School Segregation and Racial Gaps in Special Education Identification
We 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, we 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. We find similar gradients among Hispanic students but opposite patterns among white students. We provide suggestive evidence that these findings are unlikely to stem from differential resource allocations, economic characteristics of students, or achievement differences. Instead, we 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.
We are grateful to the Florida Department of Health and Florida Department of Education for providing us access to merged education and health data for the purposes of this project, and for the technical support in interpreting the key variables described herein. The opinions expressed herein do not represent the views of the Florida Departments of Education or Health. Initial financial support for data construction from the Gates Foundation and the US Department of Education is greatly appreciated. We thank seminar participants at Cornell University, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Michigan State University, Northwestern University, Purdue University, Syracuse University, University of Arizona, University of Chicago, University of South Carolina, University of Southern Denmark, and University of Tennessee for valuable input to the project. We are especially grateful to Derek Neal and the participants at the Cowles Foundation Conference in honor of Joseph Altonji’s 65th Birthday. All errors are our own. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Todd E. Elder & David N. Figlio & Scott A. Imberman & Claudia L. Persico, 2021. "School Segregation and Racial Gaps in Special Education Identification," Journal of Labor Economics, vol 39(S1), pages S151-S197.