Looked at closely, the growth in the special education program seems to indicate a tendency on the part of school administrators to move troubled students out of regular classrooms into federally-funded ones.
“The presence of many minorities in special education leads to concerns that they were misdiagnosed and did not receive proper instruction,” Lynn Olson, a senior editor at Education Week said at a press conference last week. Of the millions of students in special education, one-tenth are classified as mentally retarded and about one-fifth have speech or language impairments, data from the U. S. Department of Education shows.
Roughly half of the students in special education programs have what the agency terms “specific learning disabilities” although their statistics do not break them down much more specifically than that. “Half of all special education students spend less than 21 percent of their school day outside the regular classroom,” according to Education Week’s annual survey.
“Black and Hispanic students, however, are more likely than white students to be outside the regular classroom more than 60 percent of the day.” And if they are in inner cities, the odds are even higher.
“Nationwide, a black child may be 2.3 times more likely than a white child to be classified as mentally retarded,” Debra Viadero reports in a special issue of Education Week. “Yet that risk is more than three times as high in the District of Columbia.”
“In Hawaii, Idaho, Vermont and Wyoming, in comparison, the odds of ending up in a classroom for children with mental retardation are about even for both black and white children.”
In Alabama, Viadero reports, “School officials re-evaluated 4,000 students who had been classified as mildly mentally retarded and found 390 who didn’t fit the label.” The state then, under a court order, had to take these students out of special education.
Because of developments such as these, at the federal and state level, officials have moved to limit the incentives school districts have to inflate special education rolls and collect the money that goes with the government program which assists students with learning disabilities. At the federal level, The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) recently set caps on special education funds that school districts could collect.
On top of these limits, 16 states have caps on special education funds that school districts can collect, Olson says. While President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act requires universal testing using the same materials and guidelines for students in general education and those in special education, most teachers of the latter remain overwhelmingly resistant to such an innovation.
Here too, the issue of special education funding is pivotal. Most of these special education teachers want students to be evaluated and tested using alternative standards, Education Week found. Olson pointed out, “One concern is that allowing students to meet alternative standards will expand special education rolls.”