The Obama administration proposes standardized reporting of special education. The White House seeks to end racial bias in school districts.
Racial bias in education is a huge problem. Those of us working “in the trenches” know this to be true whether or not we have seen the “data” to back it up. We know it from the times we have walked into schools that are predominantly minority and witnessed firsthand the lack of information parents are provided about their rights – a stark contrast from what we see in schools that are predominantly white. We know it from the cases we have where assumptions are made about a child’s abilities or expectations for the future simply because of that child’s race. We know it from the situations where we see the school-to-prison pipeline try to swallow up another African American child right before our eyes. We know it from our colleagues who are providing services to students, from other advocates and attorneys, from parents and from students themselves.
But data speaks globally. Data brings the truth to light so that action can be taken. It seems, therefore, that a measure like this – a requirement for standardization in how data is reported so that racial bias is actually noted and flagged – is absolutely necessary at this critical time period in education in this country.
In Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, data has been reported by the Office of the Independent Monitor that tells us the exact percentage of student’s whose IEPs are not being fully implemented. What this data shows is that a percentage of students in LAUSD – the second largest school district in the country – are not receiving the services that have been offered in their IEPs and agreed upon by their parents. That information isn’t about an argument over what should be provided – what should be provided has already been determined, and everyone is in agreement. Rather, that information is about a simple failure to ensure that once that determination is made, those services actually get implemented so that the child receives what the IEP team has determined is required in order for that child to make progress.
Now, imagine if that very same data was broken down by race/ethnicity, by the primary language spoken in the household, and by other socio-economic factors.
Those of us advocating for kids in this city every day know that it is very likely that there would be a big difference between the percentage of kids whose IEPs are not fully implemented in predominantly white, affluent schools, as compared to the percentage of kids whose IEPs are not fully implemented in schools whose students and families are predominantly minorities or low income families. We know this is happening.
I have no idea if that is the kind of data that might be uniformly reported in a process such as what the Obama administration is pushing for in this proposal, but it should be. Because isn’t that a form of bias too? If a child is less likely to receive the services promised in his/her IEP based on his/her race or ethnicity, doesn’t that show bias in the system itself? That’s a bias that affects kids negatively. And that bias must be fixed. We will never accomplish meaningful change in education until we accomplish equality in education.