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A Case Study Comparison of Charter and Traditional Schools in New Orleans Recovery School District: Selection Criteria and Service Provision for Students with Disabilities


Copyright 2008 Nikki L. Wolf B.S., Northwest Missouri State University, 1985 Submitted to the Department of Special Education and the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Kansas in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Dissertation Committee: _____________________________ Chairperson _____________________________
___________________________________ ___________________________________ ___________________________________

Dissertation defended: April 28, 2008

3336479 Copyright 2008 by Wolf, Nikki L. All rights reserved



The Dissertation Committee for Nikki L. Wolf certifies that this is the approved version of the following dissertation:

A Case Study Comparison of Charter and Traditional Schools in New Orleans Recovery School District: Selection Criteria and Service Provision for Students with Disabilities

__________________________ Chairperson

Date approved _________________


ABSTRACT In post-Katrina New Orleans, there is a growing concentration of charter schools. The Recovery School District (RSD) has oversight for the majority of these schools. To explore charges from community advocates that RSD charter schools restricted admission and provided inadequate services for students with disabilities the following questions were asked: 1. How were students with disabilities selected for admission in charter and traditional schools in New Orleans? 2. How were the services for students with disabilities the same or different in charter and traditional schools? 3. What were the perceptions and opinions of parents, teachers and administrators concerning charter and traditional schools’ treatment of students with disabilities? A Case Study research design was utilized which included both traditional and charter RSD schools. Data were gathered through examination of documents and stakeholder interviews. Analysis indicated evidence of selective criteria as well as differences in education provision for students with disabilities.



It is with gratitude I acknowledge the support and guidance provided by my advisor Dr. Wayne Sailor. Dr. Sailor has been instrumental in the broadening of my perspective and conceptualization of endless opportunities to offer support. Additionally, I thank the members of my Dissertation Committee: Dr. Diane Bannerman Juracek, Dr. Michael Roberts, Dr. John Rury and Dr. Mike Wehmeyer. Each of these educators has impacted my vision of the world. Of course I thank the faculty of the University of Kansas, particularly the faculty from the Department of Special Education from whom I have learned how to be a scientist, scholar and agent of social change. I am deeply grateful for the research experiences at the Beach Center on Disability. Dr. Amy McCart, Holly Sweeney, Dr. Hoon Choi, Jamie Bezdek, Mariann Graham, Barbara Miller and Peter Griggs have supported and challenged me in my development. Also I must thank Dr. Gwen Beegle who saw fit to give me an opportunity that changed the trajectory of my professional life. My family made it possible for me to pursue this dream of higher education. Indescribable gratitude to my husband Don and daughter Grace who have been endlessly patient and supportive over the past four years. I also wish to give special thanks for our older children, Josh, Christina, Kindra and Brandon. My parents, who were always behind me, deserve more thanks than I can possibly offer, as does my sister Natalie for making me a dissertation quilt and brother Randy for his gustatory restaurant advice. I offer a special acknowledgment to New Orleans’ community advocates Ursula and DJ Markey, who are tireless in their support of family empowerment. Also, of course I thank and acknowledge all who participated in this case study, without their generous time and stories this would not have been possible.


TABLE OF CONTENTS Chapter Acceptance Page Abstract Acknowledgements Table of Contents List of Appendices List of Charts CHAPTER 1: Literature Review Introduction Charter schools in the U.S. When and Why Charter Schools Emerged Political and Philosophical Underpinnings Current Status of Charter Schools Free Market Education Educational Innovation Academic Achievement Students with Disabilities in Charter Schools Local Education Agency (LEA) Specific IDEA Issues Academic Achievement Page ii iii iv v ix x 1 1 6 6 7 9 9 10 12 14 15 17 23


Charters as an Educational Model Louisiana Charter Law General Issues New Orleans Public Schools Summary of Findings Current Status of the Recovery School District Resultant Research Questions CHAPTER 2: Methodology Research Design Case Study Methodology Role of Case Study Protocol Case Study Protocol Research Questions Proposition/Purpose Data Collection Procedures Research Site Details Data Collection Plan Data Analysis Process Data Analysis Validity CHAPTER 3: Results

24 26 26 29 30 32 33 35 35 36 37 38 38 39 39 39 41 46 46 48 49


Research Question #1 Admission Issues Common Application Process Research Question #2 IDEA Lack of Systems Research Question # 3 The Community Perspective Academic Contingencies Economic Contingencies Unanticipated Emergent Themes Systems Spring Eternal Charter Take-Over Impact on Students with Disabilities Community as Resource Summary CHAPTER 4: Discussion and Summary Review of Results Unanticipated Emergent Themes Independent Systems District of Charters

50 51 55 58 58 61 63 63 65 66 68 69 70 72 72 73 76 78 82 82 83


The Limitations of this Study Charter School Logistics Member Check Alternative Explanations Future Research Legislative Motives Community Engagement Conflicting Motives Systems of Support References Appendices

85 85 86 87 87 87 88 88 89 90 101



APPENDIX A Potential Interview Participants………………………….101 APPENDIX B Interview Notes Table……………………………………103 APPENDIX C Interview Summary Table……………………………….106 APPENDIX D Human Subjects Consent HSCL #17117………………..109 APPENDIX E Table of Key Informants…………………………………113 APPENDIX F Document Summary Table………………………………115 APPENDIX G Document Codes and Sources…………………………..118 APPENDIX H Member Check Questions…………………………….…121 APPENDIX I New Orleans Public Schooling Options……………….…123 APPENDIX J Common Application Form……………………………...125


LIST OF CHARTS Chart 1: List of New Orleans Public Schools………………………………3 Chart 2: LEAP Score summary……………………………………………66


CHAPTER 1: Introduction and Review of Literature Introduction Two years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, Louisiana was rebuilding. The rehabilitation efforts were spread throughout the city. Homes, libraries, streetcars, and schools were emerging out of the debris and destruction of the hurricane. By 2007, the greater New Orleans was at 86% of its pre-Katrina population (Pope, 2007). The Federal Emergency Management Act (FEMA) trailers, so much a part of the neighborhood landscape, were dwindling away as some of the citizens moved back into their homes or as FEMA funding was cut and families were once again displaced. The struggles that continue to exist as of this writing within this urban, high poverty community, in combination with the challenging aftermath of the storm, has resulted in extreme stress that is yet to be completely comprehended. August 29th, 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit and the levees breached, education in New Orleans went from bad to worse. New Orlean’s schools, already some of the lowest performing in the country, were well under water (Center for Community Change, 2006). To say that recovery after a disaster such as Hurricane Katrina is complex, is an obvious understatement. In response to the low academic performance in New Orleans’ public schools, the Recovery School District (RSD) was created by the Louisiana Legislature in 2003. This enabled state takeover of all schools performing below the state average (United Teachers of New Orleans, 2007). The state takeover resulted in two separate public school districts in the city


of New Orleans; the pre-existing New Orleans Public Schools (NOPS) and the newly created RSD. Initially, only five schools were run by RSD, however after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, more schools were included through the passage of Act No. 35 (Louisiana Department of Education, 2007). This Act was passed in a special session of the Louisiana Legislature in November 2005, and as a result the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) assumed control of 107 additional failing New Orleans schools. The RSD now had control over most of the New Orleans’ 128 public schools (The State of Public Education, June 2007; National Approach or Flawed Approach, 2006). The small RSD did not receive from the state the capacity to re-build and run more than 100 schools, therefore public education in New Orleans was deeded over in part to charter schools, (public schools with little district oversight). State legislators felt charter schools would be able to open and begin operation more quickly and independently with little district or state support (The State of Public Education, June 2007). Hurricane Katrina thus can be credited with drastically changing the educational environment of the city. The current layout of schooling options is best understood with a visual organizer, Chart 1, found in New Orleans Parents Guide to Public Schools (Rasheed, 2008, p. 6).


Chart 1. Recovery School District Superintendent: Paul Vallas 59 Schools 33 RSD-run schools 12,300 students 26 RSD Charters 10,000 students Charters 2 Schools 800 students BESE 2 Schools Orleans Parish School Board Superintendent: Darryl Kilbert 19 Schools 7 OPSB-run Schools 2,700 students 12 OPSB Charters 7,100 students

Charter schools have been gaining momentum as an option to traditional public schools in the United States, since 1991. The gathering presence of these schools requires education consumers and professionals to pay close attention. Currently, no city in the country has a higher percentage of students enrolled in charter schools than New Orleans (Boston Consulting Group, 2008). Examining the success of this school reform movement in New Orleans is timely and important. Interested parties are watching to see if these publicly funded charter schools will meet state expectations by improving the performance of a historically lowperforming student population. Considering academic performance across traditional (non-charter public) charter schools, one must ensure that student demographics are comparable. If enrollment in charter schools does not include the full range of student ability levels,


the results cannot be compared or contrasted with typical public schools. Only if enrollment mirrors traditional public schools to a scientifically acceptable standard can the “charter vs. traditional” academic achievement comparison be made and thus add to the national debate on student achievement. Currently (2008), the New Orleans total school enrollment is at 74% of prestorm public student population, with the largest enrollment increase in Orleans Parish, home of RSD (Liu & Plyer, 2008). Charter schools comprise 51% of the public school options in Orleans Parish and, as Lui and Plyer (2008) noted, “…the success of these various school types and options will have to be cautiously studied” (p. 5). As was true prior to the storm, the student population is not demographically evenly distributed; RSD serves the largest percentage of students who qualify for free lunches. The backdrop for this reform is a city well versed in the plight of disenfranchised citizens, and a long history of racial segregation and prejudice. Mistrust and cynicism about local and state government actions are pervasive. Due to this troubling history, it would seem vitally important that all children be included in the rebuilding. The academic progress of students with disabilities would certainly need to be considered within this city’s major school reform efforts (to be described). The present study employed a case study methodology to gather information on both traditional and charter schools. Specifically sought were data reflecting admission and academic effects of this drastic change in schooling options on


students with disabilities. The objectives of the present research were thus to examine the similarities and differences between charter and regular public schools in the Louisiana Recovery School District of New Orleans, focusing on admission and service delivery policies for students with disabilities.


Charter Schools in the United States When and Why Charter Schools Emerged In 1991 Minnesota was the first state to authorize charter schools. Since then, a total of 40 states and the District of Columbia have authorized charter schools (Rhim, Ahearn, & Lange, 2007). The U.S. Department of Education website (, n.d.) defines charter schools thus: Charter schools are nonsectarian public schools of choice that operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools. The "charter" establishing each such school is a performance contract detailing the school's mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success. Charter schools are accountable to their sponsor-- usually a state or local school board-- to produce positive academic results and adhere to the charter contract. The basic concept of charter schools is that they exercise increased autonomy in return for this accountability. Manno, Finn, and Bierlein (1998) noted, “Charter schools are a promising, market-based reform strategy in American public education” (p. 537). Many of the authors who discuss the emergence of charters note several catalysts (Estes, 2004; Hursh, 2007; Renzulli & Roscigno, 2005; Tyack & Cuban, 1995). One of the most noted was the report from the National Commission on Excellence in Education (1983), A Nation at Risk. This report cautioned that students from the United States were not prepared to compete with students from other industrialized countries.


Leaders and citizens alike were alarmed by the notion that students from the most powerful and wealthy country in the world might not be prepared to fully participate in the world market. As a reaction to this report, government leaders and the field of education moved toward standardizing the assessment of academic achievement. Standardized testing gained momentum, eventually evolving into the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) called No Child Left Behind (NCLB) (Hursh, 2007; Rhim, Ahearn, & Lange, 2007). Along with a focused emphasis on outcome measures ensuring “educational accountability” policymakers also looked to market-based strategies (Hannaway & Woodroffe, 2003; Hursh, 2007; Renzulli & Roscigno, 2005; Rhim, Ahearn, & Lange, 2007; Vergari, 1999). Market strategies such as school vouchers, tuition tax credits, and charter schools seemed to offer potential pathways to improvements in the quality of education offered (Hannaway & Woodroffe, 2003; Lubienski, 2003). Neoconservative reasoning held that if schools were allowed to compete by being freed from the bureaucracy and rules of typical schools, market forces would drive innovation and efficiency resulting in increased academic achievement (Estes, 2000; Lubienski, 2003, 2006; Rhim & McLaughlin, 2001; Stambach & Becker, 2006; Turnbull, Stowe, & Huerta, 2007). Political and Philosophical Underpinnings Wells, Grutzik, and Carnochan (1999) contributed to the charter school discussion by interviewing over 50 policymakers in six states. The following three themes emerged from their responses: charters were regarded as a way of


strengthening public schools; charters were the answer for saving public education; and, charters were the key for ending “government-run public education” (p. 202). These themes reflected the neo-conservative philosophical opinion at the policy level. Such hyperbolic statements are not surprising since there has never been total agreement on the purpose of even traditional public schools (Tyack & Cuban, 1995). The stated purpose of charter schools varies depending on the perspective of the policymaker, advocate, parent or educator. Labaree (1997) noted, for example, that throughout U.S. history the three major goals of education have been democratic equality, social efficiency, and social mobility. Due to the individual nature of charter schools, each may be philosophically idiosyncratic; each with its own particular mission. Charter and traditional schools do have one thing in common, however, the nature of their existence, namely academic achievement. In exchange for freedom from district and state bureaucracy, charters commit to high levels of academic achievement as a condition of their continued existence. Charter schools may be more likely to value Labaree’s second goal of social efficiency. This goal deals with providing educational opportunities for students who are academically higher achieving, an intellectual survival of the fittest. Charters with selective admission policies based on academic achievement serve this goal well. High academic achievement of their students affects the contingencies under which charter schools exist; market survival through academic achievement.


