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Differences between charter and traditional public schools in New York City: Parent satisfaction with and involvement in special education services

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: Anna Elizabeth Daly
Abstract:
This study compared levels of parent satisfaction with school and involvement in special education between charter and traditional public schools in New York City. Surveys were used to measure the satisfaction and involvement of 50 parents of children receiving special education services in two charter schools and two public schools in the City. The results indicated that parents of students in special education in the two settings were equally satisfied with the schools but that participation levels were unequal. Parents of students receiving special education services in charter schools were more likely to participate than were parents of students receiving those services in traditional public schools.

3 TABLE OF CONTENTS Chapter 1 - Introduction 8 Background and Need 8 Statement of the Problem 11 Chapter 2 - Review of the Literature 13 Charter Schools - History and Purpose 14 Charter School Demographics and Special Education 22 Parent Involvement 26 African American and Hispanic Parent Involvement 28 Special Education Parent Involvement 30 Involvement Indicators 33 Parent Satisfaction 33 Satisfaction and Charter Schools 36 Satisfaction and Special Education 38 National Trends in Parent Satisfaction 39 Satisfaction Indicators 40 Summary and Rationale 41 Research Questions 42 Chapter 3 - Method 43 Setting 43 Design 45 Participants 46 Materials 49

4 Procedure 57 Data Analysis 58 Chapter 4 - Results 59 Background, School, and Student Characteristics of Survey Respondents 59 Question 1: Are there significant differences between type of school and parent background characteristics? 63 Question 2: Are there significant differences between type of school and parent satisfaction indicators? 67 Question 3: Are there significant correlations between parent satisfaction indicators and background characteristics? 71 Question 4: Are there significant predictors of parent satisfaction with school? 73 Chapter V - Discussion 74 Limitations 81 Implications 82 Conclusion 84 References 87 Appendix A - Survey 94

LIST OF TABLES 5 Table Page 1 New York State Student Demographics Comparison 24 2 New York City Student Demographic Comparison 24 3 Demographic Information by School 44 4 New York City Department of Education Progress Report Grades 45 5 Respondent Characteristics 47 6 Respondent Characteristics by School Type 48 7 Questions Regarding Demographic Information and School Choice 50 8 Questions Regarding School Satisfaction 52 9 Questions Regarding Special Education Services, Involvement, and Satisfaction 53 10 Comparison of SEELS and Research Questions 55 11 Characteristics of Schools and Parent Participation 61 12 Student Disability and Placement Characteristics 62 13 Pearson Chi-Square Results for Background Differences between Charter and Public School Respondents 63 14 Pearson Chi-Square Results for School Experience Differences between Charter and Public School Respondents 66 15 Pearson Chi-Square Results for Disability Differences between Charter and Public School Respondents 67 16 Descriptive Statistics for Parent satisfaction Indicators 68 17 Descriptive Statistics for Parent satisfaction Indicators by School Type. 69

6 18 ANOVA by Public and Charter Schools for 9 Parent Satisfaction 70 Indicators 19 Significant Correlates of 10 Parent Satisfaction Indicators 72 20 Model Summary of Stepwise Multiple Regression for School Satisfaction 73

7 LIST OF FIGURES Figure Page 1 Parent Satisfaction Conceptual Model Friedman, et al. (2006) 35

8 Chapter I INTRODUCTION Background and Need Parent involvement in a child's life is important; parents provide food, shelter, love and protection. They are also a child's first teacher, and that impact on their child's achievement continues through high school (Jeynes, 2007). As studies have shown, more parent involvement leads to better academic outcomes (Jeynes, 2003, 2007; Marschall, 2006; O'Bryan, Braddock, & Dawkins, 2006). The way schools approach parents and foster relationships that lead to involvement can foster the academic success that students experience. For students receiving special education services, having active parent involvement can allow schools to create a comprehensive team approach to developing a service plan that meets the needs of the student and the family. A school with a focus on fostering parent involvement and satisfaction with school gives students an academic advantage. Charter schools are a relatively new phenomenon in public education, with the first charter school laws passed in Minnesota in 1991 (US Charter Schools, 2007). Charter schools were designed to be public schools of choice free from many constraints of the traditional public schools (US Charter Schools, 2007). Currently, 4,100 charter schools are in operation nationwide, serving an estimated 1.2 million children (The Center for Education Reform, 2008). In New York State alone 99 charter schools are in operation and a new budget was passed by New York Legislators on April 1, 2007 that will allow the number of charters in operation to

