Santa Clara County’s Board of Education met all day Saturday to hear an annual report from its 20 authorized charter schools. The Board requests these annual reports as a way to provide oversight. They give a colorful and thoughtful picture of the publicly-funded charter schools here in Santa Clara County.
During my six-plus years as a trustee, the Board has always demanded that charter schools mirror the demographics of the community they serve. In addition, we have consistently requested that the percentage of special education students in these charters also reflect their traditional public school numbers.
With that said, on Saturday we were given a data book with enrollment numbers for each charter, including the percentages of students with special needs and formal Individual Education Plans (IEPs). The data indicate that six of 20 authorized charters have significantly more special education students than the traditional public school average per district. Here are a few examples listed in data book:
- Discovery II has 13.3 percent of students who require IEPs, and San Jose Unified has 9.7 percent.
- ACE Empower Academy has 12.8 percent of students who require IEPs, and Alum Rock has 10.8 percent.
- Summit Denali has 13.4 percent of students requiring IEPs, and Sunnyvale Elementary has 9.7 percent.
On the other side, 14 of the charters we’ve authorized have significantly less IEP students. Here are a few examples:
- Bullis has 6.4 percent of students who require IEPs, and Los Altos Elementary with 9.8%.
- Rocketship Alma has 6.8 percent of students who require IEPs, and San Jose Unified has 9.7 percent.
- Rocketship Mateo Sheedy has 3.4 percent of students who require IEPs, and San Jose Unified has 9.7 percent.
The goal of equity is not being met, but it’s about equal numbers—it’s about making certain all students achieve their potential academically and socially, and are on the road to being college and career ready. Identifying more special education students is not the answer.
I have participated in several hundred IEP meetings in my years as a school principal, and I know there is no magic bullet in the IEP or accompanying services, whether push-in or pullout. Achievement and on-task behavior is often a result of the relationship a student has with their regular classroom teacher.
However, special education services that do not "include" children in regular classrooms often do a disservice to the learner. Teachers must believe all students can learn, just not always in the same way on the same day. Public school teachers in California should have the ability to differentiate learning for each and every student in the regular classroom, with help from expert instructional coaches. To do this, professional development in districts must be targeted to providing strategic ways to meet the learning needs of all students.
California spends more than $8 billion dollars every year—in federal, state and district funds—to assist 700,000 special education students. A 2015 report on special education funding indicates that we need "a far-reaching integration of special education students, teachers and programs into regular education." This new effort is driven by low achievement rates for special education students throughout the system. The task force's draft report indicates that 90 percent of identified special education students have no cognitive impairment.
My years as a teacher for incarcerated youth convinced me that African-American and Latino students are more likely to be incorrectly placed into special education programs. In a Fall 2014 report titled, "Pipeline to Prison: Special education leads to jail for thousands of American Children," the authors found that "too often, special need students receive an inferior education, fall behind, and end up with few options for college and career."
At Saturday's meeting, the Board agreed to have a future informational item on special education services, the Response to Intervention model and an explanation on why SCCOE-authorized charter schools have significantly fewer IEP students than their traditional public school peers. I look forward to the discussion.