding and pay an additional fee per student to cover the overall SELPA deficit.  Yes, not every charter is in the OUSD SELPA, but the SELPA they are in provides those services to students, and is paid by the schools for those costs.

The Oakland SELPA is definitely improving but historically it was not, ahem…, the most responsive and if schools can get better services for students from other SELPAs why wouldn’t they?  I thought it was about serving students, right?

If more charters joined OUSD’s SELPA and helped cover the cost of serving higher needs students, OUSD would save money. Instead, charters choose to join other SELPAs that short change OUSD students.  “misconception”

If more schools joined the OUSD SELPA they would add more special education students to it, increasing costs.  As above, those special education students are already being served and paid for through another SELPA.

I don’t doubt, and I actually expect that there is some gaming going on in student enrollment (argument number 1 for a transparent common enrollment system), for those who don’t have an ethical commitment to equity.  The incentives are aligned for that to make sense, the way funding is allocated and accountability often imposed.

And as a practical matter, a sad recognition I have made, is that every school cannot meet the needs of every student, especially in small schools.   That you need a district of 38,000 students or a SELPA like arrangement where you pool resources and risks, and create supports so that every student can get the services they need.

I welcome a fact based discussion about who is being served, who is not and where.  Alongside some real discussions about how to best deliver services to students, and ideally the funding formulas.

In OUSD only 9.6% of special education students complete the A-G requirements, 8.1% passed the CAHSEE, and around 5% met or exceeded standards on the State tests.  This rests somewhere between travesty and tragedy, and we need to come to some better answers for these students.

Unfortunately the Post op-ed didn’t really deliver this, hopefully someone will pick up the ball and start an honest discussion about our special education struggles and how to overcome them, because our students and families can’t wait.

 

  1 comment for “Post’s Op-Ed on charter schools and special education doesn’t serve reality or students

  1. Anna
    December 22, 2015 at 8:34 pm

    I really do not understand why “special education” students are talked as a single, unitary group, when federal law says that students with disabilities are entitled to an INDIVIDUALIZED education plan. When are we going to have the type of data that allows us to disaggregate students based on their own individualized educational goals? I don’t see how we could, for instance, identify numbers of Black kids who may be wrongfully id’d as “special ed” without way more nuanced info than the SPED standardized test stats that usually get tossed about.

    I’ve always assumed that comparing district v. charter percentages of special ed kids served is comparing apples to oranges, give the diversity that that label covers, and the fact that informed parents’ decisions about where kids’ needs will be best met leads to adverse selection pressures on schools.

    All of which is to say, I am not expecting a fact-based discussion about special ed anytime soon. /grumpy rant.

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