Denver plans on keeping special education segregated after all

in August 31st, 2021
segregated-inclusive-education

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Denver is struggling with a concrete plan forward for its students with disabilities. Historically, the district has placed special education students into separate learning environments called “Affective Needs Centers.” At one point, the district planned to shut down these centers in support of integration, but that decision has since been reversed. Special education will instead continue to be segregated, upsetting advocates who cite the adverse, long-term effects on Black students who are 4.5 times more likely to be placed in these classrooms.

The district says the real problem is how students are evaluated for placement. Testing is biased and conducted by primarily White teachers who project their unconscious bias on students of color. Other issues include the quality of education received, such as high teacher turnover rates, subpar supplies, and students feeling othered. As a result, almost two thirds of special education students fail to actually earn their diploma. 

And it seems such segregated learning is prevalent across the country, despite research showing an inclusive approach is far more effective. One California study found that only 13% of special education students (whose conditions have no affect on their cognitive abilities) met or exceeded the state’s math standards, compared to 43% of their peers. National investigation of this in 2018 further revealed:

  • Most of the U.S. separates students with disabilities (especially students of color or from urban environments) from general education, even as research argues against it.
  • All students benefit from an inclusive education environment. In other studies, an inclusive education has shown to change discriminatory attitudes, lead to more student engagement, and increase instruction time.
  • Congress needs to support special education funding to not only equip school administrators and educators, but provide grants for further exploration of segregated versus inclusive education.

Reconsideration of the status quo is important for financial reasons, too — especially since special education costs more. A 2003 report found teachers are increasingly placing students into special education programs to ease the burden in their own classrooms. Massachusetts saw spending double from 1989 to 2000, putting special education at almost 60% more than the spend on regular education.

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