Wednesday, November 24, 2010

New Jersey reports a disproportionate number of black students in special ed

From the Asbury Park Press in NJ:

The federal law that created the nation’s special-education system grew out of the civil-rights movement in the 1960s.

But even when districts follow the law, racial disparities can occur.

Nationally, black students are far more likely to be placed in special education than white students.

While 15 percent of U.S. students are black, they represent more than 20 percent of students classified with specific learning disabilities, nearly 30 percent of those in the emotional-disturbance category and 33 percent of those classified with mental retardation, according to 2006 federal education statistics.

In New Jersey, 16 percent of the students in the state are black, yet 20 percent of black students are in special education. In 2007, the latest year available, there were 236,476 total black students and 46,787 were in special ed.

A study by the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities in 2004 found that black students with disabilities are more likely than whites to be placed in out-of-district schools. Among students who receive an out-of-district placement, black students are more likely to wind up in separate public schools in other districts, while white students are more often sent to private schools.

John Hart, who served as chief of staff of the state Education Department during the administration of Gov. Jon S. Corzine, says the over-classification problem, which is particularly acute in the state’s urban districts, has been ignored for decades and is only “getting worse.”

The result is that tens of millions of dollars in annual state aid and tuition expenditures are being wasted, and thousands of misclassified black students are being segregated in separate classrooms and schools they do not need to be in, he said.

“You’re getting rid of those kids who are hardest to teach because the process allows you to almost game the system,” Hart said.

Hart acknowledged that he “should have done something” to address the issue during his tenure in the state Education Department.

Since leaving the department, he has partnered with a group of private schools in a new business venture that aims to help urban districts reform their special-education programs. Hart also co-chairs the education task force of the New Jersey Black Issues Leadership Convention.

“I can’t think of another civil rights issue in New Jersey that it is more important,” he said, “yet it doesn’t get the attention that it’s due.”