A Strategic City-Based Framework for Effectively and Efficiently Educating Students with Disabilities
Lauren Rhim, National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools
Charter schools’ autonomy and flexibility provides them with the opportunity to find ways to close the performance gap between students with and without disabilities, but deep-seated, systemic challenges often cause individual charters to struggle to do so on their own. We propose a city-wide, collaborative strategy involving all stakeholders to overcome these systemic challenges. By working together as a sector, charter schools can fulfill their potential with regard to educating students with disabilities.
This brief introduces what we propose are critical components of a strategic, city-based framework, along with details regarding how this multi-pronged approach can drive systemic and sustainable change that will lead to better access and outcomes for students with disabilities. Each component has value independently, but when combined in a coherent manner so that each augments the others, the framework has the potential to ensure that students with disabilities have access to a robust continuum of educational opportunities in districts that have widespread public school choice.
If individual charter schools, regional government officials, authorizers, and funders work together to create a new system that spreads the responsibility, incentivizes schools to support students with disabilities, and nurtures talent to support these goals, charter schools can be the agent of change for closing the gap between students with disabilities and the general education population. Individual charter schools cannot solve this problem alone. It will take a village to fix special education in this country, and we need courageous charter and special education practitioners as well as advocates, parents, and philanthropists to collaborate to build one.
Our objective in developing this solutions-based framework is to partner with key stakeholders in a city to engage in a multi-year effort to adopt the strategy.
While the vast majority of students with disabilities should be able to graduate and perform on par with their peers without disabilities, there is a significant and persistent gap between the performance of students with and without disabilities in public schools across the nation. The autonomy and flexibility extended to charter schools presents a unique opportunity to change this narrative, especially for poor, Black, and Latinx students with disabilities. However, cities such as Kansas City, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C. with significantly decentralized systems of schools require an intentional strategy to ensure that students with disabilities are provided access to charter schools and the supports and services they require to succeed.
Efforts to improve outcomes for students with disabilities are largely focused on meeting compliance requirements and adopting specific classroom practices that have been demonstrated to improve outcomes (e.g., Differentiated Instruction, Response to Intervention, Universal Design for Learning, and Positive Behavioral Supports).7 However, only minimal investments have been made in addressing systemic challenges that undermine efforts to ensure that students with disabilities are provided a high-quality education. We propose that, in cities with widespread public school choice, a city-wide approach based on a framework that addresses specific challenges associated with decentralization has the potential to break the log-jam of conventional and frequently ineffective special education improvement efforts. This city-wide approach is based on practices that are emerging or being considered in the charter sector, with implications for the broader field.
The framework consists of seven interconnected and interdependent components:
- a dynamic parent information system;
- integrated school-wide expertise;
- an adaptive-weighted lottery;
- adequate, responsive, and fair special education funding;
- a robust human capital strategy;
- an effective special education capacity and coordination infrastructure; and
- a nuanced accountability system that
recognizes growth for students with disabilities.
While each of these elements has value, the true strength of the framework is the manner in which the individual components interact to create the conditions for success. For instance, a more sophisticated lottery system can only work effectively if parents have ready access to information that will inform their decision making. The following sections introduce the challenge each element is designed to address and identify key components and implementation details.
- Promoted, but not helped: How a New Orleans student was able to graduate despite several red flags (Nola.com) Link
- Why Some of the Country’s Best Urban Schools Are Facing a Reckoning (The New York Times) Link
- Leaders must consider students with disabilities as they evaluate school choice | Opinion (Tennessean) Link
PATHWAY 2 TOMORROW
Pathway 2 Tomorrow: Local Visions for America’s Future (P2T) matches responsive and agile education policy solutions with the needs of states and local communities.
For questions please contact us