School Segregation and Racial Gaps in Special Education Identification (WP-19-13)
Todd Elder, David Figlio, Scott Imberman, and Claudia Persico
The researchers use linked birth and education records from Florida to investigate how the identification of childhood disabilities varies by race and school racial composition. Using a series of decompositions, they find that black and Hispanic students are identified with disabilities at lower rates than are observationally similar white students. Black students are over-identified in schools with relatively small shares of minorities and substantially under-identified in schools with large minority shares. They find similar gradients among Hispanic students but opposite patterns among white students. The researchers provide suggestive evidence that these findings are unlikely to stem from differential resource allocations, economic characteristics of students, or achievement differences. Instead, they argue that the results are consistent with a heightened awareness among school officials of disabilities in students who are racially and ethnically distinct from the majority race in the school.