Why the Gap? Special Education and New York City Charter Schools

The significant growth of charter schools in the United States has brought both praise for the excellent results achieved by some schools and criticism that charter schools may not be serving the most disadvantaged students. Our analysis reveals several important findings: The gap in special education enrollment exists primarily because students with disabilities—particularly those with autism or who have a speech or language impairment—are less likely to apply to charter schools in kindergarten than are regular enrollment students; the gap grows considerably as students progress from kindergarten through third grade; the growth in the special education gap occurs mostly in what could be considered the most subjective categories of student disabilities; and there is great mobility among special education students regardless of whether they attend a charter or traditional public school.

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