Thursday, October 7, 2010

Newsweek article tarnishes New Orleans' charter image

In a devastating new report, Newsweek magazine alleges that New Orleans' charter schools, widely touted as the solution to the city's "failed" public school system, discriminate against children with disabilities.

"What good is the charter revolution," the headline asks, "if it doesn't reach the students who are most in need?"

Part of the Newsweek article focuses on a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center against the Louisiana Department of Education. The lawsuit claims that charter schools in New Orleans violate the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, "particularly in terms of excessive punishment of children with emotional and behavioral problems."

Newsweek says the expulsion rates for special education students in New Orleans charter schools are "shockingly high."

One apologist for New Orleans charter schools tells Newsweek that the problem is "not enough resources," and that in New Orleans "such a great percentage of students are considered special needs."

But anyone who follows the news knows that New Orleans schools, particularly in the Recovery School District, receive much more per student than other public schools in the state. And Newsweek demolishes the argument about the number of special needs students in the city:

Actually, the percentage of public-school students in New Orleans considered
special needs is pretty low: just 8 percent. In Baltimore, the percentage of
special-needs students was 15.3 percent in the school year 2008–09, while in St.
Louis, the percentage was 17.4.

The Newsweek article raises an important issue: "does the much-touted academic progress of New Orleans’s post-Katrina charters come in part because special-needs students are being weeded out? "

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