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REPORT: MORE black kids in SPED is not over-identification; actually they're under-identified

Aug 19, 2019, Hechinger Report: New studies challenge the claim that black students are sent to special ed too much Two quantitative studies find that black students are under-identified for disabilities at school Decades of research have documented that students of color, particularly black children, are disproportionately classified by schools as having disabilities. In 2016, 12 percent of black children across the nation received services at school for disabilities ranging from emotional disturbances to physical disabilities to intellectual impairment. Only 8.5 percent of white children received those services…. Beginning in 1997, a series of laws and regulations were put into place to monitor and fix how schools across the country put children of different races and ethnicities in special education. Most recently in 2016, the Obama administration revamped these rules to make them more uniform across states. But U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has delayed implementation. The matter is now tied up in the courts. Morgan likens the phenomena to asthma. Black children are more frequently diagnosed with asthma than white children but you probably wouldn’t accuse pediatricians of making racist diagnoses. Instead, you might reason that black children are more likely to live in poor housing and environmental conditions where they’re exposed to more allergens and those conditions are triggering the asthma…. When Morgan and his colleagues considered factors other than race, they found that that black students, even in the South, were under-identified for special education services. Specifically, they calculated that southern black students had 45 percent lower odds of receiving special education services than white students who had similar family income, academic achievement and school characteristics. Even among students attending the same school, Morgan found that a black child, on average, was less likely than a similar white child to be identified as having a disability. (Morgan presented his research findings at a conference of the Society for Prevention Research in May 2019.)… … Even among kids who are equally poor, a black child is still more likely to be identified for a disability than a white child. And, obviously, disabilities can manifest in children of all income levels…. A more direct approach to discern if disability rates at school are racially biased was undertaken earlier this year by four researchers who combined Florida birth records with school records. They could see which kids were born prematurely or had a low birthweight and compare health records at birth with disability diagnoses at school. These researchers also found, just as Morgan and Farkas have, that both black and Hispanic students were less likely to be identified with disabilities than similar white students. … Special education services are expensive, often more than double the cost of educating a child who doesn’t have a disability. Roughly 6.4 million public school students in the U.S. receive special education services annually, at an estimated cost of nearly $40 billion. The federal government foots only a small part of the bill, leaving localities and states to pay for the rest. It’s not surprising that white, well-resourced families might be more effective at fighting for these dollars for their children than black or Hispanic families…. The debate continues.


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