Special Education and English Language Learner Students in Boston Charter Schools: Impact and Classification
New Findings, School Reform, December 2015
The question of whether and how well charter schools serve special education and English Language Learners remains one of most controversial in the charter school debate. This paper uses admissions lotteries to estimate the effects of Boston’s charter school enrollment on student achievement and classification for special needs students. Charter attendance boosts achievement similarly for special needs and non-special needs students. Charters also increase the likelihood that special needs students meet high school graduation requirements and earn a state merit scholarship. Even the most disadvantaged special needs students benefit from charter attendance. Charter schools reduce the likelihood of special needs classifications and move special education students into more inclusive classrooms at a substantially higher rate than do traditional public schools. Differences in charter classification practices are largely unrelated to charter gains, suggesting that special needs classification is not essential for students with special needs to make progress.