New Study Details Special Education Best Practices in CA Charter Schools

October 27, 2016

  • Print
Media Contact: Caity Heim

Sacramento - Today, the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) released Meeting the Needs of Every Student Through Inclusion, a report that details the special education program philosophy behind 10 exemplary California charter public schools, how they implement best practices on their campuses, and what policy arrangements have allowed them to succeed. This qualitative study of some of the highest-performing charter schools in California offers new insights into the best ways to serve students with disabilities in all schools, in particular the benefits of inclusive education.

For too long, California's students with disabilities have faced significant disparities in the quality of their education, a problem exacerbated by a focus on compliance over results, lack of autonomy, and a failure to truly individualize student supports.  

"Charters school leaders recognize students learn better together, and they belong together in the classroom, regardless of their ability," said Jed Wallace, president and CEO, CCSA. "Creating communities where everyone feels valued and accepted begins in our schools. Charter schools do not have a history of segregating students by ability, and have long modeled effective classroom practices. I am thrilled by the way charter schools are embracing student differences and offering inclusive education that is shown to benefit all students."

Key Findings
Though the final sample of 10 schools was diverse in size, instructional model, and student demographics, the following concepts and practices existed across each school:

  • Embracing student differences as part of school culture
  • A special education program philosophy built around inclusion
  • Multi-tiered systems of support to layer interventions
  • Data-driven instruction and interventions
  • Family and community partnerships were leveraged
  • Schools had autonomy over their special education funding and staffing
  • Professional development was tailored and staff-driven

Students Learn Better Together
One of the key findings from the study centered on the dedication of teachers and administrators to provide inclusive practices at their schools.   "The practice of inclusion sets charter school programs apart in their ability to serve students with special needs," said Kate Dove, Special Education Advisor, CCSA. "We are pleased to note that, according to a recent analysis by the California Department of Education, 88% of charter students with disabilities are being served in general education classes for more than 80% of their school day, compared to 53% of students with disabilities statewide."

Getting Results
The practices outlined in the report have led to incredible student success at the 10 schools studied. Two are California Gold Ribbon schools, one is a National Blue Ribbon school, and another is internationally known for its cutting-edge approach to inclusion. The median special education enrollment at the schools was 10%, with some schools educating over 14% students with disabilities.   Recent data shows that charter schools in the sample studied are outperforming state averages on standardized tests in English Language Arts (ELA) and Math. In 2014-15, a statewide transition to a new assessment system and standards caused a drop in proficiency across all California schools. That said, students with disabilities at the charter schools in our sample still outperformed the state average in both ELA and Math.

Average Special Education Subgroup Proficiency Levels in the 10 Sample Schools vs. Statewide Non-Charter Schools
Year ELA: Charter ELA: Non-Charter Math: Charter Math: Non-Charter
2012-13 50% 29% 61% 29%
2014-15 29% 12% 25% 9%

These charter schools were able to create specialized programs and implement the successful concepts and practices outlined above because of the autonomy they have over their special education programs. The majority of the schools in this study operate as either Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) or LEA-like for purposes of special education* which allows them to make programmatic decisions at their school-site.  

Special Education Best Practices
CCSA is happy to share this report detailing best practices that all California schools can implement to improve their educational programs for students with disabilities. To learn more about specific findings, methodology, and more, check out the following resources:

*Under California law, charter schools can operate as their own independent LEA in a Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA). This allows charter schools to attain full autonomy and flexibility over their special education funding and programs, allowing schools to hire the right staff and create high-quality, individualized programs for students. Additionally, schools can operate in LEA-like environments where the charter school creates a contract with their authorizing school district to secure funding and programmatic freedom for special education services.

About the California Charter Schools Association
The California Charter Schools Association's vision is to increase student learning by growing the number of families choosing high quality charter public schools so that no child is denied the right to a great public education. Our mission is to ensure a million students attend charter public schools by 2022, with charter public schools outperforming non-charter public schools on every measure. We do this by serving as the advocacy organization that builds the policy environment needed to grow as quickly as possible the number of students attending high quality charter public schools. For more information, please visit our website at