Nineteen percent of special education student are black, even though blacks make up only 14 percent of enrollment. Yet, blacks and Latinos are under-represented in special education, argues a federally funded study published in the Educational Researcher.
Minority students are missing out on special services because they’re much less likely to be identified as disabled, according to Penn State researcher Paul Morgan and colleagues.
“Minority children are much more likely to be exposed to risk factors themselves that increase the likelihood of having a disability,” Morgan said in a video. “Exposure to lead, low birth weight [and] other risk factors for disability have often not been accounted for in the analyses when investigating minority disproportionate representation.”
Federal policy is based on the premise that too many low-income, black and Latino students are diagnosed with disabilities, notes U.S. News. “Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, states are required to use federal funding to intervene with students sooner in hopes of reducing the proportion of minority students in special education.”
In fact, compared with otherwise similar white children, African-American children were 77 percent less likely to be identified as having health impairments, 63 percent less likely to be identified as having speech or language impairments and 58 percent less likely to be identified as having learning disabilities, the researchers found.
Hispanic children were more likely than African-American children to be identified as having a disability, but were still significantly less likely – by as much as 73 percent in some cases – to be identified with one than white children.
The key word is “similar.”
Morgan assumes that special education leads to helpful services, rather than lower expectations. Is that usually true?
Update: Federal special education officials and civil rights advocates are questioning the study’s methodology, reports Ed Week.