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MINORITY OVER-IDENTIFICATION: IDEA Reauthorization Underway on Capitol Hill

This year, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is up for reauthorization. Both the executive and legislative branches have begun work on their proposals. President Bush created a special Commission on Excellence in Special Education, which will deliver recommendations on how IDEA can best be reformed. Congress, meanwhile, has begun initial planning sessions and meetings but will wait until after the commission issues its report on July 1 before crafting a bill to bring to the floor for consideration.

The reauthorization bill will undoubtedly attempt to reform a system in which race often plays a role in whether a child is labeled learning disabled. Currently, African-American students account for 16 percent of the U.S. student population, but represent 32 percent of the student in programs for mild mental retardation.

In a recent editorial for The Detroit News, Matt Ladner directs Washington, D.C., to “thoroughly investigate every possible cause of this over-identification problem, from perverse financial incentives to outright racial bias.” He points to medical research that demonstrates a “strong link between ineffective reading instruction and later learning disabilities.” Referring to a 2001 Progressive Policy Institute/Fordham Foundation collection of studies on special education, Ladner writes that a team of medical doctors estimated that “nearly 2 million children have learning disabilities that could have been prevented with proper, rigorous and early reading instruction.”

Taken in this light, African-American students are far too often placed in special education classes because they lack these basic reading skills and are often misdiagnosed as dyslexic. In reality, these students have most likely been denied the early reading skills that every student needs to succeed and have little chance of getting the help they need in middle or high school except through special education services.

Congress is considering reducing the number of students identified with special needs when it reauthorizes IDEA. Unless other supports are put in place through Title I or other programs, these students will have little chance to get the help they need. Today, only 15 percent of Title I funds go to middle and high schools.

Matt Ladner’s article

Today’s Dead-End Kid May Be Tomorrow’s CEO


A recent article from Fortune magazine paints a picture of four “dead-end kids” who eventually become the developer of “one of Britain’s top brands with Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic Airways,” the creator of the discount brokerage business, the chief executive officer of Cisco, and the “guy who beat Microsoft.” What do these men have in common? All were able to overcome dyslexia.

According to the article, about 5 percent to 6 percent of American public school children have been diagnosed with a learning disability. Of this total, about 80 percent are dyslexia-related and some studies suggest that up to 20 percent of the overall population may have some degree of dyslexia.

One of the men profiled in the Fortune article, Charles Schwab, did not discover his dyslexia until he met with his son’s school psychologist. This experience led him to create, a service of the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation dedicated to helping kids with learning differences be successful in learning and life.

Their Web site features A Parent’s Guide to Differences and Disabilities in Learning. The guide includes overviews on identifying and managing learning differences, connecting with others, and tools for parents. For example, the Web site features a questionnaire that asks “Is it AD/HD or something else?” and takes the parent through a series of questions to prepare him or her for an evaluation with a medical professional.

Fortune magazine article
Parent’s guide and more information on SchwabLearning



Students of Color

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