Current Status of Charter Schools In the beginning of the charter movement, many believed the influences of the free market including choice and competition would drive traditional and charter schools to refine their practices. Increased academic performance as a result of educational innovation was the predicted outcome. It was logical to assume this relationship and to assume consumers would choose schools based on academic outcomes. As time passed and more charter schools were developed and studied it became apparent neither charter nor traditional schools necessarily respond to these influences as predicted. For example, some studies found that instead of relying on the free market to deliver students to schools, charters were more likely to utilize strategies such as political lobbying and public relations to increase enrollment (Henig, Holyoke, Paquet, & Noster 2003; Lubienski, 2006). Henig et al. (2003) reported charter schools in Washington D.C. were as likely to utilize “strategic lobbying” as they were innovative teaching practices to gain new students. In a discussion of promotional patterns in education markets, Lubienski (2006) stated that intensive marketing events such as picnics, advertisements, and websites are typical strategies used by charter schools to increase enrollment. Free Market Education If charter schools are a truly market driven entity, Shipp (2003) suggested that the market place required informed consumers who were well versed in the complexities of school quality. Given the complexity of making decisions among schools it was easy to imagine such consumers are not typical. Standardized test


results reported in local newspapers may have been the only objective information offering any guidance to families. Shipp contends that those most likely to be attracted to the free market schools are: …those who feel permanently disenfranchised in government-run schools and who can be convinced that a market of schools will provide them with the limited decision authority of a consumer. In most urban settings these are parents who are disenfranchised in most areas of life and generally belong to ethnic or racial minority groups (p. 856). In the case of a high achieving school, the general population of parents with school-age children may not have weighed this as the most important consideration. The desirability of a particular school was based on a number of qualities, one of which may be academic performance (Hannaway & Woodroffe, 2003; Lubienski & Lubienski, 2006). In fact, there were many reasons parents choose a particular school for their children. Lacireno-Paquet, Holyoke, Moser, and Henig, (2002) noted that parents often choose schools based on closeness of the school’s location, safety, advertisement, and religious affiliation. Educational Innovation As a result of freedom from certain aspects of the structure of typical schools, such as central office oversight and state bureaucracy, charters were usually designed to be flexible enough to compete in the market. This implied competition was intended to promote educational innovation. Many charter schools, freed in part from the constraints of local school districts and state curriculum mandates, had the


flexibility to re-conceptualize and re-design schools as unique settings. However, in the U.S. as well as abroad, studies found that charter classroom instructional and curricular practices were in fact very similar to those in traditional public schools (Lubienski, 2003). The innovation taking place in charter schools was much more likely to be seen in alternative management structures, hiring and firing flexibility, and mission based services. These alternative approaches included site based management, curriculum selection, parent contracts, teacher employment, or ethnic based instruction (Lubienski, 2003, 2006). A literature review of 56 studies of charter school innovation was conducted by Lubienski (2003) where he found: (a) by offering alternatives for parents, charter schools were diversifying alternatives in areas such as class size, technology, and programmatic options; (b) charter schools were implementing innovations in governance, management, and other organizational practices; and (c) with few exceptions, rather than developing new educational practices, charter schools were embracing curricular and instructional approaches already in use in other public schools. Indeed, a substantial plurality of charter schools employed a traditional “basics” approach to instruction (p. 418). In essence, there were innovative practices in charter schools; however, increasingly these did not appear as instructional practices. Instructional practices and classroom environments were fairly consistent across both traditional and charter schools (Lubienski, 2003). Academic Achievement


In the current political climate, the desired outcome of almost any educational reform centers on improved academic outcomes. So the question posed to supporters of the charter school movement must be: will the qualities of free market competition and innovation lead to higher student academic achievement? As noted earlier, the primary motivation behind the birth of the charter school movement centered on positioning schools in the market to promote competition through innovation (Lubienski, 2003). This innovation was considered to be a solution to the ostensibly failing educational system in the United States. Indeed charter schools are noted in NCLB as a potential solution to failing schools (Hursh, 2007; Renzulli & Roscigno, 2005; Rhim, Ahearn, & Lange, 2007). After nearly 18 years of charter schools in the U.S., the results of research on academic outcomes from measures of student achievement do not reflect promising results. It was difficult to find reports of increased academic achievement in peer reviewed journals, although many informal sources reported that charter schools produced better achievement. Maranto (2006), a charter school supporter, claimed that charters are producing better academic outcomes and serve as a motivator for traditional public schools, offering no data to support his statement. Others have argued charters are not delivering on the promise of academic achievement (Carnoy, Jacobsen, & Rothstein, 2000; Braun, Jenkins, & Grigg, 2006; Lubienski & Lubienski, 2005, 2006). One of the most comprehensive discussions about charter vs. traditional school achievement is in The Charter School Dust-Up (Carnoy, Jacobsen &


Rothstein, 2000). This book examined several major pieces of research related to academic achievement of charter and traditional schools. They concluded, based on “19 studies, conducted in 11 states and the District of Columbia, that there is no evidence that, on average, charter schools out-perform regular public schools. In fact, there is evidence that the average impact of charter schools is negative” (p. 2). Through examination of data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2003, which compared achievement across public, charter and some private schools, Lubienski and Lubienski (2006) concluded that regular public schools promote academic achievement that was equivalent to levels obtained in private and charter schools when population demographics were equated across all three types of schools. Additionally, the authors suggested: Our findings question the notion that the private sector necessarily produces better results in areas such as education. Our study suggests significant reasons to be suspicious of claims of general failure in public schools and raises substantial questions regarding a basic premise of the current generation of school reform. (p. 684) The arrival of choice to the public education game was promising. Indeed charters are delivering on the promise of innovation in organizational structure, curriculum, personnel and parent involvement (Lubienski, 2003, 2006). Academic outcomes, however, did not appear to be positively impacted by these innovations (Carnoy, Jacobsen, & Rothstein, 2000; Lubienski & Lubienski, 2006). In light of the preponderance of evidence available on academic achievement, Louisiana’s


decision to open RSD to so many charter organizations becomes of interest. Depending on charter schools to deliver academic outcomes appeared very risky, particularly considering the re-building challenges of the community. Although a major change in educational approach was clearly needed, without the promise of improved academics it is difficult to imagine a justification for such a sweeping action by the state. Students with Disabilities in Charter Schools Students with disabilities have specific rights afforded by federal law in all educational settings, including charter schools. There were three federal laws, as well as two constitutional provisions, the purposes of which were to guarantee fair treatment of students with disabilities. Heubert (2002, p. 8) notes that “The five are: The IDEA; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (‘Section 504’); Title II of the ADA (‘Title II’); and the equal protection guarantees of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.” Essentially, publicly funded education for students with disabilities is mandated by Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004, and for some students the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA; 1990) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 also offer protection and guidance (Estes, 2000; Heubert, 2002; O’Neill, Wenning, & Giovannetti, 2002). All or some of these federal protections may be relevant for children with disabilities who attend school. Of the federal laws and constitutional provisions, IDEA was the most commonly discussed, so in this review I chose to focus primarily on the implications of IDEA (2004) for charter schools.


Local Education Agency (LEA) Individual state laws differed on the level of anonymity afforded to charter schools. However as related to services for students with disabilities, if the State Education Agency (SEA) accepts federal funds under IDEA (which every state does), it must comply with IDEA regulations (Heubert, 2002). Heubert also noted: While states bear ultimate responsibility for ensuring IDEA compliance, many specific obligations fall first and foremost on Local Education Agencies (LEAs), which do much of the actual work required under the IDEA. Despite important variations from state to state, SEAs can and do shift to LEAs many of the costs of serving children with disabilities (p. 7). Charter schools discussed here are public schools and therefore responsible to accept students with disabilities. In some states, charters are their own LEA, which puts the onus of supporting students with disabilities directly with them (Rhim & McLaughlin 2001). These charters are essentially their own school districts, and are therefore free from oversight as well as financial support of the local publicly constituted school district. The designation of LEA has direct implications for students with disabilities as protected by IDEA (Rhim, Ahearn, & Lange, 2007). LEA is the legal designation made at the state level that, in addition to other responsibilities, indicates who is responsible for ensuring IDEA compliance including costs of all students with disabilities in the school (Heubert, 2002; O’Neill, Wenning, & Giovannetti, 2002; Rhim, Ahearn, & Lange 2007; Rhim & McLaughlin, 2001).


However, if a charter is not an LEA, but part of the local district, the district has responsibility for IDEA compliance and it extends to charters. When a school is its own LEA as is the case with some charters, it alone carries the legal responsibility for ensuring IDEA compliance. Along with the responsibility of providing appropriate services; there is also the consideration of cost for these services. The responsibility of supporting students with low-incidence disabilities requiring intensive, individualized supports is especially difficult for charters designated as their own LEA. Even though it may be possible to accommodate such students in the general education classroom, most charter school personnel do not have the requisite skills, nor are schools typically organized in a manner that allows support of all students in general education settings (Sailor & Roger, 2005). As O’Neill (2002) and colleagues noted, “Should a student with low-incidence, high-cost disabilities enroll, the associated costs could run to tens of thousands of dollars per year, potentially bankrupting a small school (p. 2)”. These LEA operated charter schools are responsible to either provide intensive services or fund an appropriate private placement (O’Neill, Wenning, & Giovannetti, 2002). There continues to be confusion and debate around how to fund special education programs in charter schools, just as there is in traditional public schools. However, because charters may be their own district (LEA), as well as the only charter school in the area, it may be difficult to share responsibility or costs across several sites. In some cases, charters and small traditional school districts have formed special education cooperatives in order to be more efficient with


specialized services (Heubert, 2002; Rhim & McLaughlin, 2001). Research suggests that a larger traditional school district offers resources, both financial and human, that may be better positioned to offer support to students with challenging disabilities (Rhim & McLaughlin, 2001). Specific IDEA Issues Outlined in IDEA are a range of obligations in a number of settings such as “…state custody, prisons or juvenile justice, private schools, and public charter schools in addition to regular public school placements” (Turnbull et al., 2007, p. 73). IDEA required public charter schools to support students with disabilities in the same manner as traditional public schools, given these students are in the LEAs’ geographic area (Heubert, 2002). Specifically, Heubert suggested that of the IDEA provisions, five were especially critical: admission, free and appropriate education (FAPE), individual education plan (IEP), least restrictive environment (LRE) and qualified special education teacher. Each of these IDEA provisions as they relate to charter school placement is examined next. Admission of students with disabilities into charters. A concern noted early in the charter school movement was the fear that charters would attract the best students away from the traditional public schools (Fuller & Elmore, 1996; Rhim & McLaughlin, 2001) primarily leaving students with academic and/or behavioral challenges in the public schools. Rhim and McLaughlin (2001) voiced concern that this “creaming off” also discriminated against students with disabilities. As is true in other areas of charter research,


findings were mixed. Charter advocates claimed no discriminatory admission practices and others charged discrimination. Manno et al. (1998) argued in support of charter schools and stated that there were no issues with restricted admission into charter schools for students with disabilities. However, others in the field have reported different findings. In the past there have been numerous charges of admission barriers for students with both mild and significant disabilities (Arsen et al., 1999; Fiore et al., 2000; Horn & Miron, 2000; Lange 1997; McKinney, 1996; Nelson et al., 2000; Zollers & Ramanathan, 1998). Heubert (2002) specifically voiced concerns about students being excluded from charter schools, and noted that the practical and financial influences on these schools resulted in exclusion of students who traditionally do not perform at the highest levels. On a practical level, some newer charters may not have a special educator on staff. Additionally, many charters have no infrastructure to support the many time consuming IDEA functions such as paper work, evaluations and meetings, if they are not part of a cooperative or association. In addition to the time required, a student with disabilities, particularly significant physical or intellectual disabilities, can require a good deal of financial support, Heubert (2002) contended: Nationally, a significant portion of all public school funds—two to three times as much per student with disabilities compared to nondisabled students, and one fourth or more of the budget in some school districts—is spent on making buildings physically accessible, evaluating students who


may have disabilities, training staff, and, most important, actually providing educational and other services to students with disabilities. (p. 7) Free appropriate public education (FAPE). Rhim, Ahearn, & Lange (2007) strongly stated, “It is beyond question that every student with disabilities is entitled to FAPE – a free appropriate public education – and that charter school students are no exception” (p. 14). There is no doubt that public charter schools are responsible for following federal laws ensuring FAPE for students with disabilities (Heubert, 2002; McKinney, 1998; Rhim & McLaughlin, 2001; O’Neill, Wenning, & Giovannetti, 2002). In 2000 two major reviews appeared revealing how charter schools were providing FAPE to students with disabilities. The first, Special Education in American Charter Schools (SEARCH), a 3-year qualitative research study, examined how well charter schools were doing in providing appropriate services for students with disabilities (Ahearn, Lange, McLaughlin, & Rhim, 2001). The findings from this study pointed to challenges of charter schools in gathering the personnel resources to provide appropriate services to students with disabilities (Rhim & McLaughlin, 2001). The second study, Charter Schools and Students with Special Needs: How Well do they Mix? (Estes, 2000), reviewed literature expressing concerns about charter schools and students with disabilities. This study examined the implications of federal law mandating Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) for students with disabilities. Estes summarized that many charters are not prepared to meet the legal requirements of IDEA due to lack


of knowledge about the law. The financial cost of abiding by IDEA requirements was also a noted concern; most charters do not have the infrastructure of support for special education services that traditional school districts offer. Estes also found the absence of special education staff in most charter schools. In her conclusion Estes noted that quality of instruction is the primary variable associated with student success. It can be surmised that if charters do not have staff who are knowledgeable about the complexities of supporting students with disabilities, then they are not prepared to support these students. Finally, she remarks, comparisons between charters and traditional schools must be made based on achievement data, not perception. Those data do not yet exist in most states, however many are developing alternative assessments for this purpose. Least restrictive environment (LRE). IDEA guarantees educational placement in the least restrictive environment for students with disabilities. Students with disabilities are not obliged to attend special schools or classrooms but have the same options among school settings as students without disabilities according to IDEA (Turnbull et al., 2007). Within IDEA, the federal government acknowledged that students, with even severe disabilities, when supported appropriately can participate in the general education classroom, “To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are nondisabled;” (IDEA, 2004, 300.114(a)(1)(i)). Additionally, if students are to be placed outside of a typical classroom, the school


is legally obliged by IDEA to justify the placement, “Special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily” (IDEA, 2004, 300.114(a)(1)(ii)). As Heubert (2002) stated, “The child’s placement should be determined by the IEP rather than by what services the school already provides” (p. 10). Turnbull et al. (2007), echoed this and noted that rights protected by IDEA are tied to the student with disabilities and are present regardless of the particular type of public school placement. This IDEA provision has important implications for charter schools with little available special education support; lack of resources is not an excuse for inadequate services. Individualized education program (IEP). As described in IDEA (2004, 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1414), the IEP is the roadmap for a student’s education (Turnbull et al., 2007). The IEP is a process resulting in a legally binding document intended to provide all involved parties clarity and recourse if agreed to services are not provided. The reported practice of some charters enrolling students with disabilities, but discontinuing specialized IEP supports in favor of a “learning contract” is a major concern raised by disabilities advocates (Rhim & McLaughlin, 2001; Zollers & Ramanathan, 1998). These learning contracts, in essence agreements between the charter school leadership and parents/students, are in no way legally binding and are therefore obviously not a


suitable replacement for an IEP. The discussion about IEPs is relevant to the issue of selective admission. It was stated that one of the primary fears related to the spread of charter schools is that they may “cream” the highest achieving students from the traditional public schools. In reviewing the data from Project SEARCH, Rhim and McLaughlin (2001) noted; The flip side of creaming, ‘counseling out’ (i.e. the process of advising children with disabilities into or out of charter schools outside the traditional IEP process) is a recurring concern among disability advocates as reflected in the interview data. Reflecting previously cited research, individuals in more than half of the states perceive that some students with disabilities are in fact ‘counseled out’ of charter schools. However, counseling in and out is not limited to students with disabilities: it is reportedly also occurring with non-disabled students who are particularly challenging in their home schools. (p. 380) Zollers (2000) voiced similar concerns in her examination of for-profit charter schools in Massachusetts. She identified three practices used by charter schools to control enrollment of students with disabilities. The first was blatant exclusion of students who won access to the charter school through a lottery process, once the school became aware of the student’s disability. The second practice entailed the student’s return to his or her original district due to the charter school’s assertion that the charter was not an appropriate placement, given the student’s disability. The third strategy found was referred to as “counseling out.” In this situation the charter


