from the AUTHORS:
“Our findings indicate that federal legislation and policies currently designed to reduce minority over-representation in special education may be misdirected.”
from the study:
“Minority children were consistently less likely than otherwise similar White, English-speaking children to be identified as disabled and so to receive special education services. From kindergarten entry to the end of middle school, racial- and ethnic-minority children were less likely to be identified as having (a) learning disabilities, (b) speech or language impairments, (c) intellectual disabilities, (d) health impairments, or (e) emotional disturbances. Language-minority children were less likely to be identified as having (a) learning disabilities or (b) speech or language impairments.”
Is Special Education Racist?
Op-Ed in the New York Times By PAUL L. MORGAN and GEORGE FARKAS | http://nyti.ms/1GOr9el
New study challenges previous research about special education students
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez | KPCC 89.3 | http://bit.ly/1GxHqC5
JUNE 24, 2015 :: MORE than six million children in the United States receive special-education services for their disabilities. Of those age 6 and older, nearly 20 percent are black.
Critics claim that this high number — blacks are 1.4 times more likely to be placed in special education than other races and ethnicities combined — shows that black children are put into special education because schools are racially biased.
But our new research suggests just the opposite. The real problem is that black children are underrepresented in special-education classes when compared with white children with similar levels of academic achievement, behavior and family economic resources.
The belief that black children are overrepresented in special education is driving some misguided attempts at policy changes. To flag supposed racial bias in special-education placement, the United States Department of Education is thinking of adopting a single standard for all states of what is an allowable amount of overrepresentation of minority children.
If well-intentioned but misguided advocates succeed in arbitrarily limiting placement in special education based on racial demographics, even more black children with disabilities will miss out on beneficial services.
Black children face double jeopardy when it comes to succeeding in school. They are far more likely to be exposed to the gestational, environmental and economic risk factors that often result in disabilities. Yet black children are less likely to be told they have disabilities, and to be treated for them, than otherwise similar white children.
About 65 percent of black children, compared with about 30 percent of white children, live in families with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line. From 1985 to 2000 about 80 percent of black children grew up in highly disadvantaged neighborhoods characterized by widespread unemployment, racial segregation, poverty, single-parent households and welfare.
Thirty-six percent of inner-city black children have elevated levels of lead in their blood. The figure for suburban white children is only 4 percent. Black children are about twice as likely to be born prematurely and three times more likely to suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome.
In a study published today, we report that the under-diagnosis of black children occurs across five disability conditions for which special services are commonly provided — learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, intellectual disabilities, health impairments and emotional disturbances. From the beginning of kindergarten to the end of eighth grade, black children are less, not more, likely than white children with similar levels of academic performance and behaviors to be identified as having each of these disabilities.
In fact, our study statistically controlled for many possible factors that might explain these disparities. Examples included differences in children’s academic achievement, behavior, gender and age, birth weight, the mother’s marital status and the family’s income and education levels. In contrast, many previous studies reporting overrepresentation have not adjusted for these factors. Instead, these prior studies have relied on school- or district-level data that did not adequately control for differences in risk factor exposure between black and white children.
It may be that black children are less likely to be identified and treated for disabilities because of a greater responsiveness by education professionals to white parents. Low expectations regarding black children’s abilities may also lead some professionals to ignore the neurological basis of low academic achievement and “problem” behavior. Even those black children who do receive a diagnosis are less likely to receive help. For example, despite being more likely to experience symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, black children are less likely than white children to be given a diagnosis of A.D.H.D. And even among those who are given an A.D.H.D. diagnosis, black children are less likely than white children to receive medication to treat the condition.
The last thing we need is to compound these widespread disparities in disability diagnosis and treatment by making school officials reluctant to refer black children for special-education eligibility evaluations out of fear of being labeled racially biased.
