New Report: Charter Schools in LAUSD Charter Operated Program (Option 3) Enrolling More Students with Severe Disabilities, Closing Special Education Achievement Gap

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September 5, 2017 In 2011, the charter community and LAUSD came together to build an arrangement, known as the Charter Operated Program: Option 3 (COP3), offering charters flexibility and autonomy while maintaining their participation in the LAUSD SELPA. The COP3 has enabled participating charter schools to provide an expanded range of innovative and high-quality special education services and to increase the number and range of students with special needs that they serve. Our new report examines the impact of COP3 on enrollment and outcomes of students with disabilities.

View the full report and fact sheet. Here are the key findings:

Population Increase:
After six years of operation, the percentage of students with special needs served by the nearly 140 COP3 member schools has increased by over 40% (11.5% of total enrollment in 2016-17). The population of students with moderate-to-severe disabilities has doubled (2.3% of total enrollment in 2016-17). The largest increase is seen in the shrinking proportion of students identified with learning disabilities and a corresponding increasing proportion of students identified with lower-incidence disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and orthopedic impairments.

Improved Academic Outcomes: At the same time, COP3 charter schools have made real gains in improving academic outcomes of students with disabilities. On the 2015-16 statewide assessments (CAASPP), students with disabilities outperformed their district counterparts with 13% of COP3 students with disabilities meeting or exceeding English Language Arts (ELA) standards (compared to 10% in district-operated schools). In mathematics, 8% COP3 students with disabilities met or exceeded standards (compared to 7% in district-operated schools).

Increased Graduation Rates:
The most transformative gains, however, are seen in special education subgroup graduation rates. The data shows that students with disabilities are 1.5 times more likely to graduate form a COP3 charter school than from a district-operated school (an 82% special education graduation rate in COP3 schools vs 55% in district-operated schools). This is an outstanding achievement as graduating with a high school diploma is among the top predictors of postsecondary success.

What Makes COP3 Successful:
The COP3 is an innovative arrangement that is unique to LAUSD and unparalleled in California. The keys to its success lie in its governance and finance structures. Member schools, while continuing to operate under the umbrella of LAUSD, have full autonomy and bear full responsibility for providing special education services to their students and receive most of their special education funding directly. These schools still contribute a portion to LAUSD for administrative costs; however, they retain most of their special education funding to provide services, to develop their own programs (specifically targeted for students with moderate to severe disabilities) and/or to pool resources between schools. The COP3 structure has, for the first time, allowed charter schools to share services, manage risk, and take advantage of the economies of scale not possible in other arrangements.

The latest data from LAUSD affirms that this innovative model is empowering charter schools to serve all students and resulting in better outcomes for students. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with the district and encourage other districts to implement similar models to ensure the growth of high quality supports and services for students across all settings.