9 double, from the current cap of 100 to 200 (Hakim & Herszenhorn, 2007). Large charter school organizations like KIPP, Achievement First, Aspire and others continue to open new schools as well. These charter school organizations, often called Charter Management Organizations (CMOs), are further evidence of the growth of the movement (Thernstrom & Thernstrom, 2003). One of the key goals of charters is to improve community and parent involvement in education (US Charter Schools, 2007). As schools of choice, parents may chose to remove their child from the schools at any time and when a child leaves so does the funding for that child (Manno, 2003). Charter schools cannot afford to lose pupils. As the national data from the Special Education Elementary Longitudinal Study (SEELS) shows, parents of students with special needs are increasingly less satisfied with education; it is the job of the charter schools to keep parents and students happy and satisfied (Levine & Wagner, 2004). In addition, charter schools are also accountable to the authorizer of the charter and must meet the set criteria related to student achievement and operations in order to be re-chartered (Hoxby & Rockoff, 2005). The re-chartering process occurs every three to five years depending on the length of the charter (US Charter Schools, 2007). As public schools, charter schools are held to all federal and state laws regarding education, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004). Charter schools must provide special education services and cannot discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity or disability status (Ahearn, Lange, Rhim, & McLaughlin, 2001). Charter schools typically enroll a population similar to that of the school district in which they are housed. In New York State, charter schools serve predominantly African American and Latino students; approximately 86

10 percent of the total student enrollment (NYSUT, 2006). Students with special education needs, make up approximately 8 percent of the population of charter school students in New York, compared with 12 percent in public schools (NYSUT, 2006). The overwhelming majority of the students in both charter and traditional public schools in New York City are African American and Latino, and numerous studies have been done to document the effects of parental involvement on the achievement of children focusing specifically on students from African American and Latino families (Jeynes, 2003; Marschall, 2006; O'Bryan, Braddock, & Dawkins, 2006; Shah, 2009). Similarly, research has been conducted regarding parent involvement in special education in African American and Latino families (Al- Hassan & Gardner, 2002; Argulewicz, 1983; Geenen, Powers, & Lopez-Vasquez, 2001; Harry, 2002; Harry, Allen, & McLaughlin, 1995; Sontag & Schacht, 1994). However, less is known about differences in parent involvement and satisfaction between charter and traditional public schools. When looking specifically at special education in charter and traditional public schools, is there a difference in how parents in these two school settings feel about school and whether they are participating in special education IEP meetings? To date, no studies have addressed this question. It is imperative that we know as much information about the similarities and differences among charter and traditional public schools so that parents can be informed consumers of their child's education. It is important that everything possible be done to help children in special education achieve to the greatest extent possible. Currently, students with disabilities are achieving at rates far below those of their non-disabled peers (SRI International, 2004). If more parent involvement can help children in special education reach

11 higher levels of achievement, then it is important that we find ways to increase parent involvement regardless of the school setting. The level of parent satisfaction with their child's school has been linked to the level of parent involvement in the form of communication with the school (Darch, Miao, & Shippen, 2004). Given that charter schools are designed to be more accessible and accountable to parents, it is important to determine whether or not parents whose children are at charter schools are actually more satisfied and more involved. If so, the charter school model might be a good one for special educators to look at in order to increase parent satisfaction and parent involvement and, thus, student achievement. Statement of the Problem Research has shown that overall parent satisfaction was higher in charter schools but that parent participation was equal (Buckley & Schneider, 2007). If parent satisfaction and involvement in special education is not higher in the charter school setting it will be important for researchers to begin to look further into why the charter schools are not meeting their goals of fostering greater parent involvement and satisfaction with all populations. The connection between satisfaction and involvement will also be explored in this study. Parents who report being satisfied with their schools also report greater involvement (Friedman, Bobrowski, & Markow, 2007). This study will explore whether the same connection carries into satisfaction with and involvement in special education services across school settings.

12 This study will attempt to identify and measure parent satisfaction with and involvement in special education to determine if there is a difference in parent satisfaction and involvement levels in charter and traditional public schools in New York City. The study will compare these findings to national parent satisfaction data to determine if the data on general levels of satisfaction are consistent. Parents who participate in the study must have a child enrolled in either a traditional public school or a charter school in New York City. The parents will report their levels of satisfaction and participation in working with their schools and teachers with regard to the school setting, IEP, and special education services.

