With the discussion about charter schools heating up during the 2017 session of the Kentucky General Assembly, I decided to examine a frequently raised question: Do these public schools of choice discriminate against students with learning disabilities?
To investigate this, I used the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which happens to be one of the more stable national surveys of our public education system.
What I found:*
The first rows in the table show that in the 2015 NAEP Grade 4 Reading Assessment, the proportion of students with learning disabilities in the NAEP’s charter school random testing sample was 12 percent. Statistically speaking, that isn’t significantly different from the 13 percent of students who had disabilities in the non-charter school sample for this assessment.
As you read through the table for other subject and grade level test data, you will see that the differences are all essentially the same from a statistical point of view.
The percentages also exactly matched when I examined the NAEP charter-versus-non-charter statistics from 2011 Grade 8 Reading results.
Similar results are found in Atlanta, the nation’s 39th-largest city, where, as I recently addressed, charter schools significantly outperformed traditional public schools on the 2015 NAEP in reading and math for black students.
The NAEP Grade 8 Reading sample shows the proportion of learning disabled students in Atlanta’s charters amounted to 14 percent of total enrollment while the proportion of disabled student enrollment in Atlanta’s traditional system was only 10 percent. For math, the proportions were 13 percent in charters and 11 percent in the traditional schools. Again, sampling error can explain these differences, but they are ties and most definitely are not weighted in favor of traditional public schools.
Thus, within the sampling error of the NAEP, even if there might have been a difference in enrollment patterns for charter and non-charter public schools for students with disabilities at some time in the past, any such differences apparently disappeared by 2015.
(*Using the NAEP Data Explorer web tool, I generated a set of tables for students with disabilities from the all the 2015 NAEP national public school reading and math samples. I did this by applying the NAEP Data Explorer’s cross tab feature to the 2015 reading and math assessments for the fourth and eighth grades. This allowed me to compare the percentages of students with disabilities, including those with a 504 [IEP] education plan, in charter and non-charter schools across the nation.)