school met with the parents of a student with disabilities and advised them to return the child to the traditional public school to be better served, resulting in parents’ willingly changing placement. Highly qualified teachers. The quality of instruction students receive is more important than where the instruction takes place (Estes, 2000). IDEA defers to each state to define the requirements for certification of those responsible for educating students with special needs. State requirements are consistent for all public school teachers regardless of school type. This means equally qualified teachers are teaching in traditional and charter schools. Charters without special education staff as required by their state are in direct violation of IDEA. It is, however, allowable to have students with disabilities in general education classrooms as long as special educators are working with general education teachers regularly to consult on instructional issues related to students with disabilities (Heubert, 2002). Academic Achievement As noted earlier, the research on academic outcomes of typical students in charter schools as compared to students in traditional schools did not reflect better academic outcomes of charter schools (Carnoy, Jacobsen & Rothstein, 2000; Braun, Jenkins, & Grigg, 2006; Lubienski & Lubienski, 2005, 2006). On the other hand, research on achievement of students with disabilities in charter as compared to traditional schools is nearly nonexistent. As Estes (2000) reported, there is little evidence with which to judge the differences in academic achievement of students


with disabilities between charter and traditional schools. Estes also noted that states are currently working to develop, “…valid, alternative assessment instruments with which to measure the effectiveness of special education programs in traditional as well as charter programs” (p. 378). Charters as an Educational Model In addition to the legal educational protections of IDEA, students with disabilities are also covered by the civil rights statutes Title II and Section 504. Heubert noted that IDEA differs from Title II and 504 in that they are more comprehensive in the disabilities protected and also address issues of coercion and retaliation resulting from challenging the education provider. Title II and Section 504 protect students who may only have physical or medical challenges which require some type of accommodations. IDEA is focused on supporting students who, due to a disability require specialized instruction (IDEA, 2004, 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1412(a)(1)(A)). Compliance with these federal protections is legally and morally important; additionally charter schools need to comply for more practical reasons. Heubert, (2002) noted that if charter schools are positioning themselves to be a model of education for traditional public schools, charter schools must be able to serve all students, just as typical public schools are required to do. All publically funded schools are responsible for providing an appropriate education for all students. A sub-section of these students have disabilities and are part of the overall student population in the U.S. Additionally, there is a national trend to expand definitions of


disability, ever more broadly, particularly in public educational settings including public charter schools. Hubert specifically noted the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 by a nearly unanimous vote of Congress. Legally, school reform innovations in any setting must consider a wide range of learning abilities and styles. An additional incentive for charter schools to abide by IDEA is the availability of federal charter grants which are limited to charters who agree to abide by the federal laws listed above (Heubert, 2002). In summary, charter schools have as much responsibility for the education of students with disabilities as any other publically funded school. In fact, depending on the LEA status of a particular charter, the responsibilities may be more onerous than those of typical schools. The school district does play a support role, although at times burdensome, in the education of students with disabilities. When a charter school is not part of a district or other cooperative, it alone is responsible for special education identification and provision for students in their school. In order to fully examine the appropriateness of charter schools as a model for public education, charters must be able to serve students with a wide range of abilities. Although there are some data reflecting the achievement differences between students in charter and typical public schools, no such data exist for students with disabilities between the two types of schools.


Louisiana Charter Law General Issues The State of Louisiana has followed in the footsteps of other major urban school reform efforts which have gone before, namely decentralization. The quality of the schools in the State of Louisiana, including its largest urban community, New Orleans, have been infamously poor. Rury (2005) noted that low levels of academic achievement are common in urban neighborhoods along with a large concentration of low income residents and unstable family backgrounds. In the urban school environment decentralization has moved in and out of vogue. The initial decentralization efforts in the 1960s spawned from the social activism of the time (Rury & Mirel, 1997), and have come around again in the form of school choice, vouchers, and charter schools. Some common assumptions across urban reform efforts which underlie this endeavor are noted by Rury and Mirel (1997; pp. 89-90): a) bureaucratic control of urban public schools has been one of the main causes of the deterioration of education in these schools; b) people closest to the educational process (building administrators, teachers, or parents) should have the greatest amount of control over school policy and practice; and c) shifting control of education from centralized bureaucracies to schools or parents will lead to improved educational outcomes for students. In essence, Rury and Mirel suggested that the problems with urban schools which result in the push and pull of decentralization are in large part due to the political and economic environment of the local area.


Project SEARCH, the first phase of which examined the state charter laws of 15 states was conducted through a partnership of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education and the University of Maryland and was reviewed by Rhim and McLaughlin (2001). Upon review, these researchers found that state laws vary on level of specificity around special education provision. There is no federal law outlining the specifics of charter school behavior in the states, rather, each state is empowered to charter schools and pass laws that regulate that process. Typically state charter laws addressed issues such as who authorizes charters, the goals of charters in the state, as well as funding policies and accountability systems; however, details around special education provision are often vague. Additionally charter laws vary in the extent to which they are “welcoming” to charter schools. Vergari (1999) noted that state charter laws may be classified as either weak or permissive. State charter laws are considered weak if they are not conducive to the chartering of schools and do not afford the flexibility many charter school operators seek. For example, states with weak charter laws may have a cap on the number of charter schools allowed in the state. A state’s charter law may be considered strong or permissive if it allows a large number of charter schools to be established, if existing schools can be converted to charters and if there is freedom from many of the local district and state education regulations. In 1995 when the State of Louisiana passed its charter school law, it was considered restrictive (Vergari, 1999). At that time only the local school board had the authority to approve a charter and there was a cap on the number of charters


which could exist in the state at one time (Schneider, 2001), these limitations deemed the Louisiana’s state charter law “weak” by charter school advocates (Vergari, 1999). Charter advocates considered the state charter law to be inflexible and unaccommodating (Schneider, 2001; Vergari, 1999). Louisiana state charter law defined a charter school as one that is independent and provides elementary and/or secondary education, with its main purpose to be improvement of academic achievement (Louisiana Department of Education, 2007). The purpose statement from the most current charter law printed June, 2007 stated: It is the intention of the legislature in enacting this Chapter to authorize experimentation by city and parish school boards by authorizing the creation of innovative kinds of independent public schools for pupils. Further, it is the intention of the legislature to provide a framework for such experimentation by the creation of such schools, a means for all persons with valid ideas and motivation to participate in the experiment, and a mechanism by which experiment results can be analyzed, the positive results repeated or replicated, if appropriate, and the negative results identified and eliminated. Finally, it is the intention of the legislature that the best interests of at-risk pupils shall be the overriding consideration in implementing the provisions of this Chapter. (p. 1) Currently, Louisiana charter law has a cap of 42 charter schools to be in operation at one time, (Part III, sec. 3983(A)(4)(a)). However, RSD is exempt from this cap and has no restriction on the number of charters (Part III, sec. 3983(5)(F)).


This exemption was passed with Act 35 in November 2005 (Louisiana Department of Education, 2007). This same Act made it possible for RSD to assume control of 107 more schools in New Orleans. These two provisions in Act 35 are clearly connected, working well together to engage a large number of charter schools in RSD. New Orleans Public Schools The public schools in New Orleans have historically ranked among the very worst in the United States (Center for Community Change, 2006). There has been financial scandal at the School Board level, incredibly low test scores, physical structures in need of major repair, racial segregation, and violence (Tuzzolo & Hewitt, 2006). It is in this context that Hurricane Katrina hit and the levees subsequently failed, leading to disastrous and sustained flooding. Local media estimated that thirty-five percent of the public school facilities suffered major damage (Boston Consulting Group, 2007). The condition of the local community impacts families and schools, especially when students go to school without their basic needs met. Taylor (2002) stated that the connection between school and community is so strong that, “Any school reform movement that is not linked to the transformation and redevelopment of distressed, underdeveloped neighborhoods is doomed to failure” (p. 7). In Common Purpose, Lisbeth Schorr (1997), discussed the critically important role the community plays in making meaningful changes for students through school reform; including sending children to schools prepared to


deal with the various academic and social requirements of a school setting. In Larry Cuban’s 2001 essay, “Leadership for Student Learning: Urban School LeadershipDifferent in Kind and Degree” he made the point that schools alone are not able to “save” poor children; poverty is a community issue, not only a school issue (Institute for Educational Leadership, 2001). Taylor, Schorr, and Cuban all stressed the importance of community engagement in school reform. Health of the surrounding community is intimately tied to school wellbeing. What then are the implications for students in the battered city of New Orleans? Summary of Findings The literature related to the national charter school movement reviewed here offers a context for the movement in New Orleans. The early hopes of charter advocates included market driven educational innovations resulting in efficiency and increased academic outcomes. The movement has prompted innovations in school leadership, curriculum, and class size. However, on average, improved academic achievement has not been attained. Additionally, market competition between charter and traditional schools was also hoped for, but not occurred. This movement toward privatization has been replicated in 40 of the 50 states and was looked to as a solution to the failing schools in New Orleans. Moving public education out of the hands of the current School Board and moving it to the private sector appealed to the business minded leaders in control. Students with disabilities are protected by IDEA and potentially Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and/or Title II of the ADA. All of these


protections are guaranteed regardless of educational setting. Due to lack of knowledge and systems many charters are not prepared to support students with needs outside of what is considered typical. If charters are going to be a permanent choice in education, it is critical they include children with the wide range of skills and characteristics who typify the student population in the U.S. The charter law in Louisiana has been through significant changes since its passing in 1995. For New Orleans the most meaningful change was Act 35 (Louisiana Department of Education, 2007) which drastically increased the number of schools over which RSD had control. In addition the Act exempted the RSD from the state-wide cap of 41charter schools. RSD currently oversees 36 charter schools with 7 new charters signed to open in the 2008-2009 school year. This continued growth in RSD serves to heighten the urgency of resolving and fixing problems associated with serving students with disabilities. The national movement in privatization of education continues to gain momentum. New Orleans is at the forefront of this movement with 57% of its students attending charter schools (Boston Consulting Group, 2008). Recognizing this educational model is based on contingencies that are different from public schooling is important. These schools must achieve academically to maintain their chartering agreements with their chartering organization (state or local school boards). We know from research elsewhere that students who do not achieve at a high academic level, are not actively sought and may actually be dissuaded from


attending, despite the IDEA ramifications. The very outcomes charters seek may serve as a disincentive to welcome all students. Current Status of the Recovery School District Two years after the storm, the community immediately surrounding RSD (Orleans Parish), is at 53% of its pre-Katrina population (Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, July, 2007). RSD has some level of responsibility for 69 public schools in the city, 33 of which are traditional (non-charter public) and 36 charter (Save our Schools, February, 2008). Since the first day of the 2007-2008 school year, RSD has as of this writing, welcomed 1,800 new students into the district, for a total of approximately 22,000 students. Additionally, the number of students with exceptionalities also continues to grow. As of mid-November 2007, it was estimated that there were 1,903 students with exceptionalities, 1,783 of whom have disabilities (Vallas, 2007). Most charter schools under the supervision of RSD are chartered directly with Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), the State Board of Education. These charters must be must be governed by non-profit boards, tuition free, provide transportation, and open to students with disabilities. Additionally, charters may not employ selective admission criteria based on grades or past behavior (Rashad, 2008). RSD is currently under the guidance of its second Superintendent, Paul Vallas. The state Superintendent of Education appointed Mr. Vallas in the Summer 2007, following the resignation of the first Superintendent, Robin Jarvis. Mr. Vallas


has a history of urban school reform efforts with the most notable being in Philadelphia and Chicago. In both of these cities privatization and school choice were keystones of reform; experiences which made him a natural choice for the challenges in New Orleans. Thus far in RSD, Mr. Vallas has focused on “…refurbishing school buildings, reducing class sizes, introducing technology and more rigorous curricular materials and even offering health services to New Orleans students” (McGowan, January 2008). Resultant Research Questions My interest in the uneasy relationship of charter schools and students with disabilities began prior to my understanding of the national charter school movement. My curiosity was piqued while working in three of the RSD schools supporting their efforts to implement the Schoolwide Applications Model (SAM), a comprehensive school reform model (Sailor & Roger, 2005) on contract to RSD. On my first trip to New Orleans, in the fall of 2006, seeing the archaic and chaotic public school system was a shock. I had spent several years working in urban schools in the Midwest, but was not prepared for the educational environment faced every day by students in New Orleans. The overwhelming presence of security guards in elementary schools, bullhorns to signal the end of class, lack of instructional materials, dilapidated school buildings, shootings just outside the front door and stories of storm survival were devastating. Each time I returned to New Orleans I heard accounts of students with disabilities being turned-away or unsupported in charter schools. During dinner with two of the city’s prominent


community activists, I again heard of blatant exclusion of students with disabilities from charter schools. These experiences led to the research questions posed in this dissertation. The current situation is very confusing for parents and educators and clarity is needed. The general purpose of this embedded, single case-study design (Yin, 2006) was to learn how students with disabilities were fairing in the school reform efforts in New Orleans. A case study methodology was employed in an effort to gather a number of different perspectives and types of information with which to build understanding. Data were gathered through record and document review as well as interviews. There was a specific focus on the RSD and the traditional and charter schools within this state-run district. The following research questions were addressed: 1. How were students with disabilities selected for admission in charter and traditional schools in New Orleans? 2. How were the services for students with disabilities the same or different in charter and traditional schools? 3. What were the perceptions and opinions of parents, teachers and administrators concerning charter and traditional schools’ treatment of students with disabilities?


CHAPTER 2: Methods Research Design A number of research methodologies potentially relevant to these research questions are available in the social sciences. Several qualitative methodologies that were considered included surveys, ethnographies, and naturalistic inquiry. “Empirical case study” methodology (Yin, 2006) was chosen due to its flexibility in (a) dealing with both qualitative and quantitative data, (b) a systems rather than a cultural focus, and (c) presence of both pre-determined questions and hypotheses. Along with qualitative data, it was important to also report quantitative information about enrollment and achievement of students in RSD. Prior to embarking on this case study, the researcher was already clear on the questions to be asked and hypotheses of the study. Neither naturalistic inquiry nor ethnographies were deemed to be appropriate for use with pre-determined research questions. Additionally, ethnographies are more appropriate when the focus of inquiry is cultural rather systems. Survey methodology may have been appropriate for the gathering of interview data, but there were also a great number of relevant documents to be considered, and case study methodology allowed for the integration of information gathered from several sources. Decisions about methodology require consideration of the following elements: (a) the question to be answered, (b) control of the variable being studied, and (c) whether the variable is current or historical (Yin, 2003). “Compared to other methods, the strength of the case study method is its ability to examine, in-depth, a ‘case’ with its real-life’ context” (Yin, 2006, p. 111).


Yin advises case study methodology for research questions asking both “how” and “why,” and when there is no manipulation or the control of variables by the researcher. Case studies advance understanding of social, political, economic, psychological influences and events. Stake (1997) states, “With all case studies, you are trying to understand and interpret the case” (p. 404). The purpose of the case study undertaken here was to better understand the complexities of the educational situation in post-Katrina New Orleans. Yin (2003) further notes that the use of case study methodology is best suited for research requiring a variety of sources and types of data. Case Study Methodology A single case study with two embedded units of analysis was employed to critically examine the theory of variability of educational provision to students with disabilities within traditional and charter schools in RSD (Stake, 1997; Yin, 2003). A diagram of this embedded case study is illustrated in Figure 1. Figure 1.

