Minorities Underrepresented in Special Ed

For years conventional wisdom has promoted the notion that minority students are overrepresented in Special Education. According to popular belief, too many minority children are pushed into Special Ed programs for reasons other than learning disabilities (e.g., behavior problems, and/or otherwise poor students.) It is therefore important, the thinking goes, for schools to be aware of this practice and to prevent it from happening. To that end, a new set of Federal regulations for the 2018-19 school year takes aim at ensuring that states and districts address this problem.

Myth v. Reality

The “problem,” however, is not that too many minority students are placed in Special Education, but that too few receive needed services. According to a recent study, reported in Education Week, “Black, and Hispanic children, as well as children of other races, are enrolled in special education at rates significantly lower than those of their white peers.” Those who have studied this situation over the years have long held that conventional wisdom is wrong.

Researchers Paul L. Morgan, an education professor at Pennsylvania State University, and George Farkas, an education professor at University of California-Irvine, have argued that when comparing minority children to otherwise similar white peers, it is the white children who are getting services at a higher rate while minorities may be missing out on the help they need.

Their latest findings, based on a large sample of 400,000 students in 4th, 8th, and 12th grades confirm their earlier findings: When compared with white students, minority students at all levels are under-identified:

For example, among 4th-grade students whose reading achievement was in the lowest 10 percent nationally, 74 percent of White students were receiving special education services, compared to 44 percent of black students with similar reading achievement. Other racial and ethnic groups with low reading achievement were also less likely than White students to receive special education services.