Should Charter Schools Enroll More Special Education Students?

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Education Next talks with Robin J. Lake, Gary Miron, and Pedro A. Noguera

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FALL 2014 / VOL. 14, NO. 4

ednext_XIV_4_forum_img01Should charter schools be required to enroll students labeled special needs at the same rate as local school districts, that is, educate their “fair share”? Or is it reasonable for a charter school to counsel special education students to go elsewhere, if another school would be a better fit? If “fair share” requirements are not appropriate, what is? Can any school be expected to meet every need of every child? Exploring these questions are Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington; Gary Miron, professor in the College of Education at Western Michigan University; and Pedro Noguera, professor of education at New York University.

Robin J. LakeThe Key Is Innovation, Not Regulation

Gary MironCharters Should Be Expected to Serve All Kinds of Students

Pedro A. NogueraSchool Quality Matters Most, Whether District or Charter

Comment on this article
  • Allison Hertog says:

    Is the charter school movement, the champion of “cage-busting” innovation, afraid of taking on special education? Us advocates are clearly intimidating, no doubt, but that hasn’t gotten us very far in terms of the academic performance of special needs students in public schools, now has it?

    Remember that advocates and lawsuits are almost never brought into the picture, if parents of special needs students are happy with the education their children are getting. Yes, special education is used as a weapon by the unions and others to attack the movement, but they don’t get off the ground very far when special needs parents are happy.

    So, I posit to the movement very simply, make special needs parents happy. And do that by following Mr. Hess’ cage-busting advice: 1) Know the cage (i.e., the special education laws and regulations) in which you operate; 2) Determine the problems you are trying to solve; and 3) Use time, talent, money and rules more effectively than traditional schools to solve those problems.

    Relay Graduate School of Education is taking on special ed as of this Fall. Just do it.

  • Paige Sessa says:

    The answer to this question depends on how the charter school is viewed by the school district and it’s stakeholders. If the charter school is viewed as one option in a continuum of school choices such as typical classrooms, blended classrooms, virtual classrooms, then charters should not have to meet the needs of all students. However, if the charter school is seen as a replacement for public schools then they would have to provide for the needs of all students just as the public schools must do now. If charters had to meet the various challenges that the public schools do they would either fail or become indistinguishable from them.

  • Allison Hertog says:


    If the charter school is the Local Education Agency (versus the district having that designation), the charter is required by law to provide the continuum of special education services. Many of the more innovative, high-achieving charters have chosen to be their own LEAs collaborating with other charters to provide sped services, rather than relying on the district to do so.

    See my article on RedefinEd.

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