The American Youth Policy Forum and the Center on Education Policy released a report last month, summarizing progress in educating children with disabilities. The report found good news on several fronts-from the growing number of children with disabilities being educated in regular classrooms to the rising numbers attending college– but found that much work must be done to keep students with disabilities on pace with their non-disabled peers.
Enacted in 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Act, (IDEA) is a major driving force behind these reforms and is credited for making significant strides among students with disabilities. A great deal of credit is also due to parents and the change in the public’s perception toward educating children with disabilities.
The report found increased high school graduation rates among students with disabilities, increased college enrollment and near parity in the workforce with non-disabled college graduates. Significant disparities among African-American students and between students with disabilities and non-disabled students still exist.
African-American students are referred to special education at a higher rate than their share of the overall population-specifically in the categories of mentally retarded and emotionally disturbed. According to Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, “Over-identification is causing countless children to be placed in special education classes they don’t belong in, and driving up the cost of special education nationwide.” The report noted that this over-identification not only consumes resources that truly disabled students could receive, but segregates many students into low-achieving classes, leading to low expectations and failure.
The report also found that young people with disabilities still trail their non-disabled peers in several categories. Overall high school graduation numbers are up, but only 55 percent of students with disabilities leave high school with a standard diploma, compared with 75 percent of the general population. Students with disabilities still drop out of high school at twice the rate of their non-disabled peers. Graduation rates are even lower for minority students with disabilities and new state high school exit exams have made graduation even more difficult.
College enrollment among students with disabilities is lower than enrollment of their non-disabled peers. Those students who do start college are less likely to finish. This disparity demonstrates that increased efforts are needed to improve the transition to post-secondary education for disabled students. Finally, while the pay scale among college graduates with disabilities and their non-disabled peers is almost equal, only 50 percent of adults aged 21-64 with disabilities were employed in 1997, compared with 84 percent among the non-disabled.