Is Special Education the New School Segregation?

Black students are being placed in special education classes at an alarming rate.

Posted: 05/02/2011 08:45 AM EDT
Filed Under education

Special Education

On the heels of school closures and layoffs, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) has to address why the majority of the 16,386 students labeled as special education within the district are African-American.

Terry Grier, superintendent of the HISD, decided to do some digging to get to the bottom of these lopsided numbers. With the help of Thomas Hehir & Associates, a study was conducted in the fall of 2010 that found that Black children were four times more likely than white children to be labeled as mentally retarded and emotionally disturbed in the district.

The research conducted also revealed an interesting trend among Latino students. Not getting enough help with their language skills and being labeled as having English-language deficiencies in elementary school has led to a large number of Spanish-speaking children finding themselves in special education once they reach middle school, all because they can’t keep up.

After the audit, the consulting firm offered these six recommendations to help the school system get on the right track toward rebuilding:

—Develop outcome-based school monitoring systems for students with disabilities.

—Hold principals accountable for the issues identified in this report.

—Develop effective models of special education service delivery emphasizing effective universal design principles.

—Develop specialized inclusive schools for students with significant disabilities.

—Develop policies, procedures and practices for effective services for students with dyslexia. 

—Develop and distribute a comprehensive, easily accessible manual of special education policies and procedures.


(Photo:Karen Pulfer Focht/Landov)