Case Study Recovery School District Embedded Unit of Analysis Traditional Schools Embedded Unit of Analysis Charter Schools


The RSD offered an opportunity to examine a unique case in education reform history and thus was selected as a single case study. There were no other districts in the country with the same kind of public school configuration, re-building after a major natural disaster. The two types of schools within RSD; traditional (noncharter public) and charter were well suited as embedded units of analysis. Charges of discrimination against students with disabilities in one unit of analysis, but not the other, provided a focus for the case study. Stakeholder interviews and descriptive documents served as critical data sources determining educational practices of both embedded units. Each unit of analysis included fidelity of acrossdata sources and resulted in an ability to provide a detailed comparative analysis of similarities and differences. Role of Case Study Protocol Yin (2003) utilizes a “case study protocol” to clearly plan and execute a reliable research inquiry. Preparing the protocol prior to research activities, prompts the researcher to think through potential road blocks and keeps activities targeted on the subject of research. The case study protocol organizes activities which move the researcher from (a) the questions to (b) data collection, resulting in (c) data analysis. This case study protocol organized research details including, case study questions, data collection procedures, and the data analysis process. The case study questions included the major questions being researched as well as a list of related questions


which served as prompts for the researcher to use during interviews. Also included in the protocol were the data collection procedures which specified protocol for interviews and document review procedures. Lastly, the data analysis process specified how the case study results would be organized. “The protocol is a major way of increasing the reliability of case study research and is intended to guide the investigator in carrying out the data collection from a single-case study… (p. 67).” (Yin, 2003). Case Study Protocol A summary of national research on this topic indicated students with disabilities may be excluded from charter schools (Arsen et al., 1999; Fiore et al., 2000; Heubert, 2002; Horn & Miron, 2000; Lange 1997; McKinney, 1996; Nelson et al., 2000; Zollers & Ramanathan, 1998). Additionally, charter schools often lacked appropriate educational supports to meet the need of students with disabilities (Estes, 2000; Rhim & McLaughlin, 2001; Zollers & Ramanathan, 1998). Recently, New Orleans community activists and parents have charged RSD charter schools with these same concerns (Quigley, 2007). Research Questions For students with disabilities in New Orleans schools the current reform is very relevant. Rarely does a city have the opportunity to rebuild its public education system. Diligence is required to ensure students with disabilities have a voice in rebuilding and act as true consumers in the school choice market of New Orleans. In


an effort to further explore these issues, the present case study posed the following research questions: 1. How were students with disabilities selected for admission in charter and traditional schools in New Orleans? 2. How were the services for students with disabilities the same or different in charter and traditional schools? 3. What were the perceptions and opinions of parents, teachers and administrators concerning charter and traditional schools treatment of students with disabilities? Proposition/Purpose Learning how students are selected and educated, utilizing the single case study with embedded units, can provide information as to why students with disabilities are excluded (if they are) from charter schools. Miles and Huberman (1984) noted “…analysis has ultimately to go beyond summation and reach up to explanation. (p. 213)” A better understanding of what is happening in New Orleans can lead school districts to consider issues involved in offering appropriate supports to schools and their educators. Crafting a long-term solution requires clarity about whether exclusion exists and if so the causes of exclusion and/or any differences in provision of educational supports and services. Data Collection Procedures Research Site Details New Orleans is a city in transition. As of 2008, the population was at 70% of its pre-Katrina number (Lui & Player, 2008). Families were slowly moving back to New Orleans. Affordable housing, jobs and an acceptable public education system has been central to re-building and re-populating the city. 39

New Orleans had two major school districts; New Orleans Public School District and the RSD, both districts oversaw traditional as well as charter schools. Louisiana State Department of Education had direct oversight of RSD, while New Orleans Public Schools was a typical school district with local school board leadership. In 2008, there was approximately half the number of students in the city as compared to the enrollment of 65,000 prior to Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 (Save our Schools, n.d). In addition to these public school districts, there were a large number of private schools in the city, which in 2008 were at 83% of preHurricane Katrina enrollment (Liu & Plyer, 2008). The RSD was selected for purposes of the present investigation to be the primary unit of analysis based upon the responsibility it holds for oversight of the majority of New Orleans charter schools. RSD provided oversight for a total of 59 public schools; 33 traditional and 26 charters serving a total of 22,000 students New Orleans (Boston Consulting Group, 2008). The racial and socioeconomic demographics of students in the RSD traditional schools reflected 96% of students African American and 77% qualified for subsidized lunches. Of the available charter school data (26 schools) student enrollment was 96% African American students and 94% qualified for free and reduced lunches (Education Week, Feb, 2008). As of November, 2007 RSD had 1,783 students with disabilities (Vallas, 2007). There were no charter high schools in the RSD. Therefore, to gather information from schools with similar student demographics, no high schools were


considered for inclusion in this case study. A total of 18 different management entities ran the 26 RSD charter schools (NOLA Public Schools, n.d.). Many of the charter schools in this district were independently run; however several charter management companies operated more than one school in the district. In RSD, in 2008 Algiers School Charter Association (ACSA); operated seven schools, Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) ran four; and Treme Charter School Association ran three schools. The University of New Orleans, neighborhood groups and charter school management companies oversaw the remaining 12 charter schools. Data Collection Plan Yin (2003) noted six useful sources of information in case study research; interviews, archival records, documentation, direct observation, participant observation and physical artifacts. For this case study the two primary data sources utilized were interviews, and documentation. To understand perspectives of stakeholders engaged in local struggles, interviews were a primary data source. Documents were also used due to the wealth of information they offered to inform the case study findings for both embedded units of the case study. Within the interviews and documents, multiple sources were utilized to ensure triangulation of information. Yin (2003) noted, “…a major strength of case study data collection is the opportunity to use many different sources of evidence (p. 97).” Later, Yin (2006) explained the main point of triangulation was establishment of “convergent lines of evidence to make your findings as robust as possible” (p. 115). Miles and


Huberman (1984) also suggested utilizing different sources of data. For example they suggested interview data may be strengthened if participants from various “levels” within the organization are interviewed, maximizing the triangulation of data. To gather perspectives from multiple “levels” in RSD; teachers, school administrators and district leadership were all solicited to participate in interviews, as described below. General interview protocol. Generally, the type of participant was identified prior to data collection; district personnel, traditional school, charter school and community stakeholders. Actual interview participants were identified in a number of ways. District personnel were selected based on relevance to the research questions. District level participants familiar with special education and charter school issues were felt to be critical to be included. The researcher had an existing relationship with staff from a parent advocacy organization in New Orleans. This particular organization was engaged in advocacy for parents who have children with disabilities; supports offered included training on disabilities specific issues, IDEA, and leadership skills. These advocates had ongoing contact with a large number of parents in the RSD community. At the end of a parent meeting in early April, the case study was described to the group and those interested forwarded their contact information through the staff. The researcher then contacted the parents and scheduled interviews. An internet search of organizations engaged in rebuilding New Orleans yielded several community stakeholders who were appropriate participants for the


study. Based on the researcher’s existing relationships with particular schools, traditional school staff were selected. This convenience sample ensured access to school-based staff. Initial interviews with community stakeholders and district personnel produced contacts with charter school staff. Charter school participants became available to the researcher as a result of interviews. Typically participants were contacted by email and an interview was subsequently scheduled. To protect the anonymity of interview participants, names as well as specific job titles were not identified in the results. A potential interview participants table was developed. This table aided in organizing contact information and other relevant details related to participants. As interviews were conducted, participants suggested additional interview subjects. These new names were then added to the table and became potential participants. A template of this Potential Interview Participants table is attached (please see Appendix A). The primary purpose of the interviews was information gathering to answer the research questions. During each interview, early questions were very open ended, “grand tour questions” as defined by Lincoln and Guba (1985). Questions such as: How is the school year going? or, What’s going on at your school? were initially asked. As the interview proceeded more specific questions were asked. As Yin (2003) suggested, this type of list of specific questions serves as a prompt for level of specificity required, and are not necessarily exact questions to be asked of the participant. These questions then caused the researcher to ask relevant questions


and stay focused on the larger questions of the case study. They are included in the Interview Notes Table (please see Appendix B). Notes were taken by the researcher during each interview and were typed into the Interview Notes Table. A summary statement was written upon completion of each interview. Notes were reviewed for relevance to every research question and then reorganized as necessary. For example, if the interviewer had typed information about admission in the education provision section, the correction was made; however, no interview data were deleted. Care was taken to note any information that did not address the research questions and was then noted as a potential new theme. In addition to the Interview Notes Table, an Interview Summary Table was utilized (please see Appendix C for an example). This summary table served two purposes, organization of the data and visual aid in the data analysis process (Miles & Huberman, 1984; Yin, 2003). The Interview Summary Table was organized by major research questions, and was used to combine interview data from all sources in order to look for strength of resultant themes. For example, evidence for any exclusionary admission practices in the charter schools should become clear if when the researcher organized the interview data, it was realized that nearly every interview participant indicated such a practice had occurred. Several researchers engaged in qualitative research suggested a review of the case study report by stakeholders (Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Yin 2003). A review of the interview transcripts by each participant was suggested by Yin. This “review of draft” was done to ensure that the notes taken reflected the interview participant’s


opinions. Lincoln and Guba recommended that a sample of stakeholders review and comment on the entire report. This Member-check described in the Validity section of this chapter was designed to allow comment on data gathered and conclusions drawn. Prior to each interview, research consent forms approved by the University of Kansas Human Subjects Committee were reviewed and signed by participants. For phone interviews, participants faxed the signed consent to the Beach Center on Disability at the University of Kansas (please see Appendix D for Human Subjects Consent #17117). All interview sources were assured anonymity in exchange for their participation due to the controversial nature of this study. Please see the Table of Key Informants (Appendix E) for an accounting of the types of interview participants. Information from all participants is presented in the Results Chapter. General document review protocol. A variety of documents were sought, including state reports, district reports, private entity reports, website information and popular media. The internet was the primary method for searching and obtaining these data. Additionally, the researcher had been saving and reviewing related information from a wide variety of sources for the past 2 years. Many of the interview participants also identified documents for use in the case study. In fact several interview participants suggested the same documents. All documents were saved on the researcher’s laptop computer and backed-up on a University of Kansas electronic storage drive.


RSD procedures and policies for admission and education provision for students with disabilities, as well as relevant Louisiana charter school laws were gathered and reviewed. Quantitative information gathered included enrollment of students with disabilities in charter and traditional schools and standardized test scores for RSD schools. Meeting minutes from district and state-level education meetings were searched. Local interested parties such as teachers unions, charter school advocacy organizations and community organizations offered information for consideration. A number of articles about the school district published by the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the city’s primary newspaper, were included as well. Several New Orleans community websites focused on re-building efforts offered a wealth of information about the state of education in New Orleans. Identifying a document source for the RSD charter schools was difficult. Each charter management entity and independent charter school had unique policies to guide its operations. For example, it was possible every management entity and charter school had a different admission process for new students. These idiosyncratic policies, although an example of site-based control highly valued by charter school advocates, made it difficult to draw conclusions about “charter schools in RSD.” Documents for the charter schools were gathered from RSD due to the unavailability of this information directly from the charters. The summarized document data was entered into a Document Summary Table (please see Appendix F). The table was organized by research question and data summarized from the documents were matched with the appropriate question.


As noted for the Interview Summary Table, the Document Summary table organized the data and aided in data analysis (Miles & Huberman, 1984; Yin, 2003). Additionally, all documents utilized in the Results chapter were coded for source and were included in the Document Codes and Sources table, (please see Appendix G). This Document Codes and Sources table will be useful to the reader when reviewing the Results Chapter to gain a clear impression about the sources considered, and to reveal any potential biases in the sources. Data Analysis Process Data Analysis There were two major steps in the analysis of collected data: (a) all Interview and Products Summary Tables were reviewed for presence of themes (Miles & Huberman, 1984; Yin, 2003). Themes related to the research questions included: admission of students with disabilities; provision of education for students with disabilities; awareness of stakeholders; and any identified academic or market contingencies; and, (b) data included under each theme were summarized for consideration in the Results Chapter. Miles and Huberman (1984) discussed generation of meaning out of visual data, “We keep the world consistent and predictable by cognitively organizing and interpreting it” (p. 215). They continued and noted, for qualitative research the “art” lies in is ensuring the conclusions drawn are “valid, repeatable and right.” One of the strategies suggested by Miles and Huberman was to note patterns and themes in the visual data displays.


Validity Yin (2003) suggested several measures to strengthen the validity of case study results. First, all data were to be similarly processed. Data in the present study were summarized and matched to the relevant research question in the Summary Table. Second, all interview and product data should be saved in an electronic database. This database in this study served as a resource to allow review of raw data. Third, conclusions should be drawn and then compared to the raw data. Validation of findings in this study was done through a review of the raw data. Prior to making a statement about findings, the researcher double checked the raw data, either interview notes or the original document. The validity of case study findings relies on the researchers’ ability and commitment to carefully consider the raw data (Yin). Finally, a member-check (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) of New Orleans stakeholders was conducted. This review was designed to ensure information in the report was reflective, accurate and well organized. The member-check participants read a draft of the Results chapter, after which a series of questions were posed to them by the researcher (please see Appendix H). Comments and corrections from these stakeholders were taken into consideration and included in the results of the research.


CHAPTER 3: Results The research questions for this dissertation were developed in an effort to learn more about how students with disabilities were being educated, particularly in charter schools compared to traditional in the current New Orleans public school system. The first question; How are students with disabilities selected for admission in charter and traditional schools in New Orleans?, was prompted by reports from the community that students with disabilities were being turned-away from charters. The second question: How are services for students with disabilities the same or different in charter and traditional schools?, was also in response to reports from community members that students enrolled in charters were not receiving appropriate educational supports. And finally, the third question: What are the perceptions and opinions of parents, teachers and administrators concerning charter and traditional schools’ treatment of students with disabilities?, was considered due to the critical yet often overlooked importance of stakeholder perceptions. Assessing the perspectives of those parents, teachers and administrators most directly engaged in the educational process was critical to explore in an effort to better understand the forces in-play. For this research over 50 documents were reviewed including BESE meeting minutes, Louisiana Charter Law, community reports, charter school advocacy materials, teacher union reports and newspaper articles. The sources utilized in this chapter along with the corresponding source codes are listed in Document Codes and Sources (please see Appendix G). Documents were coded by category of data


source; law, reports, websites and newspaper. To locate a specific document, note the code of the source given in this text, and then refer to Appendix G to find the citation for the source in question. Interviews with district personnel, charter and traditional school personnel, family members of students with disabilities, community activists and charter support organizations were conducted, and resulted in a total of 15 interviews. Although interview participant names were not listed due to issues of confidentiality, a table of Key Informants (please see Appendix E) provides a breakdown of the types of participants interviewed. It is also important to mention that I have made a number of visits to several of the traditional schools in RSD over the past two years working as a school reform consultant. Although I consider my perspective to be fair, the experiences I have had through these visits cannot be separated from the conclusions I offer below. The results under each of the research questions listed below were formulated through a careful review of the summarized documents and interview transcripts. Concluding statements made in this chapter were double checked with the original data sources to ensure fair representation of the facts. The findings for each research question as well as data related to the research hypotheses are discussed below. This chapter then concludes with a discussion of unanticipated themes that emerged from the data. Research Question #1 How were students with disabilities selected for admission in charter and traditional schools in New Orleans?


