IDEA 2004 and Disproportionality

In May of 2002, The Alliance for Excellent Education announced the beginning of plans to re-authorize IDEA. One heading said, “MINORITY OVER-IDENTIFICATION: IDEA Reauthorization Underway on Capitol Hill.” At the same time President George W. Bush “created a special Commission on Excellence in Special Education,” partly to study the problem over over-identification.

Alliance reported: “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.” Congress wanted to reduce the number of special education pupils.

“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.”

For the renewal, Congress published a summary report in 2003, which covered testimony before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (naspon). The body wanted a “performance-driven” instead of a “compliance-driven” model, and to strengthen FAPE protections by “reducing misidentification of students.” The Commission on Excellence in Special Education was critical of the high emphasis on school paperwork and compliance without regard for over-identification.


“During the last reauthorization of IDEA, Congress took important steps to decouple funding from the identification of students with disabilities to eliminate incentives for States to increase grants by over identifying students for special education services.”

We must all be the keepers of the light: “Don’t needlessly place children in special education!”

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