Charter school networks in New York City and other parts of the country have helped to improve educational outcomes among students in low-income communities, but they now need to improve the services provided to children with special needs, Noah Mackert, an adviser to Democracy Prep Public Schools in New York City, writes for The 74.
He describes his experience working with one 7th grader who could not sound out words and had likely spent years hiding his reading difficulties, noting that middle school teachers often don’t have expertise in basic reading instruction or know how to help students with dyslexia.
While dyslexia is the most common learning disability among students, schools don’t often screen for it. A few charter networks, Mackert notes, are beginning to address the issue, which is a first step toward helping students with Individual Education Programs (IEPs) get the help they need and graduate from high school.
Principals may not be involved in IEP meetings, but they have a role in ensuring that the IEP process is followed and that teachers are implementing the plan and providing students the academic support they need. They can meet regularly with parents of students with disabilities to see if there are any common concerns and ensure that teachers have access to professional development on needs that can go easily undiagnosed, such as dyslexia.
A study released last year by the California Charter Schools Association found seven elements that contributed to successful special education programs in a sample of 10 schools. Those elements included embracing student differences as part of school culture, having a philosophy of inclusion, data-driven instruction and interventions, and autonomy over special education funding and staffing. With the need for fully credentialed special education teachers growing, principals also have an important role in creating a school culture that helps to retain educators.