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Report: Many city charter schools lack hardest-to-educate kids

A frequent criticism of charter schools is that they succeed by “creaming” children. A new analysis by Insideschools finds that many city charter schools do have significantly fewer needy students than other public schools.

Vanessa Witenko, a former colleague of mine, analyzed data from city charter schools (although she had trouble obtaining some data) and found that most do not enroll homeless students, offer special programs for students still learning how to speak English, or provide special education services that are legally required for some children with special needs.

Here are a few key excerpts.

On why charter schools enroll just 111 of the city’s 51,000 homeless students:

“The application period is February and March and the lottery is held in April,” said [Jeff] Litt [of the Carl C. Icahn charter schools]. “A mother who comes [to the shelter] in June is too late, so their kids go to the neighborhood school.” Homeless families may have priorities other than seeking alternatives to their neighborhood schools, he said. “They have daily survival needs. I don’t know if they have the time to research who we are, what we are, how to get in.”

On some charter schools’ use of Collaborative Team Teaching classes, intended for some children with special needs, to educate children who are learning English:

“Special education and language acquisition services are completely two different things” said [Arlen] Benjamin-Gomez, [an attorney at Advocates for Children of New York, Insideschools’ parent organization]. “Under state and federal law, you have to have, at minimum, an ESL or bilingual program. You cannot put them in a special education program to satisfy their ESL needs.”

And on how one school, Harlem’s Harriett Tubman Charter School, dealt with a troubled child:

“I started getting calls. They told me I had to come to school and sit with her in the classroom, because she was acting out,” said [Jamie] Evans, who at the time thought her daughter was just misbehaving, but now recognizes that her daughter has a disability. …

“The principal, she gave up on Christina. She said, ‘I wasn’t raised this way, and what’s going on in the household? We don’t tolerate this.’” recalls Evans. “She was just not trying to help me in no kind of way. She wouldn’t give me the time of day. I would call her. I would schedule meetings with her, but she wouldn’t show up.” After a few months in 1st grade, Evans removed Christina and enrolled her at their zoned school, PS 55, where she was evaluated and given an IEP that mandates that she be given twice weekly therapy sessions.

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