Educating Students with Disabilities


Last week, the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools and the Center on Reinventing Public Education released Seizing the Opportunity: Educating Students with Disabilities in Charter Schools, a report examining how some charter schools are improving outcomes for students with disabilities and what factors influence their ability to do so.

The report shared several research-based implications for schools. Each of the implications outlined in the report are initiatives that CSI and our schools continue to engage in, which was confirming to read:


Special education cannot be an isolated program.

At the fall Equity Convening we hosted in partnership with the Colorado Department of Education, CSI’s Director of Evaluation and Assessment Ryan Marks presented on the research on special education in charter schools and the research behind the positive effects of inclusion for all students. In fact, 81% of 120 studies of inclusive education reported positive or neutral effects on students without special education needs. The findings are clear: inclusive education benefits all students.


Special education cannot be static.

Our annual Student Services Screener and accompanying support plan help our schools examine progress and areas of need and develop strategies and goals to drive change. As an organization, we continually evaluate our own programming and supports to ensure we are responding to the needs of our students and schools.


Special education cannot be generic or standardized.

While law is clear in requirements for serving students with special needs, it grants flexibility to schools on how to fulfill these requirements. Each CSI school crafts a Program Plan for special education, which allows them to demonstrate how they meet all aspects of the law within in their unique model.


Quality teachers and leaders are nonnegotiables.

We continue to invest in opportunities that provide school leadership and special education staff additional training and support. (Check out our Annual Report that features the work of our cohorts and partnerships!)

The last few years, CSI has partnered with the RELAY Graduate School of Education to offer the Special Education Leadership Academy to CSI school staff. This helps to build a strong foundation for special education teachers to become leaders in their buildings.


Balancing rigor with effective accommodation and personalization, and planning for life beyond high school are common struggles.

CSI has a Transition Planning committee that works to train our high schools on implementing effective post-secondary plans for students.


Charter schools could better utilize their flexibility in special education.

We encourage our schools to be creative in their approaches to serving students with disabilities. Because our schools are not part of a district, they are often serving students with higher needs than district charter counterparts and must get creative with their resources and approach to serving all students.

A recent newsletter from the Colorado League of Charter Schools highlighted the work of Lauren Martinez. Lauren earned the Charter Hall of Fame Educator of the Year Award and serves as a Special Education teacher at Mountain Song Community School (a CSI school). Lauren talks about the importance of charter school autonomy in her role:

“My favorite thing about teaching in the charter context is the autonomy that we have to create the special education program that we think serves our student population the best. Working in a charter school offers a small community feel that is quite different than my experiences in large school districts. I truly feel like the students feel this love and support surrounding them every day. It gives them the courage they need to face the many challenges they deal with on a daily basis.”


Additionally, the report also included Profiles of Practice, which features schools demonstrating promising practices. Two of the featured schools were schools that served on an expert panel CSI’s Student Services Director, Clare Vickland, formed for our Equity Convening that took place earlier this fall! It’s exciting that schools across Colorado had the opportunity to hear firsthand from leaders of charter schools as they implement promising practices for serving students with special needs.

While we recognize there is still much that can be done in educating students with disabilities, we are pleased that our initiatives and the hard work of our schools are moving in the right direction!

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