PHOENIX-A Goldwater Institute report released today shows that minority students in predominantly white Arizona schools are significantly more likely to be placed in special education than their peers who attend predominantly minority schools. The analysis of new school-level data from the federal Office of Civil Rights shows Hispanic and American Indian males are labeled at a rate 64 percent higher in schools that are 75 percent or more white than in schools that are 25 percent or less white. This disparity suggests a systemic bias that disproportionately condemns minority students to special education.
The study's author, Goldwater Institute senior fellow Dr. Matthew Ladner, explains that school districts may over-enroll students in special education for a variety of reasons. "Special education is sometimes used in place of remediation or to exempt students from standardized testing to improve school rankings." Other reasons may include using special education to garner higher per-pupil funding, and segregationist impulses. "Whatever the reasons, mislabeling has long-term consequences on children. Public schools have a responsibility to correct the situation," Ladner contends.
Magdalena, a ninth-grader at a suburban Phoenix school, endured six years in special education after authorities misdiagnosed her as learning disabled. When Magdalena's mother discovered her daughter had been given the exact same third-grade level exam year after year, she began a long, frustrating fight with district officials to move Magdalena out of special education. "It was like running around in a circle, with no way out," she explained. Now in general education, Magdalena is earning passing grades despite having moved directly from third-grade to ninth-grade level work.
Minority over-representation in special education could be effectively addressed with a special education scholarship program similar to Florida's McKay Scholarship. The McKay program gives Florida special education students a scholarship to use at any public or eligible private school. More than 12,000 students currently use the scholarships, and a recent survey showed 92.7 percent of participating parents were satisfied or very satisfied with the program.
The Goldwater Institute study, Race to the Bottom: Minority Children and Special Education in Arizona Public Schools, is available here.
Dr. Matthew Ladner, Senior Fellow, Goldwater Institute, (512) 844-5504, firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrea Woodmansee, Director of Communications, Goldwater Institute, (602) 462-5000 x 226, email@example.com.