Blog: The Educated Reporter

Special ed on the decline?

My colleague David Hunn, a terrific data-driven reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and I have been putting together some materials for new education reporters for the upcoming EWA conference, and David came upon something interesting in federal numbers he crunched from the Data Accountability Center.After many years of increases, the share of Americans ages 3 through 21 with identified disabilities declined, from 8.5 percent in 2006 to 8.3 percent in 2008.This parallels a small decline in disabled children as a percentage of total enrollment in federal programs, according to this NCES table.

I am not sure what the difference is in the two sets of stats, because I have not seen David’s original data set. But in both cases there has been this slight dip. Has anyone written about this? If not, why? A leveling off or even decline in disability identification is a big national story, given how much special education has increased over the years. Schools might be responding to pressure not to disproportionately identify minority students as disabled, or they may be having success, through strategies such as Response to Intervention, heading off academic problems that once might have landed children in special ed as a first/last resort. Or [insert findings of your great reporting here]?

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