Proof point: reconsideration of the claim of racial bias in special education


A May 2022 survey of children with disabilities found that black and white children who posted the same low test scores would be removed from the general education classroom and placed in a separate special ED classroom. (Pictures of Ben Hasty / MediaNews Group / Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

According to recent figures from the US Department of Education, across the country, 13 percent of black students have a school disability, much higher than the 9 percent disability rate among white children. Disabilities range from dyslexia and speech impediments to mental and emotional disorders including hyperactivity and aggression. Many civil rights advocates argue that hundreds of thousands of black students with disabilities are misdiagnosed, separated from their peers, and admitted to lower-level classrooms. The federal government monitored the removal and calculated that in 2019, 22 percent of black students with disabilities were learning 60 percent or more outside the regular classroom. Only 16 percent of white children with disabilities were isolated from their peers in this amount.

But a team of scholars at Pennsylvania State University and the University of California, Irvine believe the numbers on these crude disabilities are misleading. They argue that the incidence of more serious disabilities is much higher among the poor population. Black children are more likely to live in poor communities where premature birth, poor nutrition and health care, drug addiction, stress and high levels of lead can lead to higher rates of disability and more serious individuals. Intensive service and different speeds of instruction may actually require more in black children.

“We do not find evidence that special ED placements are being used as an alternative method to differentiate students of color,” said Paul Morgan, lead author of the study and professor of education at Penn State. “Doesn’t the federal regulations consider anything like what we were doing here, as there is a difference in disability? Is there a difference between the potential need for more intensive service? ”

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