As eloquently stated by a RSD administrator, “If the charter schools are being selective, we have a problem.” There may in fact be a problem; not only in New Orleans, but across the country. The national literature on charter schools selectively admitting students is plentiful (Arsen et al., 1999; Fiore et al., 2000; Heubert, 2002; Horn & Miron, 2000; Lange 1997; McKinney, 1996; Nelson et al., 2000; Zollers & Ramanathan, 1998). Question one was posed in an effort to learn if selective admission was also occurring in the RSD charter schools. Two major themes emerged from the RSD document and interview data related to admission: first, it appeared as if students were denied admission based on disability and secondly, a maze of charter school options with idiosyncratic application and enrollment procedures functionally excluded additional students with disabilities. Admission Issues RSD documents and state charter law specifically stated that students were not to be denied admission to charters based on disability. However, reports of students with disabilities being denied admission appeared in the interviews with district personnel, parents, parent advocates and community activists as well as the document reviews. The Charter School Demonstration Programs Law for the state of Louisiana defined five different types of charter schools (L1, R8). Each charter school type varied with respect to funding, non-profit status, restrictiveness of enrollment, LEA status and relationship with local school board. In New Orleans the charter schools were all designated “Type 5.” One of the relevant characteristics of Type 5 charters


was their obligation to be “open admission schools” without entrance requirements (L1, R4, R7, R8, W3, N8). Type 5 charters were not legally allowed to screen students based on “…race, religion, gender, ethnicity, national origin, intelligence level as ascertained by an intelligence quotient examination, or identification as a child with exceptionality” (L1, p. 10). However, Type 5 charters specifically organized for college prep were allowed to require a particular level of academic achievement for entrance. Additionally, a performance arts charter was allowed to require an audition for admission. These charters were allowed selective screening, but had to be specific about their admission requirements (L1). State Board of Education documents supported by administrative interviews clearly illustrated that students were not to be turned-away based on disability (L1, R4, R13, W6). One district administrator noted, “RSD charter schools are nonselective, students should expect to be accepted if they follow the guidelines setout by the particular charter they are interested in.” This was also echoed in the New Orleans Parent Guide to Education (R4), where it stated that public schools were required to serve all children, including those students with learning, behavior or physical disabilities. Schools may not turn students away because of their special learning needs. A second administrator at RSD commented that there was heightened awareness to this issue and the charters were now being more subtle in their exclusion of students with disabilities. One of the RSD teachers from a traditional school said, “I have several friends who work in the RSD charters and we can’t even talk about this stuff, because everyone gets so upset.”


In addition to the qualitative data summarized above, current enrollment data, as of October, 2007 were also considered. Enrollment data of students with disabilities in charter and traditional schools reflected inequity. The traditional Recovery School District school had, on average, about 10 percent special education students, with some schools as high as 22 percent. In charter schools, special education students made up an average of only 6 percent of the students (N2). In a local paper Paul Vallas, RSD Superintendent, was quoted: "The charters know we have to adhere to special education mandates. If they don't, we're going to be facing one big class-action lawsuit. . . . They know, and we know, that the clock is ticking" (N2, p. 1). In addition to issues of admission of students in charters, there were reports of “dumping” students who were not able to perform academically or had behavioral challenges (R1, R2, R8, N2, N5). This dumping (forced student transfer) was referred to by school personnel as “Remainder of School Year” (ROSY). This ROSY label was given to students who were given the choice of expulsion from a charter school due to behavioral issues or transfer to a traditional RSD school, for the remainder of the school year. Many of these students transferred to the traditional schools as a last resort, resulting in a disproportionate number of students with disabilities and behavioral challenges in these RSD schools (R1, R2, R8, N2, N5). There were also open discussions at the state level about student dumping. These discussions were captured in the BESE minutes from January 20, 2008 (R1):


On motion of Ms. Buquet, seconded by Ms. Givens, the Board directed the Recovery School District to include in its monthly update report: 1) an update on special education with respect to RSD operated and charter schools; 2) data with regard to the number of students withdrawing from the RSD and where those students are enrolling in school and the number of students enrolling in the RSD and where those students were previously enrolled; and 3) an analysis of the issue of “dumping,” including defining “dumping,” with respect to Type 5 charter schools. The analysis should include the measurement of how many students are coming to the RSD from Type 5 charter schools, if there is a problem with “dumping” with regard to any or all Type 5 charter schools, and to what extent student transfer is based on general movement throughout the district. (p. 11) The February BESE meeting minutes unfortunately reflected that this discussion was deferred until May, 2008 (R2). In New Orleans, there were private schools (parochial) as well as public traditional and charter schools. For parents who were not familiar with the educational landscape of the city, there was plenty of opportunity for confusion. The greater New Orleans area spreads across several parishes, much as cities in other states spread across one or more counties. Orleans Parish in the middle of the city of New Orleans was where RSD offices and schools were located. This intercity


parish, divided into eight distinct neighborhoods, offered several different public school districts, RSD, NOPS, and BESE (please see Appendix I for a graphic display of New Orleans Schooling Options). RSD schools, the focus of this research offered both traditional and charter schools. To help guide parents through the confusing options, the New Orleans Parents’ Guide to Public Schools was written (R4). This guide found at the New Schools for New Orleans website (W2) as well as the RSD website (W6), outlined schooling options in the city and offered clear, basic information about the differences between charter and traditional RSD schools. Each public school in New Orleans was listed in the guide and critical information such as location and contact information was included. In addition to on-line availability, the guide was also offered at community Post Offices as well as school district offices (W6). Common Application Process In addition to the Parents’ Guide to Public Schools (R4), there was a Common Application process developed to help parents choose among the public schooling options in the city (please see Appendix J) (R15). Found on several websites, this application is easily accessible for parents with website access; applications are also available at school district offices in New Orleans (W3, W6). As a parent advocate explained, once a parent completed the application, the procedure for processing the application was different based on the type of school chosen. If parents chose a traditional RSD school, the district maintained control over where students were placed within the traditional schools. Selection of a


specific school did not guarantee placement in that school. Functionally the district is the entity applied to rather than a specific school. Final placement decisions were made based on the availability of space, which while very practical, resulted in students attending schools with no regard to neighborhood. Currently, there are no “neighborhood schools” in RSD. The Common Application was also suitably used for RSD charter schools. Parents interested in these charters, took the completed application to the particular charter school(s) of interest (R15). When too many students applied to a particular charter, a lottery was held to select students for enrollment (L1, R10, R11). Even when accepted through the lottery, parents then had to enroll their students. It was possible to apply to several charters and not be selected for any of them. As noted by a parent advocate: I don’t know how parents learn about all of the different charters, guess maybe from websites, billboards or from the radio; if you have no idea of your options, you don’t really have a choice. If you want your child to go to a charter you have to find the school, figure out the application process, deadlines for enrollment, have necessary records and likely also commit to volunteer hours, not all parents will make it through all of that. Although the charter schools were empowered to hold a lottery to determine enrollment, the traditional schools did not have the option to turn-away students for any reason. If a student applied to any RSD traditional school, one of the schools had to accept the student. If a parent’s school of choice was a traditional school


already at enrollment capacity, the student was sent to a different school with available classroom space. As a last resort, enrollment would be increased at a school already at its pre-set limit. There was no option to pass the student on to another school district. The deadline for enrollment in RSD for the ’08-’09 school year was early April, 2008 (R2, W6). As a RSD administrator and parent advocate pointed out, “with charters allowed to cap enrollment, no student who applied after this deadline was considered for a lottery and consequently, a charter” (N3). Based on the data which suggested discriminatory admission, (R1, R2, R3, R5, R7, R8, N2, N3, N5) it was fair to assume this happened in many of the charter schools in RSD, in spite of the Louisiana charter school law (L1, R4, W6). Data sources both qualitative and quantitative confirmed this conclusion. In addition to admission problems, there was also evidence of “dumping” students once they had been admitted into charter schools (R1, R2, R8, N2, N5). This practice was not only disruptive for students, but also placed a disproportionate number of students with behavioral challenges in the RSD traditional schools. Positive steps were taken to clarify the confusing schooling options through the publication of the New Orleans Parents’ Guide to Public Schools (R4) and the Common Application Process (R15). Both of these changes resulted from activities by parent advocates from the community. However helpful, it was likely that only skilled parents with time and energy to devote to school selection were able to make it through the maze of information. “What we have now is confusing and difficult, but it really was bad before”, lamented a parent advocate.


Research Question #2 How were the services for students with disabilities the same or different in charter and traditional schools? While searching for data related to educational provision for students with disabilities, two major themes arose; lack of IDEA awareness in the charters and little special education support for students attending charters. When questioned as to why charters failed to offer appropriate support to students with disabilities, a family advocate replied, “I think you will find the problems are from a lack of resources and knowledge.” An administrator confirmed this presumption, “Charters are worse off in special education. They don’t have a clue as to what they are getting into. BESE wants to stop chartering until they (the charters) figure out how to do special education.” IDEA Perhaps one of the most supported conclusions drawn from the interview data was the charter schools’ lack of knowledge about IDEA. A charter service provider commented, “People love charter schools; but some charters don’t know what they are doing with IDEA; there are lots of problems with what is going on.” There were two basic types of charters in RSD; independent charters and company charters. Company charters such as Edison schools were backed by national organizations with provisions for students with disabilities built into their educational program. A special educator from an Edison charter reflected, “We are in good shape compared to other charter schools. I attribute that to Edison and our


Principal; at Edison we have an internal model for special education service provision.” Independent charters were less likely to have such internal models to guide support of students with disabilities. The lack of awareness of legal obligations seemed to be more present in these independent charters (R7, N2, N6), even though their responsibilities were outlined in the Louisiana Charter School Law (L1,). An example of this lack of knowledge was conveyed by a parent advocate; “We were supporting a child in a RSD charter school and they didn’t know they were responsible for IDEA compliance and didn’t have the personnel to do so.” The advocate added: The school did not know how to evaluate the student’s level of performance. They did not know how to provide or access supports for this student. They said that they could not afford a special education teacher and didn’t know how they could provide services at that school. These comments are a clear indication that charter staff at this school were unprepared to meet the needs of this student. A charter school teacher suggested that instead of lack of knowledge, the problem was actually how resources were used, “A lot of charter schools know they have to provide services, but because these are based on need, they don’t hire the personnel until the student comes.” There were also those charters who chose not to hire additional personnel even when the need was clearly indicated, as reflected in a special educator’s experience at one charter:


We had no one to do evaluations, no nurse or psych or anyone else. I was really hindered from doing my job because the school wouldn’t put out the money to hire support people. I told the school leadership they needed to hire more special education people; they were not willing to do that. Somehow a parent was led to believe that our school could offer services to an autistic student that we couldn’t, she also had epilepsy and we didn’t have a school nurse, the parents didn’t offer much information when they enrolled her. I was one-on-one with this student for weeks, but had 25 other students that got no support. I was physically beat-up by this girl every day. I was the only special education teacher there…that is what has happened in a lot of charters. We didn’t contract with RSD for shared services for our students with disabilities, a blunder on our part; we had no other way to get those support services. The good news, if there is any, was shared by an administrator from RSD, “Last school year charters were outright turning away students since they didn’t know the law, this year they are doing better.” “I don’t think charters are doing this to be evil, but just don’t know what they are doing…. it is less about rejecting students, and more about not having services in place.” Another interview participant offered; “They (charter schools) are all starting to accept students with disabilities, but don’t know much about IDEA.” The solutions offered in this case must consider the cause. If the lack of appropriate services stems from lack of knowledge, professional development,


family advocacy training and legal supports are in order. If the lack of services were caused by lack of knowledge (N2, R7), there is a solution and in fact the district made plans to increase the IDEA knowledge base of staff (R9). If however, the cost of services was the biggest issue (N2), there is a bigger problem which will be much more difficult to address. Lack of Systems As noted earlier, RSD charters were Type 5 Louisiana charter schools. In addition to being open admission schools, these Type 5 charters were also designated as their own Local Education Agency (LEA) for purposes of special education funding (L1, R8). However, there continued to be confusion about what precisely constituted the LEA, and as explained by a RSD administrator, after two years this issue was still being discussed at the state board level. If the chartering authority was the LEA, then RSD was responsible for IDEA compliance in the charter schools. But if the charters themselves were the LEA, then the charters alone were responsible to comply with IDEA (L1, R10, R11). The Type 5 charters directly received their special education funds from the state and federal government and not through RSD. A RSD administrator clarified, “Every charter gets state funding through the Minimum Foundation Program (block grant) and title funding just like traditional schools.” However, even though legally responsible (L2), many charters did not have infrastructure to support IDEA activities (N2). Without a school districts’ efficiency of scale, support services were more expensive to provide (N2). If charters did not have the staff or knowledge to offer their own


special education related services, they contracted with RSD or other organizations to get the tasks completed (N6). A RSD administrator explained: If a charter does not have its own services and supports, then these services must be contracted out to RSD or a few other service options in town. RSD offers a Shared Services option which provides evaluations, occupational and physical therapy, speech therapy and behavioral consultation, etc., on a cost per service basis to the charter schools; 12 of the 27 charters contract with us for these services, others get the services elsewhere. In a status report to Paul Pastorek (State Superintendent), Paul Vallas noted the biggest special education related need in charter schools was getting kids evaluated or re-evaluated (R9); there were many students who had neither current evaluations nor any at all. A parent advocate commented, “I think we are two years away from having all kids identified.” “My roommate is a charter school special education teacher and she is always talking about the lack of infrastructure for special education services.” To answer research question two, it would appear in the charter schools there was a pervasive lack of knowledge about IDEA responsibilities (N2, R7). Although the written documents to support this assertion are minimal; parents, teachers, administrators, parent advocates and the charter service provider all responded similarly to this question and expressed concern about the knowledge level of charter school staff (N2, R7). Additionally, the financial ramifications for charters may have served as a disincentive to purchase and provide appropriate


supports (N2). Both of these challenges were intensified when combined with the lack of special education infrastructure (N2, R7, N6). All three of these issues seemed to have contributed to the lack of appropriate educational supports for students in charter schools. Research Question # 3 What were the perceptions and opinions of parents, teachers and administrators concerning charter and traditional schools treatment of students with disabilities? The Community Perspective It was important to understand how these educational issues were viewed by parents, teachers and administrators. These were the stakeholders with the most to gain and loose in this school reform effort. There was agreement across all stakeholder interview participants (traditional and charter school personnel, community parent advocates, and parents) that admission and education provision differences existed. As one longtime community member and educator pointed out: But that has been the way in this city, there has always been tiers of education options. You pushed to get your kids into the best 17 schools in the city before the storm. Now the parents who are most involved try to get their kids into NOPS (New Orleans Public Schools) then Algiers (group of charter schools) and then in the end RSD. Although angry about the inequality, there is a level of resignation about sub-par educational opportunities (R7, R8). The fear of restricted admission for students based on disability was fairly widespread among parents. As a special


educator from a charter elementary school noted; “The parents may not know exactly what they want for their children, but they know what they don’t want.” This was true for both types of RSD schools; many parents did not indicate on the application that their child had an IEP. “They don’t even tell the school that the kids have been identified before the storm” commented a district administrator. There was the perception that some parents lacked awareness about school choice and their rights per IDEA. One of the parent advocates who participated in the interviews had made it her mission to support and inform parents by creating a parent advocacy organization. She stated: There is a serious lack of awareness about the differences between the types of schools in the city. Half of the parents I talk to didn’t finish school or have disabilities and they are trying to find the best placement. It is necessary for parents to learn how to advocate for their children. This is a very unaware group of parents; most parents don’t even realize they need to know the differences in schools. In sum, parents expressed a fear of discrimination around admission, going so far as to omit the IEP diagnosis from school applications (R7). In addition, many parents lack the resources required to fully advocate for their children. Parents, administrators and educators were all familiar with the shortcomings of the current educational situation. “Everyone saw charters as the salvation for the poor kids in this community, but it is not working out that way” observed a charter school service provider.