13 Chapter II REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE Charter schools and traditional public schools both work to create environments where students who receive special education services can achieve the best possible outcomes. Charter schools are a relatively new phenomenon in the realm of education reform and it remains to be seen whether or not these new schools will create enough momentum to change the face of public education. It is important to understand the history and purpose of charter schools in order to determine the role they play in the world of public education. According to numerous studies, parent involvement is an important indicator of how successful a child will be academically (Jeynes, 2003, 2007; Marschall, 2006; O'Bryan et al., 2006). Parents tend to be more involved when they are satisfied with the school their child attends (Friedman et al, 2007). Parent involvement and satisfaction are also important for parents of students who receive special education services (Fish, 2008). Does school setting impact parent involvement and satisfaction specifically with regard to special education services? This chapter will first examine the history and purpose of charter schools in the context of public school reform. Following is a review of the current literature on parent involvement and parent involvement indicators. Subsequently the research on parent satisfaction, parent satisfaction indicators, and the national trend in parent satisfaction for parents of students with special needs will be examined. Finally, the research questions are posed.

14 Charter Schools - History and Purpose Throughout the history of American schools there has been a swing back and forth between the push for centralization and decentralization in education reform initiatives. In periods of centralization there is a push toward larger school districts. When decentralization is in favor there is a push to break those larger schools into smaller individualized districts (Cotton, 1992). With the start of the charter school movement in 1991, and the increased momentum of charter schools in the last seventeen years, there has been a shift toward decentralization in education reform (Finn, Manno, & Vanourek, 2000). One of the first to suggest a decentralized, business based-model of education was Milton Friedman in 1955. He thought that creating competition among schools would create a stronger education system than could be created using the current government provider model. He believed that a certificate or voucher should be given to families and that money could be used to pay to attend the school of their choice (Finn et al., 2000). Friedman also thought that there would be little need for government oversight in this model of schooling. Instead, he claimed that unsatisfactory schools would be forced to close based on the market and all schools would work to increase performance to remain competitive. Using market theory, parents are consumers of education and are better able to select the best schools for their child based on information that they gather (Weidner & Herrington, 2006). Creating competition among schools would in turn lead to a more successful school system in which monetary resources and school employees would focus on creating

15 the most successful academic outcomes for students (Finn et al., 2000). The majority of the children in the least successful public schools tend to be children of color and children who qualify for free and reduced lunch (Thompson, 2003). Increasing the competition among schools and creating alternate choices for parents would be most beneficial to those students who are children of color and are low income. The term "charter" was first used by Ray Budde in a conference paper he presented in 1974. Budde proposed that a group of teachers be granted contracts to create their own schools. The term was later picked up by Albert Shanker, the former head of the United Federation of Teachers, in 1988 when he suggested the creation of a school chartered through the local school board (Renzulli & Roscigno, 2005). Adding to the notion of a market driven model of public education, when "A Nation at Risk" was published in 1983 there was a push toward creating a better public education system by adopting a more businesslike structure and increasing competition (Renzulli & Roscigno, 2005). The groundwork for charter schools and school choice was laid. Charter schools are still a relatively new phenomenon in public education; the first charter school laws were passed in Minnesota in 1991 (US Charter Schools, 2007). From the outset, charter schools were designed to be public schools of choice that are free of many of the constraints of traditional public schools (US Charter Schools, 2007). Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are granted considerable independence in curriculum and governance in return for greater accountability (Buckley & Schneider, 2007). However, charter schools are still held to all state and federal legislation governing education as well as disability legislation such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

16 Charter schools come in all different shapes and sizes with considerable variation from school to school (Lacireno-Paquet, Holyoke, Moser, & Henig, 2002). However, according to the US Charter Schools web site all charter schools have seven explicitly stated goals in common: 1. Increase opportunities for learning and access to quality education for all students 2. Create choice for parents and students within the public school system 3. Provide a system of accountability for results in public education 4. Encourage innovative teaching practices 5. Create new professional opportunities for teachers 6. Encourage community and parent involvement in public education 7. Leverage improved public education broadly Of the seven goals listed, two directly pertain to this study, charter schools are designed to offer choice for parents and increase parent involvement in their child's school (US Charter Schools, 2007). The driving principal behind charter schools is that decentralization and market-driven frameworks, like competition and choice, will increase student performance (McLaughlin & Rhim, 2007). According to McLaughlin and Rhim (2007) there are two main reform frameworks: standards-driven reform and market- driven reform, and while charter schools are not free from meeting standards or state and federal benchmarks, they are considered a market-driven reform. Other market- driven reforms include vouchers, tax credits, magnet schools, and the small schools movement adopted by larger school districts (Belfield & Levin, 2002). By applying a

