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'Meeting the needs of every student through inclusion': California Charter School Association reports a Qualitative Study on Special Education


Last updated 12/5/2016 at Noon

Stephanie Lai

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California Charter School Association recently published a qualitative study regarding practices for special education in 10 selected schools. The report reviews the 10 charter schools and their innovative approaches behind their special education programs, implementation and policy arrangements that have improved outcomes for students with disabilities. Chosen by the directors in charge of the study, the schools exemplified similar attributes in which the CCSA found would improve the special education infrastructure. Particularly exemplifying inclusive programs, the 10 schools offer insight to policy arrangements that produce the best results for serving students.

According to the study, “Meeting the Needs of Every Student Through Inclusion,” schools have problems when they lack autonomy and individualized student support. Special Education Adviser Kate Dove explained, “The system, not intentionally but historically, has worked out to separate and segregate them into these programs.” The outdated models of special education programs many traditional schools operate with undermine the individual success of special education students due to the binding nature of the programs.

As the students are “labeled,” the programs have systematically focused on compliance rather than on results and the individual need base differences of all students within the school.

linklinklink Within the report, the California Charter School Association’s year and a limited study generalized the qualitative conclusion to center around inclusion.

Programs from the 10 charter schools were chosen through achievement statistics, suspension and enrollment levels among other factors.

Together the schools generated conclusive data in which led the CCSA to the philosophy of inclusion.

The exemplary schools submersed their special education students in content rich courses so that students could learn together regardless of ability level.

Multitiered programs allow for assisting the individual weaknesses of all students through campus-wide systems.

Menifee’s Santa Rosa Academy, a school chosen for the study, utilizes a multitiered system for supportive human interaction.

“The Academy’s program, Safety Net, is a vast database of student information behavior students that looks at all the students and targets intervention for these students who may be falling behind. They do not need to be students with special needs,” Dove said. The inclusionary idea goes both ways, as the program records student anecdotes and teacher records for the administration to review.

Rather than labeling their students, Santa Rosa Academy catches students struggling early on and enrolls students in individualized classes, such as their speech classes. “Santa Rosa Academy is actually very interesting. They operate on a three-track model,” Dove explained. The school offers traditional classroom setting schooling; a blended education program where students attend school a few days out of the week with the other days with online schooling; and an online-based education. The flexibility in the schooling itself gives large support for the students and increased the range of students enrolled in the school.

“There was a student in a traditional setting with behavior issues.

He was unable to learn or interact, but once he moved over to Santa Rosa, the administration aimed to integrate the child from traditional to blended track.

The specialized setting garnered his social skills,” Dove described with reference to the flexibility of the track system.

The tracks within Santa Rosa are not mutually exclusive depending on the need of the student.

Administration and special education teachers aim to build whatever the student needs at that time, with the idea of making them more independent while utilizing the strategies they’ve learned specifically through multisensory learning and STEM subjects.

In addition to the inclusion of other students, Steven Baratte of California Charter School Association said, “staff is the most important component for effecting positive change and we hope that these schools and schools across the state will look at some of the best practices identified in the study and see which ones they can incorporate into their campus.” The high performing charter schools thematically correlate their success with the support of the teachers and community alike.

While these schools have similar funding levels, the aspect that makes the difference is how they can directly provide their own services rather than relying on the authorizer for them to provide a full range of services.

The California Education Code, allows charter schools such as Santa Rosa Academy to operate independently under the umbrella of their authorizer for special education purposes.

However, Santa Rosa Academy has attained economic autonomy for their program funding through Special Education Local Plan Area by operating as a an independent entity, thus giving the school control of their funding and programs.

Most of these charter schools have attained fully independent status, allowing them to allocate their budget for individualized learning and to build a full continuum of services and supports for a wide range of needs.

The detailed study gives insight on the educational programs high performing charter schools have taken. The association hopes to continue improving educational systems will be achieved through spreading awareness of their qualitative study. Anticipating publication in January, the CCSA is currently working on a tool kit that would provide additional guidance on the charter school community and further their mission.


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