This case study examined research questions to learn if there were differences in admission and education provision between RSD traditional and charter schools. Revealed differences were discussed above. Additionally, it was found that the most likely explanation for the differences was due to financial and academic contingencies infringing on the charter school system in RSD. The following section discusses these findings. Academic Contingencies Charter schools were held to the same academic standards as traditional public schools (L1, R4, R10, R11, R13, W3, W5). The charters in RSD were required to participate in the same state assessments as traditional schools and were expected to report increases in academic performance each year (L1, R4). The Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP) was the standardized state assessment used in Louisiana to gauge student academic progress for 4th and 8th grade students. The LEAP score determined if students may pass on to the 5th and 9th grades. After just one year of wide-spread charters in RSD, the LEAP scores for students in the traditional schools were markedly lower than the scores from students in the charter schools (R3, R7, W5, N1). See Chart 2 for a summary of results of the LEAP for the spring 2007 testing period.


Chart 2. Percentage of students who scored Basic or Approaching Basic promotional standard on the LEAP Grade Level 4th grade 8th grade Traditional RSD 51% 46% Charter RSD 90% 89%

Were the differences in LEAP scores reported in the summer of 2007 due to differences in instructional quality? Or was the disparity caused by use of selective criteria for students? There is a distinct possibility that these differences are primarily due to selection. As noted in Chapter 1, nationally, charter schools on average are not producing higher achievement (Carnoy, Jacobsen & Rothstein, 2000; Braun, Jenkins, & Grigg, 2006; Lubienski & Lubienski, 2005, 2006) and indeed in some cases there are examples of lower academic outcomes from charter schools (Carnoy, Jacobsen & Rothstein, 2000). Additionally, the evidence from both interview and document data (R1, R2, R3, R5, R7, R8, N2, N3, N5) strongly supports selective admission practices. Stakes were high for both types of schools as noted in NCLB. If traditional schools did not show increasing test scores over time there were negative consequences called for, such as change of school leadership (L3). If a charter failed to show increases in academic achievement, the school was in danger of being closed (L1, R4, R8, R10). As a RSD administrator noted, typical


chartering agreements included loss of the charter if academic benchmarks were not met. Economic Contingencies In addition to the contingency requirement of positive academic outcomes, charter schools were also motivated to provide education economically (N2). As noted by a reporter: Part of the issue comes down to money. Providing strong special education services is not always financially advantageous -- or even feasible -- for charter schools. While a typical urban school system might have a special education administrator who oversees services for 6,000 students, for instance, a typical charter school might have 60 special education students, but would still need an administrator who knows the technicalities of complicated special education laws. Schools that are individually run can't take advantage of the economies of scale present in larger school systems. Functionally, the charter system has been dis-incentivized to include difficult and costly students. These schools are driven by market forces to reduce overhead (R7, R8). Understandably charters were not anxious to hire special education staff that were not yet needed. However a condition of their chartering agreement was their commitment to provide appropriate services to any child accepted and enrolled (L1, R10, R11, R13). Once again the issue of IDEA knowledge was visible, as a family advocate stated; “They didn’t know how to begin the evaluation process for a student with disabilities; said they couldn’t afford a sped teacher, didn’t know how


they could service him at that school.” When schools consider students with special education needs as financial liabilities, a moral as well as legal issue arises. An administrator from RSD commented, “For a small charter two kids with significant disabilities could sink them financially…it would be the perfect storm.” A charter school board member stated (N2): …it costs about $1,900 to conduct a full evaluation of a child, and that the school budgeted about $38,000 to evaluate as many as 5 percent of its students. How hard can it be for me to get services for our special needs students? Let me tell you, even if you know what to do, you can't always afford the price. Considering the academic and financial contingencies charter schools faced, it was understandable they would be apprehensive to welcome students who were not achieving academically who might require costly support services. Of course these contingencies are in direct conflict with the legal rights of students (L1, L2, R4, R10, R11). Where does this leave charter schools? They seem to be caught on a precarious point of economic constraints and legal requirements. These complex issues needed to have been considered prior to the wholesale spread of charters in New Orleans. Unanticipated Emergent Themes Two unanticipated themes emerged from the consideration of document and interview data. Several examples of independent support systems for charter schools


were developed and secondly, there were references to charter school takeover of all RSD schools. Systems Spring Eternal As mentioned earlier many charters were seemingly unprepared to meet students’ special education needs. As a result, systems of support were developed (R4, R8, R10, R11, W1, W3, N2, N6). These systems were described by RSD administrators, charter service providers and charter school teachers as well (N2). The lack of charter capacity resulted in the development of these specialized supports by outside entities, essentially amounting to the privatization of supports that are typically offered by a district. District personnel reported that although RSD did offer services, many charters elected not to purchase these. One of these new service organizations developed in the past several months was the Serving the Unique Needs of Students (SUN) Center. The SUN Center recently opened to support students with disabilities enrolled in charter schools. This center was financed privately by the Baptist Community Ministries and described itself as a “one-stop shop” for special education services for charter schools (N2, N6). In addition to the SUN Center, several charters organized the Algiers Charter School Association. This group included seven RSD and two NOPS charters (R8). They shared resources and grouped students by level of need across schools. Additionally, they maintained a centralized office with an Executive Director, human resource and finance functions, and student evaluation capacity. There was a similar support set-up on the east bank of the city, East Bank Collaborative, with nine charters more


loosely organized. A charter service provider explained that this collaborative had a Director and School Leadership Center, but provided no central office functions. There were also new advocacy organizations formed to help charter school startups, one of which is New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO). Their website stated, “NSNO hopes to build a system of schools, not a school system” (W3). Systems have also been created to help parents find their way through the confusing schooling options (R4, W1). These included, the New Orleans Parent Organizing Network and Save our Schools (R4, W1). These parenting advocacy organizations reached out to parents through community meetings and websites. Additionally, RSD designated an upper level district position dedicated to acting as a liaison between the charter schools and RSD. Charter Take-Over As noted in Chapter 1, BESE planed to have all RSD schools run by charters just after Katrina, which would have negated the need for a district presence. The notion that RSD did not plan to run a large number of traditional schools was mentioned in several documents (R6, R7, R8, R12): Originally, the RSD envisioned a district composed primarily of charter schools with a lean central administrative staff. However, by early 2006, when it became apparent that there would not be enough high-quality charter school operators, the RSD was forced to quickly reorient its structure to become a district able to open and operate schools. (R8, p. 17)


One parent advocate suggested it was conventional wisdom RSD was planning to close more of its traditional schools. Indeed, 56% of RSD students were already attending charter schools (Boston Consulting Group, 2008). New charters have been approved for the ’08-’09 school year which will bring the total number of charters in RSD to 44 (R16). In a Times-Picayune article, (N1) Superintendent Vallas commented on the new charters: District Superintendent Paul Vallas said the new charters could be "incubated" in existing schools -- meaning they would move into existing district-operated campuses and, in effect, take them over. "As many as four" charter schools could "gradually in effect take over the management" of district-operated schools that opened this year, he said (p. 1). One of the possible reasons for this potential takeover must be financial. New Orleans has not had a successful track record with school funding. There has been only one school improvement bond passed in the last 30 years, as noted by a local activist. However, charter schools were eligible for government funds specifically earmarked for charter schools as well as funding from private charter school advocacy organizations (R7, R8, N7). As of June 2007, individual charter schools in New Orleans have secured from $10,000 to $250,000 in additional funding through private donations and foundation grants (R8). Additionally, the Bush administration has offered $24 million for the charters (N7). Some community members noted that many in New Orleans believed the push for chartering of schools was the privatization and resultant profit off of education (R14):


At the center of the charter school movement, many here believe, is the profit motive, especially for national vendors providing construction, food services, security guards, and insurance to individual charter schools, consortiums of charters, and to the RSD. In replacing the system they despised, the advocates of limited government have created fields of profit for the private sector, while frequently delivering shoddy services and unfit products. Many of the charter schools themselves are in the hands of chartering entities with national profiles, KIPP and Mosaica among them. Thirty-one of the fifty-six schools that are open here now are charter schools, run by twenty-three organizations. The bottom line is that more than half the public school students in New Orleans attend charter schools, a higher percentage than anywhere else. Now, instead of centralized bad judgment, we have diversified bad judgment, with occasionally common results. (p. 2) Impact on Students with Disabilities Community as a Resource The implications for students with disabilities in this community were significant. Risk factors of being African American and poor add to the challenges of having a disability (Lutzker & Bigelow, 2002; McLoyd, 1990; Peterson, Wall, & Raikes, 2004; Qi & Kaiser, 2004; Rush, 1999). Students with disabilities were not typically welcome in the higher performing charter schools (R8). “Hundreds of kids with disabilities (who are often turned away from charter schools) are being placed


in the under-resourced and over-burdened state-run Recovery School District. It's their only choice” (N3). When the quality of education has been judged by LEAP test scores, as it is has been on the playing field of the RSD charter schools vs. traditional schools, students who typically score lower on state assessments have not been valued participants. As a result, the schools with the least overall resources appeared to have been charged with educating the students with the highest level of needs (R1, R2, R8, N2, N5). One yet untapped source of support for this school reform in New Orleans is the community (R14). Schorr (1997), Cuban (2001) and Taylor (2002) have noted the importance of the community in school reform. Taylor stated: For reform that embraces community-centeredness, and not the privileged individualism implicit in the national charter movement, New Orleans would have to be the location of a genuine debate about community goals and options. Instead, it is hostage to an invasion of school-snatchers and their dreams of privatization. (p. 7) Summary Naively indignant about the notion that students with disabilities were being excluded from the new charter schools in New Orleans, I began to search for information. First I came to understand that the national data on charter school effectiveness was not compelling (Carnoy, Jacobsen, & Rothstein, 2000; Braun, Jenkins, & Grigg, 2006; Lubienski & Lubienski, 2005, 2006), and that this charter movement did not represent “big-bang” school improvement. At this time it looks as


if charter schools are not the answer to the challenges of urban education, at least in New Orleans. Not yet anyway. I also learned that students with disabilities in charters, particularly RSD charters, were not receiving the level of educational support they were guaranteed through IDEA (N2 N6, R7). So I began to wonder why it mattered if kids with disabilities were in charters. Why is it so important that parents get their children into charters when the evidence on academic results is not sound? A reporter from the Times-Picayune asked the same question (N2): In a fall letter to all Recovery School District charter schools, Superintendent Paul Vallas reminded them that about 10 percent of their students should receive special education services or they could violate their contracts with the state. Enforcing the 10 percent guideline accomplishes little, however, if the schools cannot effectively serve the special education students they already have. (p. 2) It seems many of us have been convinced in the face of the national data, that different must be better. The new charter schools have important sounding names; “Academy,” “College Prep,” “Science and Technology” along with energetic young teachers and an air of exclusivity. Obviously, changing the name of a school does not make it more capable of supporting students to achieve academic excellence. We know from research that it takes much more; veteran teachers, small class size and strong administrative support. Yet we were willing to try anything in a city with a long history of failing African American students. All of these schools traditional and charter, still function in the same economically stressed and racially


segregated communities as before the storm. As a mother from New Orleans said about the charter that was trying to expel her son, “This is the same crappy educational system we had before, this charter is like a pig with lipstick…it is still a pig,” understandably not a hopeful perspective.


CHAPTER 4: Discussion and Summary Education is a complicated endeavor. School reform in a city recovering from a natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina’s magnitude poses a unique challenge. Additionally the mitigating circumstances of a state-run school district with oversight of both traditional and charter schools, adds to the complexity. A case study methodology was utilized to learn about the specifics of this educational situation in New Orleans. New Orleans in 2008 has one of the highest concentrations of charter schools in the nation (Boston Consulting Group, 2008). The examination of this dense charter presence and resultant impact on students with disabilities was the focus of this research. Included in this chapter is the discussion of unanticipated themes which arose from the data; limitations of this research; possible alternative explanations of observed data; and future research considerations. A brief review of the history of charters schools in the United States was conducted to build a context for the current charter school movement in New Orleans. Additionally, literature was reviewed on the national status of charter schools, the impact of federal disabilities laws on charter schools and in particular the state charter laws of Louisiana. From this consideration of the literature emerged a number of findings, some of which closely parallel the findings obtained from this study. Agreement in findings from national literature and local New Orleans information have centered on academic achievement of charter school students and selective admission criteria often excluding traditionally disenfranchised students.


An empirical case study method was used to gather, analyze and interpret the data for consideration. Case studies are most appropriate when considering questions which require qualitative as well as quantitative data. Case study methodology was chosen due to its flexibility in dealing with both qualitative and quantitative data, systems rather than cultural focus, and presence of both predetermined questions and hypotheses. A single case study with two embedded units of analysis was employed to critically examine the theory of variability of educational provision to students with disabilities within traditional and charter schools in RSD (Stake, 1997; Yin, 2003). The general purpose of this embedded, single case-study design was to learn how students with disabilities were faring in the school reform efforts in New Orleans. Qualitative data were gathered through record and document review as well as interviews. Along with qualitative data, it was also important to report quantitative information about enrollment and achievement of students in RSD. In this study there was a specific focus on the RSD and the traditional and charter schools within this state-run district. To aid in the execution of case study research, Yin (2003) suggested a “case study protocol” to clearly plan and execute a reliable research inquiry. Preparing the protocol prior to research activities, prompted the researcher to think through potential road blocks and kept activities targeted on the subject of research. The case study protocol organized activities which moved the researcher from: (a) the questions, to (b) data collection, resulting in (c) data analysis.


