The General Accounting Office, which is the federal government’s watchdog agency, just issued a report concluding that charter schools are failing to enroll a fair share of students with disabilities. Advocates of students with special needs have complained about this for the past few years, and it is now confirmed.
The report showed that special-education students—those with diagnosed disabilities from Down Syndrome to attention-deficit disorder—made up 8.2% of charter school students during the 2009-2010 school year. While that was up from 7.7% the year before, it was below the average at traditional public schools of 11.2% in 2009-2010, and 11.3% the previous year.
“These are differences that cannot remain. They are not acceptable,” said Rep. George Miller (D., Calif), a charter-school proponent who asked the GAO to look into the issue. The House passed a bill last year that would make it easier for charter schools to expand, and “we want to make sure that all children—including those who are special ed—have a chance to participate in this revolutionary education reform,” he said. The Senate hasn’t yet voted on the bill.
Congressman George Miller of California, who requested the study, is the leading Democrat on education in the House of Representatives. Miller is a big proponent of testing (he was one of the prime sponsors of NCLB) and now of charters. He is also a favorite of Democrats for Education Reform, the organization of Wall Street hedge fund managers that promotes charters everywhere. DFER has raised large sums of money for Miller.
Eva Moskowitz, a charter founder in New York City, says in the article that the reason the numbers of special education students are low is because her schools are able to move students out of special education because of her schools’ superior methods. But this claim demonstrates that her schools take students with the mildest disabilities, and leaves those with high needs to the public schools, a complaint often lodged against charters.
The most disturbing comment in the article about the study comes at the very end.
Jim Shelton, who oversees charter school initiatives for the Department of Education, said the enrollment gaps between charters and traditional schools are a “relatively small difference,” and that it was difficult to draw conclusions based on the information provided. But he said his office would takes steps to address the issue.
Shelton, formerly of McKinsey, formerly of the Gates Foundation, formerly part of Race to the Top, formerly in charge of innovation grants, now runs the U.S. Department of Education’s charter school initiatives. He sees only a “relatively small difference” in the data presented by GAO. In other words, no problem here. Move on, look the other way. He finds it difficult to draw conclusions. He sees nothing of importance. But his office will “take steps” to address this unimportant issue.
In a story
about this report in Huffington Post, Shelton says, “The report puts a fine point on issues we were concerned about,” demonstrating his lack of interest in the issue. Expecting Shelton to monitor charter school violations of the rights of students with special needs or of any other wrong committed by these private sector schools is putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.