Pamphlets describing a school district’s disability eligibility procedures are often written in dense legalese that may be hard for many parents to understand. Revising them might make it easier for parents to advocate for their children during the eligibility evaluation process. Community outreach programs can also help overcome cultural barriers to identifying children with disabilities.
Such programs have already been shown to reduce racial disparities in children’s health and health care access. We should be trying to identify children with disabilities and to provide them with an education adapted to their individual academic, physical or behavioral needs.
26June2015 5:30AM/updated 8:48AM:: A national study by Southern California and Pennsylvania researchers is raising questions about previous reports that identify which students end up in special education.
Earlier research that looked at students nationwide suggest minorities are more likely to be placed in special ed programs compared to white students.
George Farkas, an education researcher at the University of California, Irvine, said that's not the case, at least not nationally. Countrywide, minority groups are less likely to be placed in special ed and less likely to be diagnosed with a disability than otherwise identical white students, he said.
The findings were published in the current issue of Educational Researcher.
California differs from what researchers found nationally. In this state, the numbers match the common view, and prior studies, that minorities make up the majority of special ed students.
The largest group students served by California special education programs are those in the “specific learning disability” category, which includes students with problems speaking, reading, writing or doing math, state data shows. Hispanic students make up 65 percent of students in this category while African-American students make up 10 percent of the group.
Both Hispanic and African-American children are overrepresented in comparison to their numbers in the general student population — and that could pose a problem for the state.
Overrepresentation of minority groups is a concern of many, from policymakers in Washington, D.C., to local school principals. They question if minority students are too often labeled as needing special education, which could take them out of mainstream classes and deny them a normal track through school and onto college.
But the study by Farkas and his colleagues challenges whether there is indeed minority overrepresentation in special education nationally.
“African-American kids, and in fact other minority groups, are less likely to be placed in special education and less likely to be diagnosed with a disability than otherwise identical white students,” he said. “Otherwise identical” is the key.
For example, a white student would typically be enrolled in a higher performing school. So if he is performing in the lowest third of the class, that would trigger special ed services.
A black or Latino student, Farkas said, would typically be enrolled in a lower-performing school where scoring in the lowest third on test scores may be more of the norm. Those students wouldn’t stand out for special education services as readily. The result: more white students than minority students receiving special ed services.
“I think this is ground-breaking research,” said Carl Cohn, former Long Beach Unified superintendent who chairs the Statewide Special Education Task Force. If minority students are underrepresented in special education as the study suggests, Cohn said it would compel school administrators to shift their thinking and more readily give those students special education services.
The study comes as the federal government is considering a limit on the number of minority students in special ed classes when they are overrepresented compared to the general student population.
“Our findings indicate that federal legislation and policies currently designed to reduce minority over-representation in special education may be misdirected,” said study co-author Paul Morgan of Pennsylvania State University in a news release.
“These well-intentioned policies instead may be exacerbating the nation’s education inequities by limiting minority children’s access to potentially beneficial special education and related services to which they may be legally entitled.”
For California and other states, such limits could have serious impact if they lead to fewer minority students receiving special education services that they need.
Minorities Are Disproportionately Underrepresented in Special Education
Longitudinal Evidence Across Five Disability Conditions
- Paul L. Morgan1
- George Farkas2
- Marianne M. Hillemeier1
- Richard Mattison3
- Steve Maczuga1
- Hui Li1
- Michael Cook1
We investigated whether minority children attending U.S. elementary and middle schools are disproportionately represented in special education. We did so using hazard modeling of multiyear longitudinal data and extensive covariate adjustment for potential child-, family-, and state-level confounds. Minority children were consistently less likely than otherwise similar White, English-speaking children to be identified as disabled and so to receive special education services. From kindergarten entry to the end of middle school, racial- and ethnic-minority children were less likely to be identified as having (a) learning disabilities, (b) speech or language impairments, (c) intellectual disabilities, (d) health impairments, or (e) emotional disturbances. Language-minority children were less likely to be identified as having (a) learning disabilities or (b) speech or language impairments.