In March, the Goldwater Institute released 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 did minority school districts. Using 2000-2001 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. The study posited several possible explanations for this pattern, including perverse financial incentives, segregationist impulses, and desire on the part of districts to inflate standardized test results.
At the request of the Goldwater Institute, I have updated the figures regarding Hispanic disability rates using 2001-2002 data to identify schools with unusually high Hispanic special education rates. To ensure an adequate sample size, only districts and charter schools with more than 200 students have been examined. In addition, only districts or charter schools with more than 10 Hispanic students have been considered.
Statewide, the average special education rate for Hispanic students in Arizona's districts and charter schools is 10 percent. Table 1 lists the districts and charter schools with Hispanic disability rates that are at least 40 percent higher than the statewide average.
Interestingly, the data show a profound difference between district and charter schools. As seen in Figure 1, Hispanic disability rates are higher in predominantly white public school districts. In contrast, those rates are lower in predominantly white charter schools.
Labeling rates that exceed 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, and perhaps in some cases, scrutiny from regulatory authorities such as the Arizona Department of Education and the federal Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.