Quick: send your kids to charters lest they be “tossed in the lion’s den with the special needs student!”

Today, The New York Times published an op-ed piece by journalism professor Andrea Gabor that essentially describes a “two-tier” educational system: one created by the presence of charters that leaves the neediest students behind. And although many official charter spokespeople wouldn’t dare say it, it’s the practice of driving out children with special needs that accounts for lots of the “success” charters brag about.

Gabor devotes a good deal of her attention to charter school attrition, focusing on the effects “no-excuses” policies have on students with special needs:

Some students with I.E.P.s find charters, which often foster a no-excuses culture, a poor fit, and leave voluntarily. But sometimes there’s pressure: Administrators may advise parents that the school can’t support a child’s disability, or punish kids for even the slightest disciplinary infractions. However it happens, it leads to rising special-needs populations at nearby public schools.

Chrystina Russell, the founding principal of Global Technology Preparatory, a Harlem middle school, says charter-school “refugees” often showed up at her school after Oct. 31, when the Department of Education makes key funding decisions for traditional public schools based on head counts. This means that it can be difficult for the schools to hire additional teachers or support personnel when new students show up (though some funding is updated for special-education students who transfer by Dec. 31).

Global Tech had no post-October transfers this year, but had as many as eight two years ago. Nearby Isaac Newton Middle School for Math and Science has had about a dozen so far this year.

Global Tech, where more than one-third of the students have I.E.P.s, does impressive work despite the challenges. If special-education kids — most of whom are black and Hispanic boys — are segregated when they get to high school, they are unlikely to graduate. So Global Tech is committed to mainstreaming them in general-education classes by the eighth grade. Instead of suspending disruptive students, the school takes away extracurricular sports privileges and holds lunchtime detentions and meetings with parents. Some of its special-needs students have been accepted to the best public high schools in the city.

Gabor further notes that the charters which push out special needs students are often the very same ones to claim that they enroll the same types of students as do district schools.  Those charters aren’t, however, bound to “most regulations governing traditional public schools,” and their enrollment and financial policies allow them to manipulate the populations they serve.

Gabor ultimately concludes that “if charter schools are allowed to push out existing public schools, they should, at the very least, be subject to the same accountability measures for enrollment, attrition and disciplinary procedures, to ensure that the neediest students are being treated fairly.”


Shortly after its publication, Gabor’s piece was flooded with comments, many echoing her sentiments about the misleading nature of charter schools’ “success.”  (Yay to the NYT for actually publishing a piece with this type of content; it seems, given the support for traditional public education voiced in the comments, that it was a welcome addition to the op-ed section.)

But perhaps most interesting is that the few commenters who advocate for charter expansion highlight exactly what’s wrong with charters in the first place: in general, they are publicly-funded experiments in resegregation. And, disturbingly, many people seem to be okay with that.

Here are some comments, copied and pasted from the NYT page, which show that many charter supporters condone the segregation of our nation’s children–whether it be in terms of race, class, socio-economic status, or ability/special needs.  All emphasis here is mine; misspellings and typos are not!

D Jiang Chicago 1 hour ago

The article talks approving about the regular public school’s dealings with its IEP population: “Instead of suspending disruptive students, the school takes away extracurricular sports privileges and holds lunchtime detentions and meetings with parents.” 

What it doesn’t mention is the effect this has on the rest of the already struggling students in the class who have only this one chance for an education – no well-educated parents tutoring them at home, no money for Sylvan.

In a nutshell, this is why parents in poor neighborhoods like charters. They treat the kids kids who behave well right. Publics prioritize the rights of those who can’t or won’t, to the detriment of all.
(Special needs kids who disrupt class are often doing so because the regular classroom environment is extremely stressful for them. I say that as a parent of one such child. ASD kids in particular do not belong in full size classrooms at young ages.)


Joel New York, NY 1 hour ago

If charter schools provide a superior educational opportunity to more gifted and/or more motivated students who don’t have the financial resources to look to a private school alternative, that’s a good reason for their existence, not a criticism. Yes, the same result can be achieved in the public school system (e.g., Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech High Schools), but unfortunately much public school education is oriented toward the most challenged students and fails to develop and challenge those who are more likely to succeed. Charter schools help to meet that need.annual raises, and increased pension.


islandmommy Staten Island, NY 53 minutes ago

Reading between the lines Ms. Gabor doesn’t want poor people to have school choice. The middle class can move to the suburbs, upper middle class and rich can opt for private school. But too bad for poor people, their high functioning kids should be tossed in the lion’s den with the special needs student (code for violent and disturbed) in the name of equality. The charter system as it stands is imperfect but if it gives even some poor families a choice then it has more merit than the status quo.

And my personal favorite comes from “madrona” from “washington”:

madrona washington 6 hours ago

Why is it okay for a special needs child to ruin educational opportunities for other students? Mainstreaming disruptive or slow-learning students keeps motivated students from learning. Everyone is NOT equal.

Good job, madrona.  Simply stunning.

Equally interesting–but not at all surprising–is that the very few charter-supporting commenters who didn’t condone segregation were the ones who fell back on the tired game of blindly blaming teachers for “failing” schools without putting forth any clear reason (like segregation) for charter “success.” Here’s an example:

Jeffrey E. Cosnow St. Petersburg, FL 3 hours ago

The real complaint is not that “special needs” students are being poorly served by charter schools. 

It is that increasing numbers of parents want to have an actual education for their children, and are causing the growth of charter schools. 

This could mean real competition for public schools. This could be a real problem for all the government teachers. Remember, if enrollment in public schools decreases, as a result of parents deciding that charter schools are better for the children, it could mean early retirement for “veteran teachers”, who have always expected annual raises, and increased pension.

To sum up the pro-charter comments attached to Gabor’s article: we need charters to get high-functioning students away from lower-functioning or special-needs students–and what’s wrong with that?  OR…charters are just better–no further explanation given–because teachers are lazy union thugs.

And herein, folks, lies the problem: the second “charters are better!” argument (unionized teachers suck) preys upon many people’s ignorance about–or acceptance of–the first (that charters contribute to segregation).

I understand that all parents want what’s best for their kids–and I certainly don’t blame them.  But until people start being real about the reasons for some charters’ “success”–that they don’t play by the same rules and enroll the same kids traditional public schools do–the very presence of charters will continue to pollute the landscape of public education in America and promote the ridiculous assertion that charters are superior to traditional public schools.




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3 responses to “Quick: send your kids to charters lest they be “tossed in the lion’s den with the special needs student!”

  1. This is an excellent case of the urban-class-racial warfare this being played out by the billionaire funded charter movement under the guise of “school choice.” True, the wealthy can send their kids to schools that select by class (and those schools have to devote more and more resources to servicing their special needs students) but now we something new: these are parents in the lower socio-economic rungs who are now on the front lines (let by their billionaire sponsors) declaring their own kind of segregation: yes, we’ve been denied access to expensive private schools, so we’re going to practice our own form of discrimination: keep out the ELL (and we know where they come from), and those with “special needs” (surely those parents must be responsible for their learning disabilities) so that my kid can “learn” in a pristine environment.

    I’ve covered this in my blog: http://bltm.com/blog/2014/03/23/charter-schools-and-the-politics-of-urban-racial-class-warfare/

  2. Thank-you for writing this, I am linking to your blog in mine! Hope that’s ok!

  3. Pingback: How To Have An Excellent School Year | teacherbiz

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