Rejecting 'perverse incentives' to label kids

Success Academy Charter Schools chief Eva Moskowitz has a good reason to vilify quotas designed to get New York charter schools to enroll more high-needs students. The Success Academy already teaches English language learners and other students with special needs. They just work harder to get them into general education. What good is a law that ultimately interferes with what Moskowitz and her team do well?

What good is a law that ultimately interferes with what Moskowitz and her team do well?

New York City charter schools serve fewer English language learners and students with special needs  than district schools, but the Success Academy and other charters are less likely to label—and more likely to de-label—students as “high needs.” In her letter to the charter authorizers that drafted the enrollment plan, Moskowitz said the quotas would institutionalize the same “perverse incentives” that drive district schools to “over-identify” students who need special education (and the extra funding that goes with it).

Authorizers developed the quotas to execute a 2010 law in New York that required charter schools to enroll a higher share of English language learners and students with disabilities. Here we have a legislature swayed by the rhetoric of critics who say charter schools either discriminate against children with special needs or fail to do enough to enroll them.

But consider New York City public schools. Moskowitz writes that it takes the school district five years to get the average English language learner into the general education population. The Success Academy does so in two years. So, setting aside the quotas, English language learners will make up a smaller percentage of the Academy’s growing student enrollment. That’s part of its success.

New York lawmakers may have wanted to help students with special needs, but getting charter schools to classify more students as English language learners or as learning-disabled isn’t the way to do it. Nor should Albany expect individual charter schools (or district schools) to serve the needs of every child.

Instead of imposing the enrollment targets, Moskowitz wants the state Education Department and the SUNY Charter Schools Institute to help charter schools convince lawmakers “to change this poorly-thought-out” legislation. Let’s hope she succeeds.

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