17 free market system to education parents can "vote with their feet" and chose to attend or to leave schools that they feel best fit the needs of their children (Finn et al., 2000). School choice is not a new concept; middle and upper class families have long been choosing where to send their children to school either through the use of private schools, home schooling, or locating to the school district that they feel will best suit their child. The Department of Education reports that 26 percent of all American students attend schools other then their neighborhood public school (Wolf, 2007). However, it is the concept of creating a marked-based public education initiative that is new to the debate. With the recent creation of charter schools it is important to acknowledge that it is still the more informed, educated, and motivated parents who are actively seeking out charter schools for their students (Reed, 2001). According to Reed (2001), the problem with a system that creates choice for parents is that as the most informed, educated parents choose to send their children to other schools, it is only the uninformed parents that remain in the traditional public schools. This could ultimately lead to a worse public education system because the balance of parents in a school system is disturbed. There is an established pattern of movement of middle class families from inner cities to suburbs in search of better opportunities, including the promise of better schools (Orfield, 2002). As the middle class students have left the city school districts the test scores have deteriorated, and the fear is that charter schools will further perpetuate the already failing inner city schools by attracting all the remaining parents who are looking for better educational opportunities for their child. One of the benefits of charter schools that are often cited by those in the charter school realm and supporters of the charter movement is that the presence of

18 charter schools in a school district will create competition between the charter and the traditional schools, thus forcing both schools to maximize their potential. One study done by Holmes, Desimone, and Rupp (2006) looked at this question by examining the proficiency rates of North Carolina schools to determine if the establishment of charter schools made an impact. The study was conducted between the 1996-97 and the 1999-2000 school years, during which the number of charter schools in operation increased from 0 to 74. The 12,000 students served in charter schools by the final year of the study only accounted for 1 percent of the 1.25 million public school students in North Carolina, so while on the rise they did not account for a substantial number of students. The study looked at the school composite scores for the 3rd and 8th grade reading and math assessments and the 4th and 7th grade writing assessments. They then determined whether the change in performance was more positive for schools that had increased competition from a nearby charter school. They found that there was statistically significant evidence that competition increased the overall performance composite of the traditional public schools (Holmes, DeSimone, & Rupp, 2006). However, it is important to note that they did not provide evidence of improvement in individual student scores. The Center for Education Reform (2000) reported impressive results for charter schools across the country. States such as Arizona, North Carolina, and Michigan reported that students in charter schools out performed traditional public school students on standardized or state tests. California charter schools are serving double the number of African Americans as traditional public schools and are out performing their traditional public school cohort. According to this report, charter

19 schools also show improvement in student discipline, attendance, and parent involvement (Charter schools today: Changing the fact of American education, 2000). Other research on the effects of competition between schools of choice and public schools has shown similar results. Belfield and Levin (2002) reviewed research on school choice and competition to find answers to whether the question of market-based reforms would improve the system as a whole. Their findings indicate that increased school choice and improved educational outcomes for students are positively correlated (Belfield & Levin, 2002). Their study also took private school data into account and therefore does not speak exclusively for charters as a way of increasing competition but to the value of increased competition as a concept of market based reform. Their study suggests that the more choices available the greater the benefit of the competition. The results on charter schools are mixed. Individual results of students in charter schools may not be as conclusive as the results of the composite scores. In North Carolina the charter schools were not as successful in improving student achievement as public schools for students who were between grades 4 and 8 (Bifulco & Ladd, 2005). However, Hoxby and Rockoff (2005) found Chicago charter students to be outperforming the public school students. The results in Chicago showed that charter school attendance increased reading and math scores for students (Hoxby & Rockoff, 2005). Local school districts and charter schools are in competition for students because it is also competition for funding. Funding for public education is on a per pupil basis. When a student moves from a traditional public school to a charter school, the funding follows the child and the traditional public school loses that

20 funding (Manno, 2003). The need for funding is a motivation for charter schools to recruit and keep students. The larger school districts do not feel much of a pinch when, in the case of New York for example, only approximately 1 percent of the students (and the funding) are being lost to charter schools (New York City Center for Charter School Excellence, 2007). In general, the loss of per-pupil funding is felt when a child leaves a charter to re-enter the traditional public school, not necessarily the reverse, which could mean that public schools may not be as concerned with being competitive. One of the key draws of charter schools for many parents is the small, more personalized school experience their child receives compared to that which is possible in a larger, centralized system. There is evidence that personalized attention and stronger relationships between students and teachers increases student achievement (Darling-Hammond, 1997). However, parents often chose charter schools for reasons other than increased personalization and academic achievement. Often parents chose schools based on location, after school extracurricular activities, safety and racial composition of the students (McDermott, 1999; Friedman, Bobrowski & Markow, 2007). So if there is some evidence that charter schools may improve student scores, although this evidence is not conclusive, why is there so much pushback on the charter movement? Critics of market-based reform argue that the political and structural changes being made are not enough to create the best schooling options and most successful outcomes for all students (Wagner et al., 2006). Part of the concern is that while charter schools may work for the students enrolled in them, they may not be enough to fix a failing system. Darling-Hammond (1997) described school choice

21 as successful only if the policies would create a better system for all students. However, when charter schools only improve the outcomes for the students and families who exercise the choice, they do not create systematic change. McDermott (1999) echoes Darling-Hammond's sentiments that school choice alone will not be enough to produce a better public school system. Darling-Hammond (1997) believes that charter schools may just be another short lived attempt at school reform. Other arguments against charter schools and school choice include those pointing to the need for continuation of the democratic nature of schools. Critics are concerned that charter schools will only benefit the individuals who exercise the choice and will not benefit the greater good of our society. The democratic nature of public school education relies on doing what is good for all children and not just for those who take action on their own behalf (Wells, Slayton, & Scott, 2002). If a market-driven system were to prevail, the United States democratic commitment to working for the greater good would be lost (Garcia & Garcia, 1996). The market system implies that there will be winners and losers. Creating a market system would allow for some Americans to be the losers and they would receive a substandard education. The current public school structure creates an opportunity to educate all children regardless of race, color, ethnicity and disability; all citizens are entitled to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). However as public schools, charters are also held to FAPE legislation. Under President Obama, charter schools remain on the forefront of education reform (Stout, 2009). There is a call for states to lift charter caps and for increased accountability measures for all schools. As more charter schools are created it is ever more important to understand if they are truly effective for all students and parents.

22 Charter School Demographics and Special Education Some of the opponents of charter schools have argued that they will continue to create inequity in the school system and further hurt those who are already the most marginalized groups in our society (Estes, 2004; Lacireno-Paquet et al., 2002). Charter schools are public schools that are accepting of all who apply but may not create greater equality for all because they only educate those who act on the choice to attend. Charter schools have just opened the market of choice to people other than the rich who have always had the ability to send their children to schools of choice and act on their personal liberties. In 2006 a study was conducted to look at market-based school choice specifically focused on students with disabilities. The study looked at the McKay voucher program offered in Florida to parents of students with disabilities. The vouchers are available, regardless of income level, to parents of students with disabilities and it allows them to attend another public or private school of their choice. The only qualification to receive the voucher is that the child has to qualify for special education services and must have attended Florida public schools for a year prior to receiving the voucher. The study attempted to look at how informed parents were in their selection of schools. The results showed race and ethnicity were not a factor in how informed a parent was but that parents of African American and Hispanic students selected private school options more often then public school options (Weidner & Herrington, 2006). One fear is that charter schools will "cream" students from the top of the public school pool or "crop" off services for students that are too costly for the schools (Lacireno-Paquet, Holyoke, Moser, & Henig, 2002). A study of Washington,

23 D.C. charter schools done by Lacireno-Paquet, Holyoke, Moser, and Henig (2002) found that, despite concerns that charter schools would cream students, the charter school student populations reflect the population of the school district in which they resided. However, Estes (2004) pointed out the difference in the low number of students with moderate to severe disabilities in charter schools. In New York State, charter schools predominantly serve African American and Latino students; approximately 86 percent of the total student enrollment (NYSUT, 2006). Students with special education needs, make up approximately 8 percent of the population of charter school students in New York State, compared with 14 percent in public schools (NYSUT, 2006). While charter schools in New York State are serving disproportionately more African American students than the home school district, they are not serving nearly the same percentage of special education (6 percent difference), English Language Learners (10 percent difference) or free and reduced lunch students (17 percent difference). Hoxby and Murarka (2007) point out that the large percentage of African American students, as compared to the home districts, would increase the number of native English speakers in a school and could account for the decreased number of English Language Learners in charter schools. Table 1 shows the student demographics for New York State charter schools and the population of students in the home district. It is important to note that charter schools in New York State have disproportionately more African American students than the home district schools. However, the percentage of students in all other demographic categories is lower in the charter schools.

Full document contains 107 pages
Abstract: This study compared levels of parent satisfaction with school and involvement in special education between charter and traditional public schools in New York City. Surveys were used to measure the satisfaction and involvement of 50 parents of children receiving special education services in two charter schools and two public schools in the City. The results indicated that parents of students in special education in the two settings were equally satisfied with the schools but that participation levels were unequal. Parents of students receiving special education services in charter schools were more likely to participate than were parents of students receiving those services in traditional public schools.