Bellwether "Briefing Book": By 2035, Charter Schools will Educate 20-40% of all American Public School Students

Bellwether has just issued a “briefing book” called “The State of the Charter School Movement” which “reviews the current state of play of the charter school movement, recent accomplishments, and opportunities and challenges going forward.”

Here are a few highlights:

The report also delves into  charter schools' proportionately smaller enrollment of children with disabilities.  Nationally, 11.2% of students enrolled in traditional district schools are identified as eligible for special education services, but only 8.2% of students enrolled in charters have disabilities.

This discrepancy, according to Bellwether, has less to do with charters’ unwillingness to serve special needs kids and more to do with the fact that charters have fewer resources, parents of kids with disabilities tend to be “risk-averse” (trust me on this; us special needs parents have all the risk we can handle), some charters may counsel out kids with disabilities, and districts may over-identify kids.

A few thoughts:

As charter school demand continues to grow (currently there are one million children on charter school waiting lists) and new charters open,  teacher labor union opposition may decrease. The writing’s on the wall: why fight a losing battle? Screeds like this one from Newark Teachers Union – ““NO to more charter schools – YES TO TRADITIONAL PUBLIC SCHOOLS! “ -- paint union leaders as anachronistic and narcissistic, more concerned with market share and less concerned with student well-being. Smart leaders will recognize this reality and urge constituents to accept charter schools as part of the landscape of public school systems.

Charter schools are particularly popular with black parents. In Newark, for example, charter schools will enroll 50% of Newark's black students. There’s a natural link between this trend and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Enrollment of children with disabilities in charter schools lags and charter school operators need to improve access through appropriate programing and accommodations. There also may be a missed opportunity here. Children with moderate to severe disabilities are often served in out-of-district placements, a common practice in New Jersey.  Why not create charter schools specifically for children with disabilities? There are a few out there – the NYC Autism Charter School comes to mind – but they’re rare birds.

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