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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Reaction to the Study on Minorities and Special Ed

At Education Week, Christina Samuels reports on reactions to a new study arguing that minorities are actually underrepresented in special education, after other variables come into account. She quotes Michael K. Yudin, assistant secretary for the office of special education and rehabilitative services,
"The approach to this study is absolutely interesting, and it's different," said Yudin on Thursday. "We'd love to have a conversation with them to learn more, and to understand better about some of the conclusions they drew."

But the findings do not change the view of the department that significant overrepresentation of minorities in special education is a real problem, Yudin said. While the researchers worked with a sample of children, the Education Department gets data each year from each state about exactly how many children are identified with disabilities, and their race.

"We're concerned that in the real counts, it is common in states to see significant overrepresentation," Yudin said.

And that disconnect between the sample that the researchers used and the real numbers is just one of the reasons why this study and its conclusions are inaccurate, said Daniel J. Losen, one of the editors of the 2002 book Racial Inequity in Special Education. Losen is also the director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies, an initiative at the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Looking at the statistics collected from the states in fall 2012, American Indian, black, and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander children ages 6 through 21 were identified by the Education Department as having a higher "risk" of being enrolled in special education compared to the special education student population as a whole.
But these reactions do not address what the study actually says.  It acknowledges the raw numbers but says that the apparent overrepresentation is really a product of minorities' greater exposure to risk factors such as low birthweight.  After taking these other factors into account, the study finds that minorities are underrepresented compared with similarly-situated white students.  There may be problems with the data or the statistical analysis, but simply pointing to the raw numbers is beside the point.