Beth Milne is a past member of the 50CAN team. 

As a reauthorized ESEA works its way through conference committee, we’ll continue to hear much about the need for high expectations and accountability for the success of all students—especially the marginalized—as it relates to the opt-out movement and statewide assessments.

This debate will be serious, but it will move quickly. Fatigue over working on ESEA reauthorization has long since set in. Soon, Congress will come to an agreement, everyone will laud the reauthorizations of the vilified No Child Left Behind Act eight years after it was to be updated and move on to other things. And they’ll leave the Individuals with Disabilities Act—slated for reauthorization in 2009—off the table once more.

Special education in our nation is a quagmire of convoluted regulations, funding streams and identification and reporting models coming from federal mandate, state code and local policy. It’s complicated to the point that it often is passed over—policy’s equivalent of Pandora’s box that is just easier to keep closed. Except, if we’re serious about equity in education, we can’t ignore special education, nor its link to discipline policies: Black students are 1.4 times more likely to be placed in special education than all other groups combined. Those who receive a special education diagnosis are much more likely to be suspended than their non-labeled peers (8 percentage points in high school).

Further, a new study—the first of its kind—documents that schools that serve majority black students are less likely to steer their disciplined students toward mental health services rather than punitive suspensions.

These are meaty and charged topics—but ones we cannot ignore. We welcome the conversation. 


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