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Students who attend charter schools in Newark, including English students and those with learning difficulties, are less likely to be transferred in two years than their colleagues in district public schools, according to a new study. Children were also significantly more likely to drop their classification of special needs while enrolled in a Newark charter, the authors note.
The study, released as a working role this week and summarized in the newspaper Next Education, offers more perspective on the long debate over admissions and retention in the charter industry. Critics of publicly funded but privately run schools claimed that push children with learning, language or behavioral challenges through difficult disciplinary tools such as suspension or expulsion.
Co-author Marcus Winters, a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Boston University, said in an interview that he believed that individual schools of all types “inappropriately” encouraged some students to drop out. But the Newark study, along with previous search looking at schools in Tennessee and North Carolina has refuted the notion that charters are routinely involved in practice, he argued.
“I think it’s fair to say that our newspaper … has already debunked the myth that charter schools – at least in those areas that have been studied – are systematically expelling these students,” said Winters.
Winters and co-author Allison Gilmour, a professor at Temple University, decided to compare enrollment trends in Newark, a city with one of the largest sectors of charter schools in the country. To do this, they used data from the Newark Enrolls enrollment system, which allows families to select from their choice of traditional schools and approximately 70 percent of the city’s portfolios. (Not all local charters participate in Newark Enrolls, but those who do account for about five-sixths of charter students.)
Several variables in the Newark enrollment formula determine which students are enrolled in certain schools, including each child’s school preferences; individual factors prioritized by several schools (such as siblings’ preference); and random lottery numbers that are used in the event that a particular school has too many applications. By collecting administrative data between the 2014-15 and 2017-18 school years, Winters and Gilmour were able to compare school entry and exit patterns for nearly 14,000 students.
In all, children who attended Newark charter schools were 22 percentage points less likely to leave school in two years than substantially similar students who were enrolled in traditional public schools. English students were 16 percentage points less likely to be transferred from a charter, and students with disabilities were almost 11 percentage points less likely. The difference for Hispanic students was not statistically significant.
The lower chances of transfers can be attributed to the format of the classified school preference system. In a model that controlled the classification of schools by families, licensed students were even less likely to leave in two years, but only by about 10 percentage points; this suggests that a considerable portion of the charter school’s effect is simply a reflection of the students attending the school they wanted to go to in the first place, said Winters.
“You may be more willing to resist a school that you originally had as a major preference,” he said. “If you are attending a school that you attended on purpose, you are less likely to leave. And if you are going to a charter school in a place like Newark, where several of the charter schools are among the most popular choices … you are probably going to one of your most favorite schools. “
By tracking the same students over time, the study also looks at gradual movement within individual subgroups. Specifically, children with a special needs rating in charter schools are much less likely to still have an Individualized Education Program a few years later – a phenomenon that may help explain why the percentage of students receiving services is lower in charter schools. . The effect is particularly noticeable for children entering charter schools between kindergarten and third grade (31 percentage points more likely to miss a special needs rating within three years) and between grades four and six (20 points) . These findings fit with research that points to similar trends in the assignment of special needs at Boston charter schools.
Comprehensive exams, including a 2012 report from the Federal Government Accountability Office, showed that charters generally teach fewer children with disabilities than district schools. More recent evidence indicates that these gaps may be narrowing, although it is not known how the great revolution unleashed by COVID-19 may have changed enrollment trends.
If the study raises doubts about the claim that charter schools consistently work to remove struggling or difficult-to-teach students from their classrooms, it offers little clarity about how they approach recruitment. At least one study found that letters in several states were less likely than district schools to respond to enrollment requests from parents of children with severe disabilities.
Winters concluded that population differences across sectors could arise from just one of three sources: student recruitment, student mobility once enrolled, and (in the case of English students and students with disabilities) changes in status classification, such as those detected in the Newark study. More research is needed on how different schools attract families, he said.
“It is clear to me, at least, that the main factor in these enrollment gaps is who is enrolling in the first place. We need more information on the registration side. “