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Most charter schools fail on enrollment

Recruitment shortcomings cited in study

Nearly three-quarters of Massachusetts charter schools are out of compliance with state regulations on enrollment practices, according to the Department of Education.

The analysis comes at a time of increased scrutiny on the alternative public schools, whose lack of recruitment of immigrant and special needs students was cited again in a study to be released today by the nonpartisan think tank MassINC.

Among the enrollment infractions were the failure to give applicants at least a week's notice before holding a placement lottery, and the incorrect use of waiting lists.

The DOE did not name the schools, but said one-quarter of them have submitted revisions.

''It's clear that the schools are responding to what we're telling them to do," education department spokeswoman Heidi Perlman said.

The review was conducted weeks before charter schools begin their annual recruiting efforts. The schools were notified that they have until mid-February to correct their practices.

The analysis followed an internal Oct. 15 report that recommended schools improve outreach to special needs and immigrant children. That also was among the recommendations of the new demographic analysis of charter schools by MassINC's Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy.

Urban charter schools in particular enroll fewer Latino, Asian, low-income, special education, and English language learners than do their feeder districts, according to the report.

''All students do not have equal access to charter schools," the report said. ''One significant access barrier is information. Parents and students need to know about the availability of charter schools in order to take appropriate steps to enroll in them."

Charter schools, however, serve more African-American students, proportionately, than do feeder districts.

The report called on lawmakers to clarify the charter school role and consider lifting caps that prevent more charter schools from opening in underserved areas. It also called on traditional schools to work more cooperatively with charters by sharing lists of students' names for recruitment.

''Charter schools are mostly excluded from district school fairs and lists," said Marc Kenen, executive director of the Massachusetts Charter School Association.

Newer charter schools have very small resources. The best way to reach everyone is through the district schools," he said.

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