New evidence suggests that discrimination toward applicants with special needs may be taking place in charter schools.
In December, a study conducted by Isaac McFarlin, a UF assistant professor of education and economics for the UF College of Education, shows charter schools are less likely to respond to special needs students in comparison to traditional public schools.
The study took four years to complete and cost about $125,000, McFarlin said. The study sent 6,452 emails to charter schools and traditional public schools in 29 states and Washington, D.C.
All emails sent came from fictitious parents of potential applicants asking about how to apply to the school, McFarlin said. Each “parent” defined their child with varying attributes ranging from students with straight-As, behavioral issues or special needs.
“We were interested in questions of disparities in traditional public schools and charter schools,” McFarlin said.
From the responses, researchers found that charter schools were less likely to respond to potential applicants with special needs compared to traditional public schools, he said.
The study also found evidence suggesting that choice schools responded less to parents with Hispanic-sounding names, McFarlin said. This evidence was strongest in schools with a majority white student body.
“I think that all schools can do better,” McFarlin said.
The study showed a 53 percent baseline rate of response, meaning that regardless of characteristics, parents only had about a 50/50 chance the schools would respond at all, McFarlin said.
Charter schools in Alachua County have independence in acceptance of applicants, said Kim Neal, the director of state reporting for Alachua County Public Schools. This means the county has no say in how charter schools handle applicants, she said. However, the county provides special opportunities such as the McKay Scholarship to students with disabilities.
“We do definitely try to take those things into account,” she said. “We’re really looking to find a fit for each student.”
Contact Kelly Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @kellyrhayes.
A girl stares out the window of an Alachua County school bus on West University Avenue.