Why so Few Immigrants? Exploring the Nativity Gap in Special Education
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
The limited literature on immigrant children with disabilities suggests that they are significantly less likely to receive special education services than their native counterparts. I first confirm this finding using rich, administrative, longitudinal data on 1.5 million New York City (NYC) public school students. Immigrant students are roughly six percentage points less likely to receive special education services than natives.
The crux of this paper, and most relevant for policy, is an examination of three distinct explanations for the nativity gap in special education: healthy immigrant selection, language and culture, and resource and institutional challenges. First, I use data from the US Census and the National Health Interview Survey to explore the prevalence of disabilities in the immigrant and native population. Second, using the NYC administrative data, I explore heterogeneity in the nativity gap by country of origin, English proficiency, and disability classification. Lastly, I examine whether school level socio-demographic, expenditure, and teacher characteristics mediate part of the nativity gap in special education. I also use hazard model analysis to examine the reclassification patterns into and out of special education by nativity and receipt of bilingual services to understand whether there is a lack of multilingual personnel to assess need and deliver services to English language learners with disabilities.
For over forty year, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has guaranteed free and appropriate public school education to all children with disabilities. Do immigrant children with disabilities have access to the appropriate curricula and services they need to meet their educational needs? Understanding the nativity gap in special education is critical for targeted policymaking and ensuring that special education services are indeed available to all students in need.