Working Papers

The Role of School Context in Explaining Racial Disproportionality in Special Education (with Leanna Stiefel, Joeseph R. Cimpian, & Syeda Sana Fatima)

There has been an explosion of special education research and new policies surrounding the topic of racial and ethnic disproportionality. Some recent research shifts focus to whether school context moderates findings (e.g., is a Black student less likely than a White student to receive special education services as the proportion of a school’s Black students increases?). We extend this emerging literature using eight years of elementary student-and school-level data from NYC public schools, examining more school contextual moderators, expanding racial categories, and distinguishing between cross-sectional and over-time differences. We find that student racial/ethnic composition, teacher racial composition, school size, concentration of poor students, and teachers’ perceptions of school climate all moderate disproportionality. These school context factors appear to be particularly salient for the classification of Black students, and most of these associations are driven by differences across schools, suggesting new avenues for researchers and levers for policy.

Unintended Consequences of Inclusion? The Academic Effects of Moving to Middle School and Students with Disabilities (with Leanna Stiefel & Amy Ellen Schwartz)

Students with disabilities (SWDs) educated in traditional public schools alongside general education students (GENs) typically move to middle school in sixth grade, rather than continuing in a K-8/12. The documented negative effects of this move on GEN academic outcomes suggests similar negative—and perhaps larger—effects on SWDs. Using an instrumental variables strategy and NYC data on nine cohorts of students, we find the middle school transition causes a 0.30 (0.16) standard deviation decline in SWD math (ELA) performance and increases grade retention. Low-income SWDs and SWDs with a specific learning disability or emotional disturbance fare worse. However, the move does not widen the SWD-GEN gap, suggesting the need to ease the middle school transition for all students.