In a recent e-mail that has been spreading through the city’s inboxes, Eva Moskowitz made some wild claims about charter schools’ enrollment of special needs students — even arguing that her fellow charter school managers had been too willing to admit that they served fewer students with special needs than district schools, and that the UFT had “lied” about her own schools’ SPED enrollment. As “proof,” she cited a study that had been posted on the GothamSchools blog — but that research has a fatal flaw.
As we pointed out in our recent report on the failure of most NYC charter schools to serve special needs students, any analysis of their claims about special education enrollment is meaningless without an explanation of the levels of need among the students. A special education student who requires a few hours of speech therapy per week and a student who needs a self contained classroom every day are both classified as needing an Individualized Education Program (IEP), but bring very different challenges to schools. The author of the GothamSchools study left these differences completely out of her analysis, even though the data is available through the Freedom of Information Act (and was included in our report, once we finally received it from the state).
If the charter school management truly believe they enroll the same kind of students that district schools enroll, then they should make these numbers more accessible to the public — since they have nothing to hide.
[Update: Links to the source data are now available.]
However, the truth of the matter is that they enroll students with the lowest levels of need, and then compare their performance with schools that enroll students with the highest level of need. The charters also do this when they claim their students are economically similar to students at the district schools. This is also just not true, and once again the truth is in the details. Research has shown that NYC charters largely enroll students eligible for reduced price lunch, who are not as poor as the district school students who are eligible for free lunch.
Data is a dangerous thing if used inappropriately or incorrectly, and charter school management plays fast and loose with data and stats. It’s time that they stopped distorting the facts and hiding their numbers. If this were a poker game, it would be time for them to show their hand. If the facts bear any resemblance to their story, then they should have no problem making their data public. Yet when you visit the DOE homepage for a charter school, you find that virtually none of the information available for district schools is also available for charter schools. This is one of the reasons why the UFT has continually insisted that any increases to the charter cap need to be combined with requirements that more information about New York’s charter schools is easily available to the public. As long as charters are getting taxpayer dollars then they should be required to engage in full disclosure. What have they got to hide other than the truth?
On a technical note, the data for our report on special education was collected from the bi-monthly invoices charter schools themselves (including Moskowitz’s) submit to the NYC Department of Education (DOE) and NYS Education Department (NYSED). These invoices provide enrollment information by level of need and service provided so that charters can be reimbursed for services they provide. The fact that the invoices are tied to funding make them one of the more credible and accurate measures of charter school special education enrollment. The invoices are filed bi-monthly and provide multiple measures and sometimes conflicting data for each charter, so to be conservative and give the benefit of the doubt to the charters, we used the largest special education enrollment reported. We requested data for 64 charters and received invoices for 61.
Here are links to the source data: