Karla Phillips After spending many wonderful years in our church preschool, it was time for my daughter to transfer to public school. As any mom can attest to, this can be an emotional time. When you have a child with special needs, it can be unnerving. I have spent a great portion of my professional career advocating for school choice, but the truth of the matter is that the decision-making process is not for the faint of heart. As school choice continues to expand across the country, there has been a lot of discussion exploring how and why parents make the choices that they do. As Liz Wimmer at Getting Smart points out, it's not as simple as we would like to believe. And in a school-choice rich state like Arizona this is important information. What we continue to discover is that there is a discrepancy between what school choice advocates and researchers think are the most important factors and what is actually driving parents' decisions. Education reformers have hoped and quite frankly assumed that academic achievement or test scores would be the primary motivator but we know now that it is not the case. A similar issue arises in the special education community. Parents frequently ask my opinion of schools for their children with special needs and typically they want to know what kind of services and programs they have. They usually don't like my answer. "I don't know I'm not taking my daughter to get serviced. I'm looking for a great school." Okay, to be honest, I'm intentionally trying to be antagonistic when I say that but I really am trying to make a point. Fortunately, some new research from the Arizona Department of Education has vindicated me. A recent Raising Special Kids newsletter explains that, The Arizona Department of Education examined three years of statewide testing data to find the schools where students with disabilities improved academically year after year. Through onsite visits with districts and charter schools, data collection and evaluation methods were used to examine what schools were doing to consistently improve outcomes for students. The goal was to identify key strategies to share with other schools and parents to improve outcomes for more students. It turns out that every high-performing school had six traits in common.
- High Expectations
- Highly Effective Teaching Strategies
- Data Driven Decision Making
- Students Are Provided with Reteach and Enrichment Activities
- Students with Disabilities Receive Core Instruction in the General Education Classroom
- Effective Leadership
- Choosing a School for Your Child
- Finding the Right School
- Is Your Child's School Student-Centered? A Checklist for School Visits
- The school visit: what to look for, what to ask
- Vanessa's Journey: Empowering Special Education Through Technology
- One Family's Journey Exemplifies Anytime, Anywhere Learning
- The Teenage Brain: Scaffolding the Brain for Lifelong Learning
Karla Phillips is Policy Director at the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Follow her on Twitter @azkarla.