Black, Hispanic students less likely to receive special-education services than comparable white students

Racial gaps especially pronounced in more segregated schools

Cambridge, Massachusetts, UNITED STATES


Cambridge, Massachusetts, Feb. 16, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- In predominately minority schools, when surrounded by other non-white students, Black and Hispanic students are less likely to receive the specialized education services they need, Todd Elder and Scott Imberman of Michigan State University, and David Figlio and Claudia Persico of Northwestern University report in a new article for Education Next.

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Research has consistently found that minority students are identified with disabilities at higher rates than white students, based on straightforward comparisons of classification rates across racial groups. In their study, however, Elder et al. compare minority students not to all white students, but to white students of similar socioeconomic status whose observable characteristics—such as health at birth, mother’s pregnancy-related health diagnoses, parents’ marital status, educational attainment, immigration status, languages spoken, and other demographic and economic characteristics—differ only by race and the racial compositions of their local schools.

“While public debate has fixated on the harmful effects of too many Black and Hispanic students being identified as having special needs, our results echo the recent research suggesting that, in fact, too few minority students are being provided the educational services they need to thrive,” Elder et al. write.

Among the key findings:

  • Black, Hispanic students less likely to receive special-education services than comparable white students. Black kindergarteners are 3.4 percentage points less likely to be identified for special education than similar white students—a difference of 38 percent. Hispanic students are 3 percentage points less likely to be identified for special education than similar white students—a difference of 40 percent.
  • Gaps in special education vary by school racial composition. Black and Hispanic students are overrepresented in special education in schools where most students are white, but underrepresented at schools with mostly minority students. A Black student attending a school with few white students is 9 percentage points less likely to be classified for special education than an identical Black student at a school where most students are white.

Elder et al. examined the birth records and eventual special education status of every child born in Florida between 1992 and 2002. The birth records capture a wealth of information in addition to demographic and economic characteristics, such as infant weight, gestational age, Apgar scores assessing responsiveness at one and five minutes after birth, congenital anomalies, and abnormal conditions, as well as complications during delivery and the mother’s prior births and pregnancy-related health diagnoses

Read the article.

About the Authors: Todd E. Elder is MSU Foundation Professor at Michigan State University. David N. Figlio is Orrington Lunt Professor and Dean of the Northwestern University School of Education and Social Policy and research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Scott A. Imberman is professor at Michigan State University and research asso­ciate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Claudia L. Persico is assistant professor at American University and research affiliate with the IZA Institute of Labor Economics and Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

About Education Next: Education Next is a scholarly journal committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform, published by the Education Next Institute and the Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School. For more information, please visit educationnext.org.

Attachment

 
Black, Hispanic students less likely to receive special-education services than
comparable white students. Black kindergarteners are 3.4 percentage points less likely to be identified for special education than similar white students—a difference of 38 percent. Hispanic students are 3 percentage points less likely to be identified for special education than similar white students—a difference of 40 percent.

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