DC Public Charter Schools Serve Higher Percentages of At-Risk Students and High Needs Special Education Students than DC’s Traditional Public Schools

Student Enrollment, DC PCSB, At Risk Students, SPED

(This post is based on an analysis​ of city enrollment data for 2017-18 conducted by the DC Public Charter School Board.)

Total Public Charter School Enrollment
Overall public charter schools enrolled 43,340 students in 2017-18 compared with 47,982 in traditional schools (DCPS) students. That’s 47% of all students.

Adult Enrollment
But it’s important to remember that nearly one out of ten public charter school students in Washington, DC is enrolled in an adult public charter school, whereas DCPS enrolls many fewer adults. Here are the numbers:

  Charter DCPS Charter Share
PK-12 (includes alternative schools) 39,472 46,972 46%
Adult 3,868 1,010 79%
Total 43,340 47,982 47%

At Risk Students and English Language Learners
This becomes important when considering enrollment of At-Risk and English Language Learners (ELL). At Risk students are defined as non-adult students who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, are homeless or in the foster system, or are more than a year or more behind in high school. English Language Learners are students between the ages of 3 and 21.

Consequently, when determining what share of At-Risk students or ELL students public charter schools and DCPS educate, it’s important not to count adult students, since, by definition, no matter how needy or non-fluent in English the students are, he or she may not be counted as At-Risk or ELL. These percentages must be expressed as a share of students in grades Pre-Kindergarden through 12, or PK-12 students, which excludes adults.

As can be seen from the below numbers, in 2017-18 48.0% of PK-12 students in public charter schools were counted as At-Risk, compared with 44.7% of DCPS students.

  Charter % of Charter Students DCPS % of DCPS Students
At Risk Students 18,390 48.0% 20,987 44.7%
All PK-12 Students 39,472   46,972  

English Language Learner percentages must be similarly calculated using only PK-12 students. As it has for years, DCPS serves a significantly larger percentage of ELL students than public charter schools.

  Charter % of Charter Students DCPS % of DCPS Students
ELL Students 3,077 7.8% 6,859 14.6%
All PK-12 Students 39,472   46,972  

Students with Disabilities
When comparing the percentage of special education students served, on the other hand, it’s appropriate to look at all students, including adult. That’s because adult schools may choose whether they plan to serve students with disabilities in accordance with a federal law called IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). (All PK-12 schools must identify and serve students with disabilities in accordance with IDEA).

While half of adult public charter schools have chosen to serve students with disabilities in accordance with IDEA, most still provide meaningful supports to all students that may enroll. Using all students, we see that in 2017-18, 13.4% of public charter students were identified as special education students compared with 14.2% of DCPS students.

  Charter % of Charter Students DCPS % of DCPS Students
Special Education Students 5,806 13.4% 6,790 14.2%
All Students 43,340   47,982  

High-Need Students with Disabilities
While DCPS serves a slightly higher percentage of students with disabilities than pubic charter schools, it often surprises people to learn that public charter schools serve a higher percentages of students with disabilities who require the most hours of supports. All special education students in DC are classified as level one through four, with level four students requiring the most intensive hours of supports. Many level four special education students, for example, have a dedicated aide with them during the entire school day.

The table below shows the number of special education students, by level, at public charter school and DCPS schools. As can be seen, 4.6% of public charter schools students are level 3 and level 4 special education compared with 4.1% at DCPS. 109 (91%) of the public charter schools served level 3 and level 4 special education students in 2017-18.

  Charter % of Charter Students DCPS % of DCPS Students
Special Education Level 1 1,978 4.6% 3.075 6.4%
Special Education Level 2 1,837 4.2% 1,758 3.7%
Special Education Level 3 776 1.8% 621 1.3%
Special Education Level 4 1,215 2.8% 1,336 2.8%
Special Education Levels 3+4 1,991 4.6% 1,957 4.1%
All Special Education 5,806 13.4% 6,790 14.2%
All Students 43,340   47,982  

 

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