Finding a Great Fit: Improving the School Choice Process for Students with Disabilities

March 2020

Read here:

Synthesis: Finding a Great Fit
Special Education and School Choice in New Orleans
Special Education and School Choice in Washington, D.C.
Research Methodology and Data
Visual: Special Education Landscape of New Orleans and D.C.

The past two decades have seen major changes to public education in Washington, D.C. and New Orleans—two cities where school choice is the norm. Our new research finds that both cities have work to do to ensure their education systems meet the needs of every student with a disability. As one New Orleans parent told us, in her experience, "We don't have a choice. There is none."

Researchers from CRPE, the Brookings Institution, and Tulane University conducted focus groups with families and assessed the policy landscape in both cities. They also analyzed school choice application data for students with disabilities in New Orleans.

Key findings include:

  • School quality and the ability to find a good "fit" are much larger concerns to families than the process of choosing.
  • Families still need much more help finding the best fit, even as information and support for the choice process have improved.
  • The need for advocacy never ends, no matter the type of school.

The briefs also highlight lessons any city can draw upon to improve special education:

  • Encourage collaboration, and shared services and supports, across schools.
  • Improve the pipeline of school leaders who prioritize special education.
  • Train teachers in effective inclusion.
  • Understand the family experience in order to improve it.
  • Improve the availability of information.