COMMENTARY | Public schools face a myriad of challenges today: decreased funding, larger class sizes, test preparation, and under-prepared students. Beginning in the early 2000s, public schools also began to face a stripping of their student clientele, as parents and special interest groups got into the education business by creating charter schools.
With state exemptions, a charter school holds more financial and curricular freedom than traditional public schools. According to Huff Post Education, students are selected for admission to best fit the charter's philosophy, and it turns out that the charters are leaving one group out: students with disabilities.
The Government Accountability Office Report states that in 2009-2010, students with disabilities accounted for 11 percent of public school students, compared to only 8 percent of charter schools. This doesn't seem equitable. Do charter schools discriminate against students that aren't part of the mainstream population?
Why are the levels of students with disabilities lower in charter schools? I would imagine it has a great deal to do with test scores. Charter schools still need to meet No Child Left Behind standards, and what better way to raise test scores than to eliminate those that may be seen as a drag on the averages? Having taught public school for 21 years, I find it contrary to the emphasis on differentiated teaching and the full inclusion models I have practiced in my classrooms. Schools should not be in the business of winning the test score game; they are in the business of educating our society, at whatever intelligence level walks through the door.
Originally, charter schools were designed to provide opportunities for students unsuccessful in public schools. Charters receive public funding, but by virtue of their charter are able to decide who to hire, how to teach, and may have more flexibility with school structures and curriculum. This seems like an ideal opportunity to meet the needs of disabled students, not another institutionalized vehicle of discrimination.
To me, the notion that charter schools should be allowed to admit a select population, or perhaps release a child that doesn't fit the school, is unconstitutional. American children have the right to a free education, whether or not they happen to live in a community where parents think they know how to run a school program better than their school district.
Charter schools should step up and teach all children. If their programs are so outstanding, shouldn't they work for everyone?
Jennifer Wolfe is a mom to a tween and a teen, as well as a middle school teacher in California. She has degrees in elementary and secondary education and has taught for 21 years.
- charter schools