"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Special Education Students Left Behind in New Orleans Charter Chain Gangs

When Orleans School Board President, Phyllis Landrieu, thanked God for Katrina, which allowed the building of a charter school system to replace the public one that was washed away, she might have offered in her prayer some mention of the needs of special education students, which she and God both have obviously forgotten about.

These are the children who would come be written off by the advocates for the cheap charter chain gang "choice" solution that was planned by power elites of both political parties as the ultimate solution and national model to educating the poor. These are the children who got the choice of those elites interested in crushing the rights of students and teachers alike in the new decentralized version of school prisons on the cheap.

To be sure, the State of Louisiana has maintained some traditional public schools (Recovery School District) in New Orleans as the control group for the test score comparisons that will show the new charter schools out-performing the traditional schools. Unlike the new charters, the recovery schools do not have selective admissions, the Recovery Schools have higher student-teacher ratios, and they have larger numbers of students with special needs.

Stay tuned for LEAP scores later this year, which will produce banner headlines on how the charters have saved New Orleans children from ignorance. Thank you, Jesus, and pass the offering plate so corporations can get their tax credits for helping to support God's preferred solution.

The Times-Picauyne has a big story today on the struggle by one parent to get special education for her child. A couple of excerpts here:

. . . .Part of the issue comes down to money: Providing strong special education services is not always financially advantageous -- or even feasible -- for charter schools. While a typical urban school system might have a special education administrator who oversees services for 6,000 students, for instance, a typical charter school might have 60 special education students, but would still need an administrator who knows the technicalities of complicated special education laws. Schools that are individually run can't take advantage of the economies of scale present in larger school systems.

. . . .

At John McDonogh Senior High School, a traditional school in the Recovery School District, at least one out of every six students had a disability such as autism, blindness or mental retardation that entitled them to special education services on the official student count date. But at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology, a Recovery District charter school, one in every 40 children was a special education student at the count date. And at Benjamin Franklin High School, a selective charter school overseen by the Orleans Parish School Board, recent statistics show that one in every 200 students qualifies for special education.

These figures do not include gifted and talented students, who also qualify for exceptional children's services under state law. At Franklin, for instance, about 75 percent of the children are gifted and talented.

The numbers are fluid, and educators say there could be many unidentified special education students in the city's charter and traditional schools, or ones who have been identified since the count date.

"It's hard to just look at the data and say, 'This school has 11 special education students, and this school has 20,'¤" said Doris Hicks, principal at King. "We've gotten a lot of students that probably were in special education before Katrina, whose parents saw it as an opportunity not to put them in because of the stigma they perceived."

'Encouraged' to leave?

Activists report they are hearing fewer complaints this year of charter schools outright turning away special education children, but they say some charter operators have found subtle ways to discourage children with special needs from staying.

"I've heard of cases where charter schools have taken special education students and then gently encouraged them to leave because they can't provide the services," said Karran Harper Royal, an activist on special education issues.

Smith wrote in her blog entry that she knows of one charter school that "did a blitz for speech-only students," so it would appear to have an appropriate number of special education students, and could avoid taking those with emotional and behavioral disorders. She said the only special education student turned away at McDonogh was a kindergartner in a wheelchair who would not have been able to access the auditorium, principal's office, computer labs or school nurse if the school had accepted her. . . .

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