PHOENIX-In a policy brief released today by the Goldwater Institute, Children First America vice president Matthew Ladner identifies 40 Arizona school districts and charter schools with unusually high Hispanic special education rates. "This is further evidence of a disturbing pattern," Ladner says. "Nationwide, schools are mislabeling minority children as disabled and wrongly assigning them to special education programs."
In the brief, Ladner highlights a divergence between Hispanic disability rates in public schools and charter schools: Hispanic disability rates are higher in predominantly white public school districts, but lower in predominantly white charter schools. The brief, No Exit, No Voice: Hispanic Disability Rates in Arizona's Schools, is available online here.
Statewide, the average special education rate for Hispanic students in Arizona's districts and charter schools is 10 percent. Using 2001-2002 data, Ladner identifies 40 districts and charter schools with Hispanic disability rates that are at least 40 percent higher than the statewide average, and 13 districts with rates that are at least double the average. Two districts had rates that were 250 percent above the average.
Ladner points out that labeling rates exceeding the state average by 40 percent or more do not necessarily represent evidence of racial bias. "Such disparate rates do invite notice by the public, self-reflection on the part of school officials," Ladner said, "and perhaps in some cases, scrutiny from regulatory authorities."
To correct the widespread mislabeling of Hispanic students in Arizona, Ladner suggests reform along the lines of Florida's McKay Scholarship Program, which gives special needs children the opportunity to attend another school. He also suggests that charter schools may be a key to reducing the rates of mislabeling because Arizona's charter schools "do not demonstrate the same relationship between disability rates and student ethnicity found in traditional district schools."
In March 2003, the Goldwater Institute released Ladner's initial study, Race and Disability: Racial Bias in Arizona Special Education, which found that predominantly white Arizona school districts labeled significantly higher percentages of minority students as disabled than do minority school districts. Using 2000-2001 school district data, the study showed that school districts with predominantly white student bodies had Hispanic disability rates that were 47 percent higher than the Hispanic disability rates in predominantly minority districts. That study is available here.
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