For this case study the two primary data sources utilized were interviews, and documentation. To understand perspectives of stakeholders engaged in local struggles, interviews were the primary data source. Documents were also used due to the wealth of information they offered to inform the case study findings. For both embedded units (traditional and charter schools) of the case study these data sources were used. Within the interviews and documents, multiple sources were utilized to ensure triangulation of information. Interview participants were from a range of community and educational positions. A number of “types” of documents were used ranging from codified law to newspaper articles. Review of Results To review, the questions asked in this research focused on admission and education provision in the RSD charter schools for students with disabilities. Three research questions were addressed in an effort to clarify the current educational situation for students with disabilities in the Recovery School District. A brief review of the research questions and hypotheses along with the resultant conclusions are offered below. 1. How were students with disabilities selected for admission in charter and traditional schools in New Orleans? Louisiana state charter law asserted that the RSD charters are open enrollment schools, meaning there are no entrance requirements for students. Additionally, for students with disabilities IDEA mandated that students may not be turned away from any publically funded schools based on disability. All of the RSD


schools were publicly funded therefore were required maintain open enrolment policies. In the first full school year after Hurricane Katrina (2006-2007), there was a great deal of confusion about which schools were open enrollment. Parents could no longer assume their child would attend the school closest to their home. To better guide parents in the selection of an appropriate school, the majority of public schools in New Orleans in 2008 participated in the Common Application process. This process was developed to help parents navigate the multiple schooling options in the city. In spite of open enrollment in all RSD schools, there continued to be enrollment discrepancy in the percentage of students with disabilities enrolled in traditional vs. charter schools. The traditional Recovery School District school had, on average, about 10 percent special education students, with some schools as high as 22 percent. In charter schools, special education students made up an average of only 6 percent of the students (Carr, 2008). This discrepancy was likely caused by instances of students with disabilities being dissuaded from enrolling in charter schools, as noted in several documents and reported by interview participants. There was also evidence offered by interview participants that charters counseled students out, either overtly or discretely. 2. How were the services for students with disabilities the same or different in charter and traditional schools? All of the schools in RSD were public and therefore required by IDEA to provide appropriate education to students with disabilities. When students were enrolled in charters, these schools were not prepared to appropriately evaluate and 79

support the students. Two key factors appeared to have influenced the quality of services received by students with disabilities in the charter schools; the lack of IDEA knowledge and little special education support for students attending charters. When a RSD chartering organization signed their charter with the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, (BESE) the agreement included the specifications for compliance with IDEA. However, interview data reflected several examples of charter staff unfamiliar with the requirements of IDEA. In fact, even charter school staff reported lack of knowledge and structure to support students with disabilities. Because many of the RSD charters were independent organizations with no school district or chartering company to back them, they may have lacked the infrastructure to provide appropriate services for students with disabilities. The lack of internal structure for special education services means these schools would have to purchase services or hire additional staff. The decision to spend more money to support a single student with disabilities posed a quandary for the charter leadership. To maintain their charter status, these schools must on one hand have met high academic outcomes and, on the other hand have maintained a level of fiscal vitality. This lack of IDEA understanding and “conflict of interest” between services and financial considerations placed students with disabilities at risk for inappropriate service provision. 3. What were the perceptions and opinions of parents, teachers and administrators concerning charter and traditional schools treatment of students with disabilities?


Interview results suggested that most stakeholders believed charters had engaged in selective admission practices and also expressed concern about the quality of education for students with disabilities. Even though stakeholders believed these practices took place, there was some level of resignation related to the historical presence of a tiered educational landscape. This was not the first time in New Orleans history that disenfranchised students (African American, poor or with disabilities) were relegated to the lowest performing schools. Positive steps had been taken to clarify the differences in schooling options for parents, as well as educate parents about their rights afforded by IDEA. The interview data revealed several examples of students with disabilities in charters whose needs were not met due to lack of services. As noted by a parent advocate: The school did not know how to evaluate the student’s level of performance. They did not know how to provide or access supports for this student. They said that they could not afford a special education teacher and didn’t know how they could provide services at that school. The special education related services mentioned in this quote included, evaluation and providing services, two functions that are many times supported through district coordination. This charter school did not have such access and had apparently chosen not to purchase these services. A parent advocate noted that many of the parents she worked with had disabilities themselves and were not equipped to fully understand the schooling options and corresponding rights of their child to attend.


This case study found that for students with disabilities, there were differences in admission and educational provision between RSD traditional and charter schools. Additionally, it found that these differences were likely to be due to financial and academic contingencies infringing on the charter school system in RSD. Charter schools function as market driven entities with no incentive to welcome academically or behaviorally challenging students. Problematic students negatively impact academic outcomes and fiscal viability. Functionally, the charter system has been dis-incentivized to include difficult and costly students. However charter schools are mandated by IDEA, to admit and provide services to students with disabilities. Many charter schools are unprepared and unmotivated to accommodate students who do not fall within their perception of “typical.” Unanticipated Emergent Themes The two unanticipated themes which emerged from the document and interview data included the development of independent systems of support and the rumors of RSD becoming exclusively comprised of charter schools. Neither of these themes was expected, but were among the most thought provoking of the research results. Independent Systems Several community organizations and associations were formed with the specific mission of supporting charter schools. They shared special education resources and grouped students by level of need across several schools.


Additionally, they maintained a centralized office with an Executive Director, human resource and finance functions, and student evaluation capacity. There was a similar support set-up on the east bank of the city, with nine charters more loosely organized. As noted earlier many of the charter schools in the city did not have the capacity to evaluate students for special education support, nor did they employ specialists (speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, etc.) to provide needed services. Community organizations were also created to help parents find their way through the confusing schooling options (Rasheed, 2008; Save our Schools, n.d.). These parenting advocacy organizations reached out to parents through community meetings and websites. In addition to these community organizations, RSD created an administrative position to interface with the charter schools in its district. The number of new systems developed to support charter schools was impressive. As noted on the website of New Schools for New Orleans (New Schools for New Orleans, n.d.) “NSNO hopes to build a system of schools, not a school system…” This explosion of systems for charter schools and support for parents to make informed choices is new. Many of the supports offered by these private organizations were once handled by traditional school districts. These supports are decentralized or fragmented depending on perspective. The privatization of services once offered by school district furthers the privatization effect of the charter schools and duplicates services provided by RSD. District of Charters


The potential for RSD to become a district wholly comprised of charter schools was a rumor in the city. During one of the first interviews conducted, the participant stated that it was common knowledge in the city that the goal was to have only charter schools in RSD. Only two document sources alluded to this possibility, although one was from a presentation by the RSD Superintendent, Paul Vallas. This rumor is not widely confirmed, it is a potential development worth watching. There have been seven new chartering agreements signed with BESE for the RSD and schools are tentatively scheduled to open for the 2008-2009 school year. As new charters open in RSD, points of interest would be; role of district, outside funding opportunities, and provision of support services such as special education. This should give pause to advocates of students with disabilities considering the current evidence of exclusion and lack of appropriate supports. A district of charter schools poses a number of issues. In this scenario, the role of a district is not clear, with level of fiscal, management, and academic independence in question. The charters in New Orleans have been able to tap into millions of dollars from private and government entities which are not available to public schools. A completely chartered school district in a major urban area would be unique; indeed a group of charter schools comprising their own district would be unique. The success or failure of this district would have potentially broad ramifications for educational models throughout the United States.


Limitations of this Study Charter School Logistics Due to the nature of loosely organized charter schools it was difficult to generalize findings across all RSD charter schools. These charters function independently with individual educational missions, curriculum, organizational structures, admission procedures, and special education models. Making broad statements about the charter schools in this district may not be representative of all of the charter schools. A benefit of case study methodology is the ability to examine unique phenomena without concern of generalizing results to similar situations (Yin, 2003). While it was never the intention of the researcher to generalize these findings to charter schools in other cities, there were commonalities found in the national charter literature and the particular situation in New Orleans, namely the selective admission and lack of appropriate education provision for student with disabilities. The results from this study were not intended to be generalized to charter schools in other cities, but rather to more fully understand the charters in RSD. A related limitation was the low numbers of participants interviewed with charter school teaching or administrative experience. Direct experience from two of the charters at the teacher level and two from the charter administrative level were represented. It is important to note however that participant information used to draw conclusions was triangulated with data found in the analysis of a large number of documents.


Member Check Although Yin (2006) does not suggest a member check, others engaged in social science research offer these as a way to confirm representativeness of results. The member check process is both informal and formal (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). There were numerous informal member checks done with interview participants throughout data collection. During interviews, the researcher frequently checked for understanding to ensure notes taken were reflective of the participants’ statements. In addition to asking the pre-determined research questions, the interviews were also used to confirm or refute previous data gathered during interviews and document reviews. This essentially comprised an informal member check. A formal member check typically includes the gathering of key stakeholders and a group discussion of research results led by research personnel. For this case study, all interview participants lived in the New Orleans area and the researcher in Kansas. The researcher was able to make two trips to New Orleans during the data collection phase of this research, but the results were not yet sufficiently developed to conduct a member check in-person. Essentially, the member check process was done with individual participants through face-to-face meetings, via email and through phone discussions. Although reasonable to gather feedback in this manner, it would have been interesting and potentially beneficial to have presented the results to stakeholders and get feedback in a group setting. I believe there would have been rich discussion with the members that would have furthered the depth of information included in this report. 86

Alternative Explanations The most likely alternative explanation to the finding of charters’ engagement in selective admission could be that parents of students with disabilities voluntarily removed their children from charter schools. Similarly, it is plausible that parents could have self-selected out of the charter schools due to the lack of existing special education supports and services. More broadly, there were documents discovered that attributed the rapid increase in RSD charter schools after Katrina Hurricane to the notion that charters would be able to open more quickly than district schools. It was assumed individual schools would be more nimble and able to accept students sooner than the traditional schools encumbered with the bureaucracy of a district. The extrication of schools from the bureaucratic system of districts, clearly offers flexibility, but in exchange for minimal, or in the case of many charter schools, no “extra” services such as special education. Future Research Legislative Motives Suggestions for extending this line of research include inquiry around decision making at the state board and legislative levels that resulted in the changes in RSD. Louisiana has a colorful political history and it is conceivable that details from this particular situation would prove to be intriguing. For example, it would be interesting to learn what the true motivation of the legislature was in bringing in large numbers of charter schools to New Orleans. It must have occurred to some


that minimizing the impact of a historically low performing district in exchange for independent charter schools was positive. Or perhaps it was the promise of bringing money into the state. Adamos (2007) wrote an essay in the summer of 2007 that suggested there were clear financial motives behind the legislatures’ decision to greatly increase the charter presence in New Orleans. Following the millions of dollars that have been pumped into the city might shed more light on this issue. Community Engagement Secondly, community engagement is often cited as necessary for lasting school reform (Adamo, 2007; Cuban, 2001; Schorr, 1997; Taylor, 2002). In the state of Louisiana, what is the process for gathering community knowledge and opinions? Is there one? Engagement in research that would examine the role of community participation in this school reform effort would be socially significant findings and could potentially be generalized to other stressed communities. Conflicting Motives Thirdly, there appears to be influences on the charter schools which may dissuade them from fully welcoming students who are potentially costly or difficult to educate. Enrollment of students less likely to perform at a high level negatively impacts assessment scores. Additionally, students with disabilities potentially pose a wide range of needs requiring evaluations and resultant supports and services. These evaluations and services are expensive and time-consuming. Success for charter schools is primarily measured by two outcomes; academic achievement and fiscal viability. A closer examination of how these contingencies influence charter


schools’ admission and education provision practices would be beneficial in addressing the problems. Systems of Support As I considered all of the results, I was most perplexed by the development of private systems of support for the charter schools. These new organizations offered human resources, payroll, special education, community outreach and professional development. Do these systems functionally perform the duties typically filled by a district? Historically a hallmark of the charter movement has been independence from systematic, comprehensive support of a district, yet it appears many of these supports were replicated. The fiscal ramifications of this arrangement must be studied. Public monies spent on schools are being channeled out of the public education system into the private sector. As we see in RSD, this does not bode well for students with disabilities. Additionally, an examination of the educational shortcomings of the charter schools to determine their relatedness to the lack of comprehensive support typically offered by a district is important to consider.


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Taylor, H., L. (2002, March). Linking School Reform to the Revitalization Neighborhood Movement. Keynote address; Conference on leave no child behind: Improving under-performing urban schools. The University at Albany, State University of New York. Turnbull, H. R., Stowe, M., & Huerta, N. (2007). Free appropriate public education: The law and children with disabilities (7th ed.). Denver, CO: Love Publishing. Tuzzolo, E. & Hewitt, D. (2006). Rebuilding Inequity: The re-emergence of the school-to-prison pipeline in New Orleans. The High School Journal, 90(2), 59-68. Tyack, D. B., & Cuban, L. (1995). Tinkering toward utopia: Reflections on a century of public school reform. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. United Teachers of New Orleans, Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers. (November, 2006). National Approach or Flawed Approach: The post Katrina New Orleans Public Schools. Retrieved January 2, 2008 at United Teachers of New Orleans, Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers. (June, 2007). No experience necessary: How the New Orleans school takeover experiment devalues experienced teachers. Retrieved March 2, 2008 at


United Teachers of New Orleans, Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers. (October, 2007). Reading, Writing and Reality Check. An Early Assessment of Student Achievement in Post-Katrina New Orleans. Retrieved March 2, 2008 at Vallas, P. (December 3, 2007). Recovery District Status Report. Retrieved January 8, 2008 from Save our Schools, (February, 2008). Retrieved from Vergari, S. 1999. Charter schools: Another flawed education reform? In S. B. Sarason (ed.) School choice in America: The great debate. Hot topics series. Collected works published in Phi Delta Kappa. New York: Teachers College Press. Vergari, S. 2001. Charter schools: A primer on the issues. In K. K. Metcalf, P. A. Muller & N. A. Legan (eds.) School choice in America: The great debate. Hot topics series. Collected works published in Phi Delta Kappa. New York: Teachers College Press. Wells, A. S., Grutzik, C., & Carnochan, S. (1999). Underlying policy assumptions of charter school reform: the multiple meanings of a movement. Teachers College Record 100(3), 513-535.


Yin, R. (2003). Case study research: Design and methods. In L. Bickman, & D. Rog (Eds.), Applied Social Research Methods Series, Vol. 5. (pp.1-181). Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Yin, R. (2006). Case study methods. In J. Green, G. Camilli & P. Elmore (Eds.) Handbook of complementary methods in education research. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Zollers, N. J., & Ramanathan, A. K. (1998). For-profit charter schools and students with disabilities: The sordid side of the business of schooling. Phi Delta Kappan. 80(4), 297-306. Zollers, N. J. (2000). Schools need rules when it comes to students with disabilities. Education Week, 19(25), 46-48


Appendix A Potential Interview Participants


Potential Interview Participants Example Name/title Contact information Affiliation District, Email address and Charter, phone number Traditional, Parent, Community District Personnel Ron Woodard, Superintendent 712-743-9807 Natalie Lange, Dir. of Special 712-743-9800 Education Teacher Carrie Mugridge, Charter teacher Parent Karen Wolf, Parent Contacted Date contacted and method Sent email on Feb. 2 Phone call Jan. 28 Data Collected Method of data collection Comments Notes

Phone interview

Declined interview 40 min. interview see Interview Notes Table 913-908-2273

Phone call on March 2

Face to face Suggested I interview contact Ben Mugridge @ 913-908-2234 Fact to face interview Offered additional parent contact information for interviews. Feb. 22 712-563-4378 Phone


Appendix B Interview Notes Table


Interview Notes Table Participant: Date: Method of Interview: Consent reviewed: Suggested follow-up: Summary: Potential Themes: Additional Questions: Q1. How are students with disabilities selected for admission in charter and traditional schools in New Orleans? 1.a What is the admission process for students interested in a RSD traditional/charter school? 1.b. What is the admission process for your particular charter school? 1.c. Are there entrance requirements for students enrolling in traditional/charter schools? 1.d. At what point is enrollment closed to new students? 1.e. Do students typically attend their neighborhood schools? Q2. How are the services for students with disabilities the same or different in charter and traditional schools? 2.a. Do all students identified as needing an IEP, have one? 2.b. Are there personnel in your school who specifically support students with Notes: Affiliation: Length of Interview:


disabilities? 2.c. How does your school support students with special needs? 2.d. How would you feel if you had a student with special needs in your classroom/school? Q3. What are the perceptions and opinions of parents, teachers and administrators concerning charter and traditional schools treatment of students with disabilities? 3.a. Are students with disabilities enrolled in your school? 3.b. If so, how do you feel about it? 3.c. Do you have a child with disabilities who has been welcomed or turned-away from a charter or traditional RSD school? 3.d. Have you heard of students with disabilities being turned-away? 3.e. If so, what was the reason given?


