Nav: Home

The new racial disparity in special education

July 02, 2019

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Racial disparity in special education is growing, and it's more complex than previously thought. New research from Michigan State University examined how often black and Hispanic students are identified as needing special education compared to white students, leading to new findings on disproportionality and racial gaps.

"When it comes to special education demographics, people generally believe that minority students are put into special ed programs more frequently than white students, and if you look just at the raw numbers, that's generally true," said Scott Imberman, MSU professor of economics and lead author. "But this doesn't consider background factors, particularly health, which can determine a lot about a child. When looking at numbers and data more closely, what many think about this racial disproportionality gets turned on its head."

The research findings, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, or NBER, revealed that black and Hispanic students are put into special education more often in white schools. But, they are much less likely to be identified as needing special education in schools that are mostly minority, where they are surrounded by students of the same race. Additionally, black and Hispanic students are put into special education programs less frequently than white students who have similar health backgrounds.

For example, a black student in fourth grade attending a school that was more than 90 percent minority was 6 percentage points less likely to be identified for special education than a similar white student. At the same time, if a student attends a mostly white school, he or she is 3 percentage points more likely to be identified than a similar white student.

To uncover these racial gaps, Imberman - along with MSU co-author Todd Elder, David Figlio from Northwestern University and Claudia Persico from American University - analyzed birth and education records for all 869,000 children born in Florida between 1992 and 2002. Imberman explained that prior special education research did not examine health data, which is a critical piece of information because it reveals traits well before the children go to school that could lead to a child to needing special education.

"Birth records show details about a child's weight and any congenital abnormalities or birth complications, like if the baby needed ventilation or suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome," Imberman said. "Newborn health issues oftentimes lead to a child needing special ed services later on. With this data, we generated a prediction of a special education needs for healthy white students that we used as our baseline when comparing black and Hispanic students."

Beyond being the first to use health data, this research also is the first to link students' special education needs with a school's racial demographics. This revealed that special education rates weren't necessarily about a student's race - but rather about how that student's race compares to the school's racial makeup, Imberman said.

"Our findings suggest that schools are more likely to incorrectly say a student has disabilities when he or she is racially different from the student body as a whole," Imberman said.

Imberman said that policies related to disproportionality in special education, such as the Individuals with Disabilities and Education Act, may need to be reexamined so that students who need special education services are getting them.

"Overall, we need a better understanding of how we can overcome these disproportionalities for students," he said. "In order to tackle bigger issues like income inequality and wealth later in life, we need to understand what students are going through early on - particularly in education systems."
-end-
(Note for media: Please include a link to the original paper in online coverage: https://www.nber.org/papers/w25829)

Michigan State University has been working to advance the common good in uncommon ways for 160 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU focuses its vast resources on creating solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges, while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges.

For MSU news on the Web, go to MSUToday. Follow MSU News on Twitter at twitter.com/MSUnews.

Michigan State University

Related Health Articles:

Mental health outcomes among health care workers during COVID-19 pandemic in Italy
Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and insomnia among health care workers in Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic are reported in this observational study.
Mental health of health care workers in china in hospitals with patients with COVID-19
This survey study of almost 1,300 health care workers in China at 34 hospitals equipped with fever clinics or wards for patients with COVID-19 reports on their mental health outcomes, including symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia and distress.
Health records pin broad set of health risks on genetic premutation
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Marshfield Clinic have found that there may be a much broader health risk to carriers of the FMR1 premutation, with potentially dozens of clinical conditions that can be ascribed directly to carrying it.
Attitudes about health affect how older adults engage with negative health news
To get older adults to pay attention to important health information, preface it with the good news about their health.
Geographic and health system correlates of interprofessional oral health practice
In the current issue of Family Medicine and Community Health (Volume 6, Number 2, 2018, pp.
Bloomberg era's emphasis on 'health in all policies' improved New Yorkers' heart health
From 2002 to 2013, New York City implemented a series of policies prioritizing the public's health in areas beyond traditional healthcare policies and illustrated the potential to reduce cardiovascular disease risk.
Youth consider mobile health units a safe place for sexual health services
Mobile health units bring important medical services to communities across the country.
Toddler formulas and milks -- not recommended by health experts -- mislead with health claims
Misleading labeling on formulas and milks marketed as 'toddler drinks' may confuse parents about their healthfulness or necessity, finds a new study by researchers at the NYU College of Global Public Health and the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at the University of Connecticut.
Women's health has worsened while men's health has improved, trends since 1990 show
Swedish researchers have studied health trends among women and men aged 25-34 from 1990-2014.
Health insurance changes, access to care by patients' mental health status
A research letter published by JAMA Psychiatry examined access to care before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and after the ACA for patients grouped by mental health status using a scale to assess mental illness in epidemiologic studies.
More Health News and Health Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Making Amends
What makes a true apology? What does it mean to make amends for past mistakes? This hour, TED speakers explore how repairing the wrongs of the past is the first step toward healing for the future. Guests include historian and preservationist Brent Leggs, law professor Martha Minow, librarian Dawn Wacek, and playwright V (formerly Eve Ensler).
Now Playing: Science for the People

#566 Is Your Gut Leaking?
This week we're busting the human gut wide open with Dr. Alessio Fasano from the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital. Join host Anika Hazra for our discussion separating fact from fiction on the controversial topic of leaky gut syndrome. We cover everything from what causes a leaky gut to interpreting the results of a gut microbiome test! Related links: Center for Celiac Research and Treatment website and their YouTube channel
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Flag and the Fury
How do you actually make change in the world? For 126 years, Mississippi has had the Confederate battle flag on their state flag, and they were the last state in the nation where that emblem remained "officially" flying.  A few days ago, that flag came down. A few days before that, it coming down would have seemed impossible. We dive into the story behind this de-flagging: a journey involving a clash of histories, designs, families, and even cheerleading. This show is a collaboration with OSM Audio. Kiese Laymon's memoir Heavy is here. And the Hospitality Flag webpage is here.