Special Education

Renewed IDEA Targets Minority Overrepresentation

By Christina A. Samuels — December 07, 2004 5 min read

The reauthorized Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act will attempt to eliminate one of the longest-running problems in special education: the overrepresentation of minority students.

The latest version of the main federal special education law, which President Bush signed into law on Dec. 3, includes provisions that will require states to keep track of how many minority-group members are in special education classes and provide “comprehensive, coordinated, early-intervention programs” for children in groups deemed to be overrepresented.

Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said during a House-Senate conference committee meeting on the measure that too many children are “inappropriately placed in special education.”

“In fact, many of these children simply have not been taught to read,” Rep. Boehner said on Nov. 17. “The overidentification and misidentification of children for special education is an issue we must address for the good of our education system as a whole.”

School administrators and researchers said the provision appears to put a new focus on an issue that has been discussed for years and is severe in some school districts.

The Schott Foundation for Public Education, a Cambridge, Mass.-based organization created to promote equity in education, recently released a report on education and black males that showed black students accounted for 72 percent of the total number of students with mental retardation classifications in Chicago’s public schools, while black students accounted for 52 percent of overall enrollment. In Charlotte, N.C., black students accounted for 78 percent of students with mental retardation, even though they represented just 43 percent of the district’s enrollment. The statistics were based on numbers gathered in 2000, according to the Schott Foundation. (“Foundation Tackles Black Males’ School Woes,” this issue.)

In addition to overenrollment, researchers say that black and Hispanic students, once they are determined to be in need of special education services, are more likely than white students to spend time outside the regular classroom. According to an Education Week analysis of 2002-03 data from the Department of Education, 30 percent of black students in special education spend more than half the school day outside a regular classroom, compared with 15 percent of white students in special education.

New Priorities

“It’s not a new issue, but there’s some meat now behind it,” said Don Blagg, the coordinator for psychological services for the 280,000-student Clark County, Nev., school district, which includes Las Vegas and is one of the fastest-growing district in the country. Mr. Blagg also serves as the chairman of a school district committee on minority overrepresentation that is in its second year of studying the issue locally.

He said the renewed IDEA will build on provisions in the federal No Child Left Behind Act that emphasize achievement for special education students.

“No Child Left Behind has done a lot of things, some positive, some negative,” Mr. Blagg said. “This might be one of the positives.”

Since 1997, the last time the IDEA was revised, the Education Department has required states to compile data on the racial and ethnic makeup of children receiving special education services.

The new version adds several new provisions. In addition to making such monitoring a priority, districts must start early-intervention programs for children in overrepresented minority groups. The districts must also make public what they’re doing to address the problem.

Daniel J. Losen

By bringing overrepresentation to the forefront, Congress has “raised the level of awareness,” said Daniel J. Losen, a legal and policy research associate with the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, which has studied the issue.

“The expectation is that most, if not all, states would have an action plan,” Mr. Losen said. “That’s the good news. They have to set some very clear indicators and targets for addressing the problem. You don’t want to just look at the numbers. They’re going to look at the educational outcomes for these kids.”

Under the reauthorized IDEA, school districts will also be able to spend up to 15 percent of their federal special education funds on early-intervention programs designed to help children before they end up in special education.

“That’s really unprecedented,” said W. Alan Coulter, the director of the National Center for Special Education Accountability Monitoring, based at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. The national monitoring center is federally financed through the Education Department’s office of special education programs.

The requirement for districts to report on new policies and procedures will allow the public to see whether changes are really happening, Mr. Coulter said.

“You and everyone else would be able to track what they do, and whether or not the change occurs,” he said. “It’s not that they’re reporting on the 15 new computers they got for the classroom or the three new teachers they hired.”

In Clark County, Mr. Blagg said, the district is already taking on some of the steps that would be required under the reauthorized IDEA. The district is working with researchers around the nation, as well as local administrators, teachers, and parents.

From an early analysis of the data, Mr. Blagg said, the district appears to have a problem with overrepresentation of minority students in special education.

“It’s not a major problem, but it is a problem. It’s a national problem,” he said. To address it, the school district has started some early-intervention programs and is making sure principals and teachers know about them.

“You have building-level teams that want help for the kid, and so they think special ed,” Mr. Blagg said.

Before a child enters special education, the principal must say that the other intervention methods have been tried.

“We need to use those other resources we have in regular education,” Mr. Blagg added. “They could be beneficial for those kids.”

In signing the bill last week, President Bush stressed his administration’s mantra that all children are capable of learning.

“Children with disabilities deserve high hopes, high expectations, and extra help,” he said.

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Embracing Student Engagement: The Pathway to Post-Pandemic Learning
As schools emerge from remote learning, educators are understandably worried about content and skills that students would otherwise have learned under normal circumstances. This raises the very real possibility that children will face endless hours
Content provided by Newsela

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Special Education The Challenge of Teaching Students With Visual Disabilities From Afar
Teachers of students with visual disabilities struggle to provide 3-D instruction in a two-dimensional remote learning environment.
Katie Livingstone
5 min read
Neal McKenzie
Neal McKenzie, an assistive technology specialist, works with a student who has a visual impairment in Sonoma County, Calif.<br/>
Courtesy Photo
Special Education 'They Already Feel Like Bad Students.' A Special Educator Reflects on Virtual Teaching
In a year of remote teaching, a high school special ed teacher has seen some of his students struggle and some thrive.
4 min read
Tray Robinson, a special education teacher, sits for a photo at Vasona Lake County Park in Los Gatos, Calif., on April 21, 2021.
Tray Robinson, a special education teacher, says remote learning has provided new ways for some of his students to soar, and has made others want to quit.
Sarahbeth Maney for Education Week
Special Education What the Research Says Gifted Education Comes Up Short for Low-Income and Black Students
Wildly disparate gifted education programs can give a minor boost in reading, but the benefits mainly accrue to wealthy and white students.
8 min read
Silhouette of group of students with data overlay.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Special Education What the Research Says Most Students With Disabilities Still Attend Remotely. Teachers Say They're Falling Behind
A new survey finds that students with disabilities are struggling in virtual classes, even with added support from teachers.
3 min read
Image shows a young femal student working on a computer from phone, interfacing with an adult female.
Getty