Appendix C Interview Summary Table


Interview Summary Table (excerpt) Question 1. How are students with disabilities selected for admission in charter and traditional schools in New Orleans? Source Category Interview Comments RSD admin. If they are selected we have a problem. Every charter gets sped mfp and title funding same as traditional schools. The assumption is that they would be able to enroll any student. For a charter is very small two kids could sink them in a perfect storm. Shared services piece provides eval, otpt speech, consulting on a cost per basis to the charter schools…11 charters contract with us. Others get the services elsewhere. Common application process; rsd charter schools are nonselective, if you show and there is space you would be expect to be accepted and enroll. Hold lotteries if over full. The amt of openings vary based on the location, grades and success so some schools have almost no room. The admission process is under the specific charter contract and selection Common application used by all charter schools….this is not enrollment, but accepting, once in the door have to finish paperwork to actually enroll. Welcome school handles placement for schools in the district. Show up to find out where avail is and then apply at specific schools; city-wide access moving toward catchment areas or neighborhoods RSD admin. Charters are mores subtle this year about counseling students out; not as overt. Now there is a heightened awareness of issues. State and local superintendents are talking to charters about dumping students into rsd. Go to the BESE website and read through meeting minutes. There is open discussion at the state level about not accepting students with disabilities. RSD traditional Haven’t personally heard of any students being turned-away. But teacher (special ed) have heard that from the papers. Charter school Students with disabilities were turned away from my first school (special ed) and the disciplinary actions taken against students with disabilities were just kicked out of schools, at least 5 or 6. Parents don’t know what their rights are, my administrator had no idea about IDEA regulations. Students come to the charter school for registration, admission and enrollment, not through the district. The application includes an area that asks about disability, parents may or may not have noted that their student had needs. Think it is due to stigma of 107

Traditional school teacher (general education)

Private organization to support charters

Community Parent Advocacy

sped., had the iep reviewed, and noted that I had to schedule an interim iep since La. didn’t accept NJ eval. I’ve been trying to reach her, send her a certified letter and if no response hold the iep without parent and move on. People in NJ said she shouldn’t let her son be re-evaluated prior to the 3 years up. Ran into mom and she agreed so I sent home an agreement and she did not respond….is dragging her feet. May not know what they want, but know that they don’t want…stigma etc. There are sure rumors of the charters not accepting kids with disabilities. Also, there is a lot of dumping of students. The kids are rosyed (remainder of the school year) prior to LEAP if they are not doing well academically, and after LEAP if they test well, but are behavior problems. I have several friends who work in the RSD charters and we can’t even talk about this stuff, because everyone gets so upset. All charters set their own admission criteria, but are obligated to admit students with disabilities to result in a population similar to the demographics of the LEA. Hearing that kids with disabilities are being turned away, or they get in and have a hard time. RSD can’t turn any child away, gen or special. The charters must have a commiserate composition as the public schools in LEA. Can not exclude a student due to disability. One of BESE charters can screen due to mission of school. Have to accept every application and review, make a determination of needs and if they have the reasonable resources to meet needs of child. Personal feeling; the state law is not written clearly as well as confusing interpretation. It is ridiculous that every charter should be expected to meet the needs of every child with disabilities. The students with most significant disabilities will end up in the RSD. Open admission for all schools in RSD, but must apply. Application deadline is March 19th for the 2008-9 school year. All schools are public and therefore must serve any students who directly request or are chosen by lottery. Same, Universal Admission policy as of 07-08 school year. Universal enrollment, primarily RSD schools. Includes NOPS too, but not selective schools in the city. All schools have application deadlines both traditional and charter this year. All charters are required to hold lotteries if they have more students apply than room. March 19th for the next school year, due to the lack of response & communication to the parents. Students do not necessarily attend their home school


Appendix D Human Subjects Consent HSCL #17117


INFORMED CONSENT STATEMENT Students with Special Needs in the New Orleans Recovery School District HSCL #17117 INTRODUCTION The Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas supports the practice of protection for human subjects participating in research. The following information is provided for you to decide whether you wish to participate in the present study. You may refuse to sign this form and not participate in this study. You should be aware that even if you agree to participate, you are free to withdraw at any time. If you do withdraw from this study, it will not affect your relationship with this unit, the services it may provide to you, or the University of Kansas. PURPOSE OF THE STUDY The purpose of this study will be to examine the admission and education practices of charter and traditional schools in the New Orleans Recovery School District. These practices will be examined and consideration will be given to how they may differ for students with and without disabilities. Research questions to be considered in this study: 1. How are students with disabilities selected for admission in charter and traditional schools in New Orleans? 2. How are the services for students with disabilities the same or different in charter and traditional schools? PROCEDURES By giving written consent to participate, you will be asked (a) to be interviewed for a maximum of 2 hours, (b) to provide relevant documents, and/or (c) to judge the credibility of the study’s findings (maximum or 3 hours). RISKS Outside of the potential time commitment of up to 5 hours, there are no other anticipated risks. BENEFITS Anticipated benefits of this study are primarily related to a better understanding of how students with disabilities are accessing education in the New Orleans Recovery School District. This understanding benefits the researcher, school district, field of education and society in general. PARTICIPANT CONFIDENTIALITY Your name will not be associated in any way with the information collected about you or with the research findings from this study. The researcher(s) will use a study number or a pseudonym instead of your name. The researchers will not share information about you unless required by law or unless you give written permission. 110

Permission granted on this date to use and disclose your information remains in effect indefinitely. By signing this form you give permission for the use and disclosure of your information for purposes of this study at any time in the future. REFUSAL TO SIGN CONSENT AND AUTHORIZATION You are not required to sign this Consent and Authorization form and you may refuse to do so without affecting your right to any services you are receiving or may receive from the University of Kansas or to participate in any programs or events of the University of Kansas. However, if you refuse to sign, you cannot participate in this study. CANCELLING THIS CONSENT AND AUTHORIZATION You may withdraw your consent to participate in this study at any time. You also have the right to cancel your permission to use and disclose information collected about you, in writing, at any time, by sending your written request to: [Nikki Wolf, Beach Center on Disability, Haworth Hall, 1200 Sunnyside Ave., Room 3130, Lawrence, KS 66045-7534]. If you cancel permission to use your information, the researchers will stop collecting additional information about you. However, the research team may use and disclose information that was gathered before they received your cancellation, as described above. Your participation is solicited, but strictly voluntary. If you have concerns about the study or your participation, please do not hesitate to ask questions: Nikki Wolf, QUESTIONS ABOUT PARTICIPATION Questions about procedures should be directed to the researcher(s) listed at the end of this consent form. PARTICIPANT CERTIFICATION: I have read this Consent and Authorization form. I have had the opportunity to ask, and I have received answers to, any questions I had regarding the study. I understand that if I have any additional questions about my rights as a research participant, I may call (785) 864-7429 or (785) 864-7385 or write the Human Subjects Committee Lawrence Campus (HSCL), University of Kansas, 2385 Irving Hill Road, Lawrence, Kansas 66045-7563, email or _______________________________ Type/Print Participant's Name _____________________ Date

_________________________________________ Participant's Signature 111

Researcher Contact Information Nikki Wolf Principal Investigator Special Education Dept Haworth Hall, Rm. 3130 1200 Sunnyside Ave. University of Kansas Lawrence, KS 66045 785 864 0594

Wayne Sailor Ph.D. Faculty Supervisor Special Education Dept. Haworth Hall, Rm. 3130 1200 Sunnyside Ave. University of Kansas Lawrence, KS 66045 785 864 495


Appendix E Table of Key Informants


Table of Key Informants Informants Family members of students with disabilities in RSD 2 schools 2 (traditional schools) School-level teachers & administrators 2 (charter schools) RSD Administrators Parent Advocates Community Activists Charter Service Provider 3 3 3 1 Number


Appendix F Document Summary Table


Source Category


Relevant Data

Admission Q1. How are students with disabilities selected for admission in charter and traditional schools in New Orleans? State BESE January, 20, 2008 Official Board Minutes http://ww w.doe.stat /bese/236 1.html On motion of Ms. Buquet, seconded by Ms. Givens, the Board directed the Recovery School District to include in its monthly update report: 1) an update on special education with respect to RSD operated and charter schools; 2) data with regard to the number of students withdrawing from the RSD and where those students are enrolling in school and the number of students enrolling in the RSD and where those students were previously enrolled; and 3) an analysis of the issue of “dumping,” including defining “dumping,” with respect to Type 5 charter schools. The analysis should include the measurement of how many students are coming to the RSD from Type 5 charter schools, if there is a problem with “dumping” with regard to any or all Type 5 charter schools, and to what extent student transfer is based on general movement throughout the district. Public schools are required to serve all children, including those students with learning, behavior or physical disabilities. Schools may not turn students away because of their special learning needs. P.2 Charter schools that are part of the Recovery School District must be open to any student in Orleans Parish and may not select students based on their grades, past behavior or any other selective criteria. These schools must provide free transportation to students who lives more than one mile from the school. These schools must be open to all students with special needs. P. 4 On motion of Ms. Buquet, seconded by Ms. Jacobs, the Board approved, as recommended by the Department of Education, the eight (8) charter applicants listed below to operate a Type 5 charter school in the 2008-2009 school year, contingent upon the requirements and conditions set forth below and special considerations reflected in the Evaluation and Recommendation Summaries being met: 1) Advocacy for the Arts and Technology in New Orleans, La, Inc.; 2) The Intercultural Charter School Board, Inc.; 3) Miller-McCoy Academy for Mathematics and Business, Inc.; 116 4) Akili Academy of New Orleans, Inc.; 5) Sojourner Truth Academy, Inc.; 6) American Scholars Academy for Boys, Inc.; 7) KIPP New Orleans, Inc. (elementary school); and

District Report

New Orleans Parents’ Guide.

BESE, December 6, 2007. Official Board Minutes, http://ww w.doe.stat /uploads/1 1861.pdf

BESE, December 6, 2007. Official Board Minutes, http://ww w.doe.stat /uploads/1 1861.pdf

On motion of Ms. Buquet, seconded by Ms. Jacobs, the Board approved, as recommended by the Department of Education, the eight (8) charter applicants listed below to operate a Type 5 charter school in the 2008-2009 school year, contingent upon the requirements and conditions set forth below and special considerations reflected in the Evaluation and Recommendation Summaries being met: 1) Advocacy for the Arts and Technology in New Orleans, La, Inc.; 2) The Intercultural Charter School Board, Inc.; 3) Miller-McCoy Academy for Mathematics and Business, Inc.; 4) Akili Academy of New Orleans, Inc.; 5) Sojourner Truth Academy, Inc.; 6) American Scholars Academy for Boys, Inc.; 7) KIPP New Orleans, Inc. (elementary school); and 8) KIPP New Orleans, Inc. (middle school).


Appendix G Document Codes and Sources


Source Location Code L1 "Charter School Demonstration Programs Law". Acts 1995, No. 192, §1, eff. June 14, 1995; Acts 1997, No. 477, §1, eff. June 30, 1997. L2 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004, P.L. 105-17, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. R1 BESE, January, 20, 2008, Official Board Minutes R2 BESE, February 21, 2008, Official Board Minutes R16 BESE, December 6, 2007. Official Board Minutes, R3 Louisiana Department of Education. (LEAP scores) R4 Rasheed, A. (Ed.). (2008, February). New Orleans Parents’ Guide to Public Schools. New Schools for New Orleans. Retreived March 2, 2008 at R5 American Federation of Teachers (2000). Do charter schools measure up? The charter school experiment after 10 years. Washington: Author. R6 American Federation of Teachers. (June, 2001). No Experience Necessary: How the New Orleans school takeover experiment devalues experienced teachers. R7 American Federation of Teachers. (October 2007). Reading, Writing and Reality Check: An Early Assessment of Student Achievement in Post-Katrina New Orleans. R8 Boston Consulting Group. (2007). The state of public education in New Orleans. Retrieved December 29, 2007 from _Orleans_Jun2007.pdf R9 Vallas, P. “Status Report to Paul Pastorek, State Superintendent December 3, 2007”. Retrieved January 8, 2008 from R10 Charters Legal Handbook found on New Schools for New Orleans. R11 Charter Operations Guide Book found on New Schools for New Orleans. R12 National approach or flawed approach. A report produced by United Teachers of New Orleans, Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers. (2006, November). R13 Request for Application (RFA) for Type 5 Charters from BESE. 119

R14 R15 W1 W2 W3 W4 W5 N2 N1 N3 N4 N5 N6 N7 N8

Squeezing Public Education: History and Ideology Gang up in New Orleans. Ralph Adamos, Dissent, Summer 2007 Common Application for RSD students. Appendix J Save our Schools found on February 6, 2008 retrieved from Greater New Orleans Data Center. New Schools for New Orleans website Center for Education Reform Department of Education Carr, Sarah. (2008, January 5). Charter schools struggle to meet special education needs. New Orleans Times-Picayune. Simon, D. (2007, August 1). Charter Schools Lead Way on LEAP, New Orleans Times-Picayune. Quigley, B. (2007). New Orlean’s children fighting for the right to learn. Truthout/Report Editorial. Retrieved August 15, 2007 from hppt:// Education Week, February 27, 2008 pg. 24 Reading Writing and Resurrection article. The Atlantic | January/February 2007 | Reading, Writing, Resurrection | Amy Waldman Morris, M. (2007, March 6). Algiers center helps meet special education needs. New Orleans Times-Picayune. Berger, J. (2007, October 17). A Post-Katrina Charter School in New Orleans Gets a Second Chance. New York Times Simon, D. (2007, December 6). BESE panel backs 8 new charters number in New Orleans, could rise to 49. New Orleans Times-Picayune.


Appendix H Member Check Questions


Stakeholder Member Check Questions 1. Do you agree with the findings for question #1: How are students with disabilities selected for admission in charter and traditional schools in New Orleans? 2. Do you agree with the findings for question #2: How are the services for students with disabilities the same or different in charter and traditional schools? 3. Do you agree with the findings for question #3: What are the perceptions and opinions of parents, teachers and administrators concerning charter and traditional schools treatment of students with disabilities? 4. If you do not agree, with any of the findings, please explain. 5. What information was missing from the chapter? 6. How might the information from the chapter be useful to you?


Appendix I New Orleans Public Schooling Options


New Orleans Public Schools Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) 80 Schools – 32,900 Students (Parents Guide to Public Schools, 2008) Recovery School District Superintendent: Paul Vallas 59 Schools 33 RSD-run schools 12,300 students 26 RSD Charters 10,000 students Charters 2 Schools 800 students BESE 2 Schools Orleans Parish School Board Superintendent: Darryl Kilbert 19 Schools 7 OPSB-run Schools 2,700 students 12 OPSB Charters 7,100 students


Appendix J Common Application Form




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