Micro Level

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).

IDEA 2004 set forth requirements to reduce disproportionality, after reports of alarming trends in school misidentification. States were handed the job of monitoring local schools for unnecessary special education placements. Local schools had a job to do to cut down on misidentifications.

Then what?

We are faced with meager data on what schools – LEAs- actually do in practice. Policies are carried out according to community norms, school size, cultural heritage, teacher characteristics and funding. LEA personnel do not typically conduct research studies, and academics have a hard time accessing schools.

But the suspicion is that the wheels come off at the local level, with all kinds of factors coming into play.

“In this vein, evidence from a three-year ethnographic study in Florida (Harry, Klingner, Sturges, & Moore, in press) points to the many ways in which the assessment process is influenced by unofficial, undocumented practices. These include informal pressures from school administrators and/or referring teachers, teachers’ and psychologists’ unacknowledged biases regarding children’s family structures and practices, and widely varying choice and implementation of psychological assessment tools. Furthermore, this research revealed that child study teams seldom take into account information regarding the atmosphere and practices obtained in the classrooms of referring teachers. In the study, several children were referred from classrooms where very poor instruction and classroom management were the norm, making it impossible to know whether the children’s difficulties might have been mitigated in more effective classroom environments” (monarch).

The study parallels the seminal research of Dr. Jack Wennberg’s studies of health care practices in Maine. Examining medical transactions in the state, practice patterns mysteriously varied from one small town to another. In some towns children with a temperature of 102 by custom went to the hospital. ” For example, even though it didn’t make sense and wasted a lot of time and money, pediatricians in some communities felt they absolutely positively had to send even mildly sick kids to the hospital.”

There were local medical cultures.

Medical services in an area will likely rise as the number of doctors increase. “If there’s one doctor in a town with 100 patients, then he’ll schedule your heart checkups for once every six months, but if another doctor comes to town — and now the first doctor has 50 patients — the doctor will just schedule your heart checkups for once every three months.”

One doctor explained: “I don’t want to be sitting on my thumbs all the time — I want to be busy. And that may unconsciously loosen my criteria for doing a procedure.”

Special education criteria likewise are shaped by the local school culture, a fact IDEA 2004 cannot correct. Macro and micro factors must be considered separately and together, and interactively.

Wennberg’s studies suggested that one-third of U. S. medical care is unneeded, based on how doctors actually behave in practice. Overages also occur in special education.

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