The Road to Hell is Paved with Screwed Over Black, Hispanic and Native American Kids (and They Deserve Better)

Its been my observation that a surprising amount of research education sucks, either focusing on irrelevant trivia or desperately avoiding logic and common sense at all costs. Every so often, though, you come across something well written and cogent. Here are the first two paragraphs of an article that comes close:

Racial-, ethnic-, and language-minority schoolchildren in the United States have repeatedly been reported to be overidentified as disabled and so disproportionately overrepresented in special education (e.g., Artiles, 2003; Dunn, 1968; Harry, Arnaiz, Klinger, & Sturges, 2008; Oswald, Coutinho, Best, & Singh, 1999; Sullivan & Bal, 2013). These findings have led to characterizations of special education as “discriminatory” (Skiba, Poloni-Staudinger, Simmons, Feggins-Azziz, & Chung, 2005, p. 142), having “systemic bias” (Oswald, Coutinho, Best, & Nguyen, 2001, p. 361), constituting “a new legalized form of structural segregation and racism” (Blanchett, 2006, p. 25), and “another manifestation of institutionalized racism” (Codrington & Fairchild, 2012, p. 6). Federal legislation and policies have been enacted to reduce minority disproportionate representation (MDR) in special education (e.g., Posney, 2007; U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, 2009). For example, the U.S. Congress observed that “more minority children continue to be served in special education than would be expected from the percentage of minority students in the general school population” (p. 118 of Statute 2651, Public Law 108-446).

Local educational agencies (LEAs) are currently required to report to the U.S. Department of Education whether minority children are significantly overrepresented in special education. If overrepresentation is observed, the LEAs are required to allocate 15% of their Part B funds for early intervening services to children from minority groups being overidentified as disabled. The federal government is currently considering enacting further compliance monitoring policies (Government Accountability Office, 2013; U.S. Department of Education, 2014). Calls are also being made to strengthen existing monitoring policies (Skiba, Albrech, & Losen, 2013), including requiring LEAs to report any disproportionality instead of reporting disproportionality resulting only from incorrectly applied procedures or policies (Albrecht, Skiba, Losen, Chung, & Middelberg, 2012).

Long story short: minority kids are disproportionately represented in special education classes, and the Feds feel this is a problem. Incidentally…. elsewhere, from what I have seen, Asian-Americans generally aren’t viewed as being over-assigned to special ed classes.

Later in the paper….

Model 1’s results vary considerably and do not yield any evidence that racial- and ethnic-minority children are statistically significantly overidentified as having disabilities. Instead, and prior to extensive covariate adjustment, Model 1’s results indicate that racial and ethnic minorities are underidentified as having speech or language impairments as well as health impairments.

Model 2 extensively adjusts for potentially confounding factors, including family-level SES and individual child-level academic achievement and behavioral functioning. Doing so indicates that racial- and ethnic-minority children are less likely than otherwise similar White children to be identified as having disabilities, and these results are statistically significant. For example, Black children are 58% (covariate adjusted OR = .42), 63% (covariate adjusted OR = .37), 57% (covariate adjusted OR = .43), and 77% (covariate adjusted OR = .23) less likely than otherwise similar White children to be identified as having learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, intellectual disabilities, and health impairments, respectively. Black children are 64% (covariate adjusted OR = .36) less likely to be identified as having emotional disturbances than otherwise similar White children.

Hispanic children are 29% (covariate adjusted OR = .71) less likely than White children to be identified as having learning disabilities, 33% (covariate adjusted OR = .67) less likely to be identified as having speech or language impairments, and 73% (covariate adjusted OR = .27) less likely to be identified as having health impairments. These results indicate that Hispanic children are identified with disabilities more frequently than Black children but significantly less often than otherwise similar White children. Model 2’s results also indicate that language minorities are 28% (1 − 0.72) and 40% (1 − 0.60) less likely than otherwise similar children from English-speaking households to be identified as having learning disabilities or speech or language impairments, respectively. However, these children are not significantly more or less likely than other children to be identified as having intellectual disabilities, health impairments, or emotional disturbances.

Model 2’s results also indicate that factors other than children’s status as racial, ethnic, or language minorities are associated with their risk of disability identification. Children from families without health insurance are less likely to be identified as having speech or language impairments. Particularly notable as well is that higher academic achievement and greater behavioral self-regulation consistently lower children’s likelihood of being identified as disabled. More frequent externalizing problem behaviors decrease children’s likelihood of being identified as having learning disabilities or speech or language impairments. These behaviors increase children’s likelihood of being identified as having health impairments or emotional disturbances. Collectively, the findings suggest that U.S. schools are likely to identify children as disabled on the basis of their academic achievement, behavioral self-regulation, and externalizing problem behaviors.

The whole thing sums up here:

Contrary to federal legislative and policy efforts to reduce MDR in special education, our study failed to find any evidence that racial-, ethnic-, or language-minority children in the United States are being disproportionately overrepresented in special education. This lack of overrepresentation was evident both prior to and following extensive covariate adjustment. Instead, results from our analyses of longitudinal and nationally representative data consistently indicate that racial-, ethnic-, and language-minority schoolchildren in the United States are less likely than otherwise similar White, English-speaking schoolchildren to be identified as disabled and so are comparatively underrepresented in special education. Minority children’s underrepresentation was evident across the entire elementary and middle school time periods. Racial and ethnic minority children in the United States are less likely to receive special education services as a result of being identified as having learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, intellectual disabilities, health impairments, or emotional disturbances. Language-minority children are less likely to be identified as having learning disabilities or speech or language impairments. Our estimates of minority disproportionate underrepresentation were extensively corrected for potential confounding variables, including individual child-level academic achievement and behavioral functioning as well as family-level SES.

So, based on need, minority kids are less likely to be assigned to special education classes. But in the name of preventing racism, the Feds and much of the educational establishment have been working to reduce the number of minority kids in special education classes. I ask: regardless of why any particular kid would benefit from being in special education classes, who loses the most when that kid is mainstreamed?

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