disproportionate impact on particular race groups that goes beyond the poverty effect. Across all income groups, black children are more likely to be born with low birthweight and are more likely to be exposed to harmful levels of lead, while American Indian/Alaskan Native children are more likely to be exposed prenatally to high levels of alcohol and tobacco. While the separate effect of each of these factors on school achievement and performance is difficult to determine, substantial differences by race/ ethnicity on a variety of dimensions of school preparedness are documented at kindergarten entry.
Second, we asked whether the school experience itself contributes to racial disproportion in academic outcomes and behavioral problems that lead to placement in special and gifted education. Again, our answer is “yes.”
Schools with higher concentrations of low-income, minority children are less likely to have experienced, well-trained teachers. Per-pupil expenditures in those schools are somewhat lower, while the needs of low-income student populations and the difficulty of attracting teachers to inner-city, urban schools suggest that supporting comparable levels of education would require higher levels of per-pupil expenditures. These schools are less likely to offer advanced courses for their students, providing less support for high academic achievement.
When children come to school from disadvantaged backgrounds, as a disproportionate number of minority students do, high-quality instruction that carefully puts the prerequisites for learning in place, combined with effective classroom management that minimizes chaos in the classroom, can put students on a path to academic success. While some reform efforts suggest that such an outcome is possible, there are currently no assurances that children will be exposed to effective instruction or classroom management before they are placed in special education programs.
Third, we asked whether existing referral and assessment practices are racially biased and, furthermore, whether they are likely to successfully identify those at either end of the achievement distribution who need specialized supports or services. The answer here is not as straightforward. The majority of children in special and gifted education are referred by teachers. If a teacher is biased in evaluating student performance and behavior, those biases may well be reflected in referrals. Some experimental research suggests that teachers do hold such biases. But whether bias is maintained when teachers have direct contact with children in the classroom is not clear. For example, research that has compared groups of students who are referred by teachers find that minority students actually have greater academic and behavior problems than their majority counterparts. The interpretation of such a finding is not obvious, however. It may be that teachers are more reluctant to refer minority students than white students with