GAO and George Miller don’t understand how special education works

Yesterday’s “exquisitely timedGAO report set off an avalanche of accusations at charter schools for “discriminating” against students with disabilities with its finding that special-needs students represent a lower proportion of charter-school enrollment than they do in district schools. Representative George Miller, who requested the study, found the news “sobering.” Yet everyone already knows, as Eva Moskowitz told the Wall Street Journal, that the best charter schools try to help students with mild disabilities shed their labels (and Individual Education Plans) by improving their math and reading abilities. That could explain a significant part of the discrepancy. But there’s another point that’s overlooked entirely: No single public school is expected to serve students with every single type of disability. In fact, traditional public schools regularly “counsel out” students with severe disabilities because they don’t have the resources and expertise to serve them. Many school districts operate separate schools (or programs) precisely for those kids. Should the GAO put out a report blasting them for skirting their responsibilities? Of course not. What these districts are doing—what every school district of any size does—is to create special programs at particular schools that can better meet the needs of students with particular disabilities. Because, again, no single public school is expected to serve students with every single type of disability. Scratch that: Except for charter schools, which are somehow expected to do the impossible.

SOURCE: “Charter Schools Fall Short on Disabled,” by Stephanie Banchero and Caroline Porter, The Wall Street Journal, June 19, 2012.

A version of this article appeared as a blog post on Flypaper.

Michael J. Petrilli
Michael J. Petrilli is the President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.