Monday, March 16, 2009

Part III: Special Inequality

Some kids just fall behind. Sometimes it's a language problem, sometimes it's an attendance problem and sometimes it really is a developmental problem. But as long as a kid is behind enough to warrant special education testing, does it really matter what the problem is?

The National Education Association says YES. Labeling students as disabled when they truly aren't leads to "unwarranted supports and services...and creates a false impression of the child's intelligence and academic potential," said the 2007 report, Truth in Labeling: Disproportionality in Special Education. Here's why:
  • Once students are receiving special education services, the tend to remain in special education classes
  • Students are likely to encounter a limited, less rigorous curriculum

  • Lower expectations can lead to diminished academic and post-secondary opportunities

  • Students in special education programs can have less access to academically able peers

  • Disabled students are often stigmatized socially

  • Disproportionality can contribute to significant racial separation

Matthew Ladner agrees. As Goldwater Institute's vice president of research, Ladner has authored studies examining the miniority over-representation in special education - two of which were referenced in last week's post. Here are excerpts from an interview last week:

"Special education is not remedial education. Teachers are not doing the kids any favors by mislabeling them. And there are errors on both sides, especially with SLD (Specific Learning Disability). The process for labeling kids SLD is so profoundly unscientific."

"It is not ok to label a kid that doesn't have a disability. It can permanently change what the kid expects of himself, and what the teacher expects."

"The thing that everyone ought to agree to is we need a correct diagnosis. For, if no other reason - and there are plenty of other reasons - it's taking resources away from kids that do have disabilities."

This is the final installment of the Special Inequality series. Look for the full story on

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