A working hypothesis — not surprising to activists — is that at-risk children, or hard-to-teach children, or minority children — are devalued in American public education, and this is a true factor determining how federal laws are “filtered” on the way down to local schools.

“In 1975, Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, better known at the time as Public Law 94-142, to change what was clearly an untenable situation. Despite compulsory education laws that had been in place nationwide since 1918, many children with disabilities were routinely excluded from public schools. Their options: remain at home or be institutionalized. Even those with mild or moderate disabilities who did enroll were likely to drop out well before graduating from high school” (Rethinking Schools).

Elsewhere we learned that “misidentification” is nothing new:

“Congress has been aware of problem of misidentification for a good many years. For example, “In 1968, Dunn, citing U. S. Office of Education statistics, reported that ‘about 60 to 80 percent of the pupils taught by [teachers in mild mental retardation or MMR classes] are children from low status backgrounds — including Afro-Americans, American Indians, Mexicans, and Puerto Rican Americans; those from nonstandard English-speaking, broken, disorganized, and inadequate homes; and children from other non-middle class environments’ (Monarch Center).

A prominent view is that accurate identification is simply difficult:

“Special education has also been validly criticized for the way in which students with disabilities are identified. In the early nineteenth century, physicians and educators had difficulty making reliable distinctions between different disability categories. In fact, the categories of mental retardation and behavioral disorders are inseparably intertwined. Many of the disability categories overlap to the extent that it is hard to differentiate one from the other. Additionally, some of the categories – learning disabilities and behavioral disorders, for example – are defined by the exclusion of other contributing disabilities. Thus, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, much work remains on the identification of students with disabilities” (Answers).

We are faced with competing views of the misidentification of special education pupils in the U. S.:

1. The problem is old and well understood as a civil rights issue. It is codified in the recent history of IDEA legislation.

2. The problem is a technical issue. Let’s study it, retrain teachers, and encourage school-wide projects to reduce misidentification.

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