Are Minority Students Overrepresented in Special Ed?
Racial disparities in education have long been a topic of debate, but rarely does the discussion include what’s going on in Special Ed programs across America. A recent article in Education Week titled Keeping Special Ed in Proportion lifted the veil on the issue of minority overrepresentation.
By the Numbers
Citing 2008 mapping data, the Equity Alliance at Arizona State University concluded that African-American students are twice as likely as their Caucasian peers to be classified with emotional or intellectual disabilities. Federal data compiled in 2007 found that while Black students make up approximately 17% of enrollment nationwide, they comprise more than 20% of the children classified with learning disabilities. For Hispanic students the ratios are similar: they represent 20% of enrollment, but 24% of those classified with LD.
As the Education Week article noted:
Interpretations of such figures vary. But for many school-equity experts, they point to the troubling conclusion that large numbers of struggling minority students are being classified for special education even though they don’t have true disabilities.
“The data are clear that when you look at the representation of minorities in special education, there’s something going on behind the scenes,” said H. Richard Milner IV, an associate professor of education at Vanderbilt University and the author of Start Where You Are, But Don’t Stay There: Understanding Diversity, Opportunity Gaps, and Teaching in Today’s Classrooms. “In other words, there are kids who are placed in these programs because educators either don’t want to deal with them, don’t know how to deal with them, or don’t know how to be responsive to them.”
Fixing the Problem
Experts suggest the discrepancy is correctable, and the article puts forth a number of recommendations for local school systems including:
- Create opportunities for open dialogue to explore the issue
- Mine school-level data to develop a better understanding of the extent of the problem
- Examine the curriculum for inconsistencies and inadequacies that put struggling students at further risk
- Provide professional development aimed at preparing teachers to work with diverse needs
- Monitor classroom progress frequently to identify students who are not keeping pace
- Intervene early to support students at risk for falling behind
- Respond wisely to discipline problems, which are a primary factor in minority special ed referrals
For more information, access Keeping Special Ed in Proportion in Education Week at http://www.edweek.org/tsb/articles/2011/10/13/01disproportion.h05.html?intc=fall11_tsbem