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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Minorities and Special Ed

Beth Winegarner reports at The San Francisco Examiner about racial disparities in special-ed classrooms:

Higher-than-expected numbers of black students also show up among those with learning disabilities, along with Hispanic students, who also cluster in the “speech and language impairment” category.

This disproportionality is not new. In 1971, black students fought the SFUSD’s use of racially biased IQ tests to sequester them in classes for “educable mentally retarded” students. The tests were banned, but black and Hispanic students still wind up in special-education classrooms at higher rates than their white or Asian peers.

Statewide, the SFUSD was one of 61 of the state’s 838 school districts with disproportionate numbers of black and Hispanic students in special education in the 2008-09 school year, and one of 42 that violated state special-education policies, according to a report from the California Department of Education.

“There’s institutional racism there,” said Katy Franklin, a member of the SFUSD Community Advisory Committee for Special Education. “When a white kid throws a chair they think, ‘Autistic.’ When a black kid does this, they’re labeled emotionally disturbed. I don’t think it’s deliberate; it’s just what happens.”

The problem may not be just one of labeling. Colin Ong-Dean, Alan J. Daly and Vicki Park have an article titled "Privileged Advocates" in the journal Policy Futures in Education. From the abstract:

Since the establishment of educational rights for children with disabilities in the 1970s, special education in the US has included a growing share of students and has constituted an ever-growing share of education budgets. Previous research has focused on the disproportionate assignment to special education of low-income and minority students, concluding that special education mainly reproduces social disadvantages. This article argues that privileged parents - by virtue of their ability to navigate complex legal and scientific practices and discourses that are seen as guarantees of fairness and neutrality in special education - are able to secure advantageous resources for their children through special education. Through analysis of the distribution and content of 'due process' hearing requests in the California special education system, this article shows how advocacy in this part of the system depends on parents' cultural and economic capital. Specifically, reimbursement claims in due process hearings show how having economic capital can be used to leverage public education resources, while parents' testimony in hearings shows the importance of having cultural capital. In concluding, the emphasis on parental involvement in both regular and special education is discussed and alternatives to the individualized system of rights in special education are considered.