Shrinking special ed counts in San Diego Unified

9 Mar

The On Special Education blog at Education Week has a piece up that intrigued me: Fewer Special Ed. Students? Or Fewer Identified?

On Special Education referred back to this story (Where Did the Kids with Disabilities Go?) on Voice of San

I’ve been reading a lot of stories about the high numbers of special education students around the country lately. San Diego Unified has the opposite trend:

“School district officials counted nearly 1,600 fewer special education students this December than three years ago. That adds up to a 9.5 percent drop over the same time that overall enrollment fell only 1 percent,” writes Emily Alpert.

I decided to take a quick look at the data for San Diego Unified. I’ll warn you here, I didn’t find a clear indication of what is going on:

Total Special education students:

2006: 17,015
2007: 16,849
2008: 16,450
2009: 16,124

A drop of 891 students (about 5%)

Compare this to the figures for San Diego County as a whole:

2006: 58,745
2009: 58,475

A drop of 270 students (0.5%). San Diego Unified, the district, is dropping about 10x faster than San Diego county.In other words, the rest of San Diego County actually went up by about 600 students while San Diego Unified went down.

For those wondering (this is an autism-focus blog, after all), the number of students in the “autism” category went up notably in that time for the district, from 848 to 1,275. This is the opposite trend as the Special Education numbers as a whole, and more consistent with what the rest of the state is seeing.

Back to the drop: So why are the number of special education students going down? Emily Alpert of Voice of San Diego wrote about why she chose this story:

Some of the biggest drops have been in the same kinds of disabilities that a Harvard researcher tagged as having disproportionate numbers of minority students.

I decided to take a look by category and by race/ethnicity. It isn’t so clear to me. There are big drops in multiple categories including:

Specific Learning Disability: 7,260 (2006) to 6,584 (2009)
Speech Language Impairment: 4,040 to 3,351
Mental Retardation: 1,058 to 936
Emotional Disturbance: 1,032 to 839.

How does this break down by racial/ethnic status?

Let’s look at Specific Learning Disability as an example. Checking the three largest racial/ethnic groups (African American, Hispanic, White). Between 2006 and 2009, there were drops the SLD counts for all three:

White: 25% drop
Hispanic: 1.3% drop
African American: 21% drop

All three groups are seeing drops in the SLD counts, but Hispanics much less so, percentage wise.

Checking Speech Language Impairment (SLI) between 2006 and 2009:

White: 22% drop
Hispanic: 15% drop
African American: 44% drop

Again, there are drops across all three of these (the largest) racial/ethnic groups in San Diego Unified. And, again, Hispanics have the lowest drop. In this case (SLI), African American’s have the largest drop, percentage wise.

I know this is not a clear result. But I think that applies to the comments made in the San Diego press as well. Emily Alpert asked: “Is the imbalance in disability rates among students of different races changing or are the numbers just dropping?” It looks like neither is a clear answer. I wish I had the time to look at this more deeply. Clearly something or somethings is/are going on in San Diego Unified.

Is the imbalance in disability rates among students of different races changing or are the numbers just dropping?

10 Responses to “Shrinking special ed counts in San Diego Unified”

  1. Kristina March 9, 2011 at 13:46 #

    Being a resident, an employee, and a parent of a sped child in this district, I can tell you, at least part of this is not occurring because of a sudden decline in disabilities. The ED category does need to be adjusted for the minorities because there is a huge amount of improper diagnosis with regard to that; majority of those students aren’t disabled, but socially maladjusted. This fact has been running around for years, and they’re just beginning to do something about it. As for the rest, look at our budget issues, and you do the math.

  2. Joseph March 9, 2011 at 16:31 #

    Is there data by age?

  3. stanley seigler March 9, 2011 at 17:17 #

    [LBRB say] I wish I had the time to look at this more deeply.

    dont know where you find time to do any of the detailed research you do…thanks

    stanley seigler

  4. Interverbal March 10, 2011 at 05:29 #

    “As for the rest, look at our budget issues, and you do the math.”


  5. Morgan March 11, 2011 at 07:10 #

    For a little perspective, take a look at what’s been happening to total enrollment in San Diego Unified:

    Now it looks a more stable level of special education enrollment (perhaps even an increase) compared to total enrollment.

  6. Morgan March 11, 2011 at 07:19 #

    OK, now I’m told I can’t edit the previous comment, so here’s the rest. San Diego Unified special education enrollment:

    2009: 16,124
    2008: 16,450
    2007: 16,849
    2006: 17,015
    2005: 16,004
    2004: 16,249
    2003: 17,313
    2002: 17,011
    2001: 16,637
    2000: 15,658

  7. ebohlman March 12, 2011 at 03:27 #

    Morgan: Your figures for SDU don’t appear to show any sort of trend; aside from being slightly overdispersed, they look like the result of a stable Poisson process.

  8. Morgan March 12, 2011 at 07:52 #

    I had to look up Poisson process – I suppose your point is that the numbers don’t really show anything. You may be right, but to me, it shows a decade of significant decline in overall enrollment coincident with fairly stable absolute numbers in special education enrollment.

    They may not mean anything – but the numbers do not support claims of a decline in special education enrollment.

  9. Shannon March 12, 2011 at 19:44 #

    Is it possible that people with special needs children are moving to different/better school districts? Is there a rise somewhere to offset this decline?


  1. Autism Blog – Shrinking special ed counts in San Diego Unified … | My Autism Site | All About Autism - March 9, 2011

    […] Original post: Autism Blog – Shrinking special ed counts in San Diego Unified … […]

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