Beyond Brown: Pursuing the Promise Image Strip of Linda Brown walking to school, girl taking test at desk, Nettie Hunt and daughter with newspaper headline on steps of Supreme Court, present day children raising hands, children at computers
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Student Tracking and Educational Opportunity

• Black children constitute 17 percent of the total school enrollment, but 33 percent of those labeled “mentally retarded.”

• Black children are nearly three times more likely than whites to be labeled “mentally retarded,” and nearly twice as likely to be labeled “emotionally disturbed.”

• Latinos and Asian Americans are in general under-identified as learning disabled compared to whites in most states and in most categories, raising the possibility of inadequate attention to their special needs.

• In wealthier districts, contrary to the expected trend, black children, especially black boys, are more likely to be labeled mentally retarded.

• Among Latino students, identification for special education varies significantly from state to state. Large urban schools districts in California exhibit disproportionately large numbers of Latino, English-language learners represented in special education classes in secondary schools.

• In the 2000-2001 school year in at least 13 states, more than 2.75 percent of all blacks enrolled were deemed to be mentally retarded. The prevalence of mental retardation for whites nationally was approximately 0.75 percent in 2001, and in no state did the incidence among whites ever rise above 2.32 percent. Moreover nearly three-quarters of the states with unusually high incidence rates (2.75 5.41 percent) for blacks were in the south.

• In the 1998-1999 school year, more than 2.2 million children of color in U.S. schools were served by special education. Post-high school outcomes for these students were striking. Among high school youth with disabilities, about 75 percent of African Americans, compared to 39 percent of whites, are still not employed three to five years out of school. In this same time period, the arrest rate for African Americans with disabilities is 40 percent, compared to 27 percent for whites.

• In 1998 African Americans were 17 percent of school enrollment, but were 33 percent of those labeled retarded, 33 percent of students suspended, and 8 percent of students labeled gifted and talented. Latino students were 15 percent of the student population, 15 percent of students suspended, 10 percent of students labeled mentally retarded, 9 percent of those labeled gifted; whites made up 63 percent of the student population, 50 percent of those suspended , 54 percent of those labeled mentally retarded and 76 percent of those labeled gifted.

• Reading performance statistics in 1999 indicate Latino 9 year-olds were 13 percent behind whites; Latino 13 year-olds were 9 percent below whites and Latino 17 year-olds were 8 percent behind whites.

• Only 22 percent of 18 to 24 year-old Latinos were enrolled in college, compared to 31 percent of African Americans and 39 percent of whites in that age group.

• Some 28 percent of African-American and Latino students reported computers in their households with Internet access compared with 70 percent of whites in 1998.

• In 2000, 64 percent of Latino students had completed secondary school, compared to 92 percent of whites and 84 percent of African Americans.

• Some 20 percent of Latino students in grades 7 through 12 had been suspended from school according to statistics from 1999 compared with 15 percent of white students and 35 percent of African American students.

• States with a history of legal school segregation account for five of the seven states with the highest overrepresentation of African Americans labeled mentally retarded. They are Mississippi, South Carolina, North Carolina, Florida and Alabama.

• Studies of disproportionate placement in special education classes indicate that causes include many complex and interacting factors, including unconscious racial bias on the part of school authorities and large resource inequalities that run along lines of race and class. Unjustifiable reliance on IQ and other evaluation tools, educators' inappropriate response to the pressures of high-stakes testing and powerlessness of minority parents in dealing with school officials are also contributing factors.

• Poorly trained teachers, who are disproportionately employed in minority schools, have been found to use special education as a disciplinary tool and demonstrate cultural insensitivity, fear and misunderstanding of black males.

• Overcrowded schools and classrooms, which are disproportionately located in districts with high minority populations, factor into decisions to categorize students as requiring special education.

• Special education over-representation often mirrors over-representation in other areas, specifically in drop-out rates, low-track placements, suspensions and involvement in the juvenile justice system.

• For some children, receiving inappropriate services may be more harmful than receiving none at all. For others, not receiving help early enough may exacerbate learning and behavior problems.

• In California, research indicates that English-language learners, whose access to language support is limited, are more likely to be placed in restrictive special education classes.

• Research indicates students with disabilities benefit most when they are educated with the general school population. Among students with disabilities, black and Latino children appear to receive consistently less time with the general school population and less desirable treatment than white children.

• Some state funding formulas may be contributing to the over-identification of students as disabled because the funding to districts is based on disability identification. Such policies are suspected of creating incentives for over-identification.

Source: The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University; the National Center for Education Statistics

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