Wednesday, January 4, 2017
Identifying students with a disability is not an exact science. Scholars have long-since documented both the over- and under-identification of certain demographic groups with certain disabilities. As Theresa Glennon argued in Race, Education and the Construction of a Disabled Class, educational disabilities can be a proxy for the perception that a student diverges from the cultural norm. Thus, year-to-year variances in the number of students identified as having a disability that affects educational opportunity are to be expect. Minor upward and downward shifts are not necessarily an indicator of negligence or ulterior motives.
With that said, the Houston Chronicle has made the case that the state of Texas has systematically reduced its special education population for no legitimate reason. This chart shows that the state's special education population has shrunk by more than 25% in the past decade. The numbers are even more drastic when the state is broken down by region. A number have seen their special education population shrink by a third. See here.
The reason, cites the Chronicle, is clear: the state mandated a cap on the number of students in special education.
Over a decade ago, the officials arbitrarily decided what percentage of students should get special education services — 8.5 percent — and since then they have forced school districts to comply by strictly auditing those serving too many kids.
Their efforts, which started in 2004 but have never been publicly announced or explained, have saved the Texas Education Agency billions of dollars but denied vital supports to children with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, epilepsy, mental illnesses, speech impediments, traumatic brain injuries, even blindness and deafness, a Houston Chronicle investigation has found.
Once the message went out to districts, things moved quickly.
The Texas Education Agency had determined that they had too many students in special education, the administrators announced, and they had come up with a plan: Remove as many kids as possible.
The staffers did as they were told, and during that school year, the Laredo Independent School District purged its rolls, discharging nearly a third of its special education students, according to district data. More than 700 children were forced out of special education and moved back into regular education. Only 78 new students entered services.
"We basically just picked kids and weeded them out," said Maricela Gonzalez, an elementary school speech therapist. "We thought it was unfair, but we did it."
Gonzalez's account, confirmed by two coworkers and district documents, illustrates how some schools across Texas have ousted children with disabilities from needed services in order to comply with an agency decree that no more than 8.5 percent of students should get specialized education.
The Chronicle did a multiple series and data collection. See here.
Given the costs of special education, I suppose it does not entirely surprise me that the state might give such a ploy a shot. What does surprise me is that it was allowed to happen under the watch of the U.S. Department of Education or courts, if they were alerted. Yet, given the individual nature of special education determinations, courts and agencies can often demand a showing that each individual student has been denied their rights. As a result, larger trends can go unchecked until a number of individual cases are substantiated. In any event, the Department announced this past fall that it was sending officials to the state to investigate the matter.