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ERIC Number: EJ1073906
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2015
Pages: 8
Abstractor: ERIC
ISSN: ISSN-1539-9664
The Myth about the Special Education Gap
Winters, Marcus A.
Education Next, v15 n4 p34-41 Fall 2015
As public schools, charter schools are legally required to educate all students regardless of the difficulties they bring with them into the classroom. Nonetheless, many are concerned that the charter sector fails to educate all comers. Charter schools are often criticized for not enrolling similar proportions of students with disabilities as are enrolled in schools operated by the surrounding district. In this study, Marcus Winters examines data on all elementary-school students in certain years in New York City and Denver, Colorado, to estimate the relative importance of various factors that appear to be contributing to a special education gap. His findings suggest that the gap, though real, is not as disturbing as it might seem. Two key drivers of the gap are differences in rates of students being classified as having a Specific Learning Disability (SLD) and the rates at which students who do not have disabilities move from one sector to the other. Neither factor indicates that charter schools are driving special education students away from their doors. Further, the size of the gap is determined largely by differences among students with mild rather than severe learning difficulties. Both New York City and Denver are considered leaders in the charter school movement. Each city has experienced rapid expansion of the charter school sector in recent years. While the evidence for the effectiveness of charter schools nationwide is mixed, research has found that the charter schools in these cities are on average more effective than district schools in raising student test scores. Although the data are richer for Denver than for New York City, Winters' essential findings from the two cities are remarkably similar. In both, the relatively low enrollment of students with severe disabilities in charter schools accounts for very little of the gap, as there are very few of these students in either school sector. Instead, the special education gap begins in kindergarten, when students classified at a young age as having a speech or language disorder are less likely than other students to apply to charter schools. It grows in part because students enrolled in district elementary schools are considerably more likely to be classified as having an SLD than those enrolled in charter elementary schools. Also, students with disabilities are less likely than students without disabilities to enter charters in non-gateway grades.
Hoover Institution. Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-6010. Tel: 800-935-2882; Fax: 650-723-8626; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: Elementary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Colorado; New York
Grant or Contract Numbers: N/A