The lifetime consequences of identifying children as disabled can be over-whelming. All special education students also face obstacles after school, but those obstacles multiply significantly for Blacks, as Orfield and Losen demonstrate:
"Post-high school outcomes for these minority students with disabilities are strikingly inferior. Among high school youth with disabilities, about 75 percent of the African-American students, as compared to 47 percent of white students, are not employed two years out of high school. Slightly more than half (52 percent) of African Americans, compared to 39 percent of white young adults [who have been in special education], are still not employed three to five years out of school. In this same time period, the arrest rate for African-Americans with disabilities is 40 percent, as compared to 27 percent for whites."
Wanda Blanchett, assistant professor in the Department of Exceptional Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, says she's troubled by what happens to African-American children after they are placed in special education.
"No one would have anything negative to say about the fact that all of these kids of color are over-represented in special education if, when they were placed there, they got the help they needed," Blanchett says. "Even if it wasn't the correct diagnosis, the fact that they got help, progress was made, and they went on to live great lives would overshadow all that. As a matter of fact, the data suggests just the opposite. We see that harm is being done."
Special education is usually sold to African-American parents as a means of providing extra educational help their child needs. In truth, many Black children make very little progress after being labeled educationally disabled.