Panel: Do Special Education Students Get a `Free and Appropriate Public Education’? Looking at Effectiveness and Equity in Education for Students with Disabilities.

Saturday, November 9, 2019: 3:15 PM-4:45 PM
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Governor's Square 14 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Organizer:  Ijun Lai, Michigan State University
Panel Chair:  Claudia Persico, American University
Discussants:  Elizabeth Setren, Tufts University and Marcus Winters, Boston University

Special education categorization is a complex decision process. It can provide students with services and accommodations that can help them excel. However, it can also come with lowered teacher expectations, varied learning environments, and a stigma that students feel around their peers. The four papers in this panel help build a better understanding of: 1) the impact of special education classification, and how this classification shapes students’ school experiences, 2) teacher quality and school climate gaps for students with disabilities (SWD) compared to their general education (GEN) peers, and 3) a promising avenue to improve special education teacher retention.


The first paper exploits a 2004-2005 policy shift in Texas that capped special education enrollment among minority students to causally estimate the impact of reducing disproportionality on Black and Hispanic students. The authors use a difference-in-differences empirical strategy to analyze the policy’s impact on short term outcomes, such as test scores and high school completion, as well as long term outcomes, such as college degree attainment and earnings in the labor market. 


The next two papers leverage data from America’s two largest school districts to understand how special education classification is associated with access to teacher quality and students’ sense of wellbeing. Paper two utilizes three years of data from Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to determine SWD-GEN gaps in teacher quality. Preliminary results indicate that overall, SWDs in LAUSD are significantly more likely to have low quality teachers as measured by teacher experience, evaluation scores, and value-added. Additionally, we find that these gaps tend to be larger as school-level disadvantage increases.


The third paper uses employs a series of analytic strategies, including school and individual-level fixed effects, to explore how SWD’s school climate perceptions change across two comparisons for New York City students: 1) their own perceptions in middle school, and 2) their general education peers. In preliminary analyses, the authors find that while both GENs and SWDs report a more positive school climate in high school, the gain for GENs is larger; further widening the SWD-GEN school climate gap. The authors also examine heterogeneity by primary disability, service setting, gender, race/ethnicity, and school settings.


Our last paper examines one promising avenue to increase the likelihood that special education teachers stay in the profession-- alignment of special education teacher preparation with district expectations in Washington State. This study assesses the extent to which coursework and field experiences in special education teacher preparation programs are aligned with the expectations and practices in the districts into which novice special education teachers are hired. These data are then linked to a unique dataset that tracks special education teachers from their teacher preparation program and student teaching placements into the state’s public-school system to explore whether this alignment is predictive of special education teacher retention.


Together, these four papers present practitioners and policymakers with a better understanding of the impact of special education classification, how this classification shapes students’ school experiences, and provides possible solutions to improve SWD’s chances to succeed.

The Effects of Disproportionality Among Minority Students in Special Education on Short- and Long-Run Student Achievement
Katelyn Heath, Cornell University and Briana Ballis, University of California, Davis

Special Education Teacher Quality Gaps: Evidence from Los Angeles
Ijun Lai1, W. Jesse Wood1, Scott Imberman1, Nathan Jones2 and Katharine Strunk1, (1)Michigan State University, (2)Boston University

Does It Get Better? Students with Disabilities (and their General Education Peers) Go to High School
Leanna Stiefel1, Amy Ellen Schwartz2 and Spenser Gwozdzik1, (1)New York University, (2)Syracuse University

The Coherence between Special Education Teachers’ Preparation and Early Career Experiences and Implications for Special Education Teacher Attrition
Roddy Theobald1, Dan Goldhaber2, Valerie Lynch3, Darcy Miller4, Natsumi Naito2, Bill Rasplica5 and Marcy Stein6, (1)American Institutes for Research, (2)University of Washington, (3)Puget Sound Educational Service District, (4)Washington State University, (5)Franklin Pierce Schools, (6)University of Washington, Tacoma

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