Posted on October 15, 2015

What You Thought About Minority Students and Special Ed Is Wrong

Allie Bidwell, US News, June 24, 2015

Minority students are significantly less likely than their white peers to be identified as disabled and may lack access to special education services, despite claims they are disproportionately tracked into and placed in such programs, according to new federally funded research.

In a report published Wednesday in the journal Educational Researcher, Paul Morgan of Pennsylvania State University and his colleagues show that racial-, ethnic- and language-minority students are underrepresented in special education. Yet federal efforts still exist to curb what some say is an excessive number of minority students who are identified as having a learning or intellectual disability, speech or language impairment, or as suffering from emotional issues.


But those federal efforts might be misdirected, according to Morgan, because previous research on the topic hasn’t controlled for factors that put minority children at greater risk for qualifying conditions, nor has it considered circumstances that result in minority families being less likely to access special education services.


Unadjusted research, then, would appear to show an overrepresentation of minority students in special education. For example, African-American children make up 14 percent of the school-age population but 19 percent of the special education population, Morgan explains in a video discussing his work. This type of disparity has caused some to label special education as a racially biased or discriminatory sector.

In truth, per Morgan’s research, not only is the perception of too many minority students receiving special education services wrong, the need for more minority students to have those services is even greater.

“What hasn’t always been satisfied is this condition of all other things being the same. Because of the nation’s long and sad history of racial discrimination and segregation, it’s unfortunate but well-established that minority children are much more likely to be exposed to risk factors themselves that increase the likelihood of having a disability,” Morgan said in the video. “Exposure to lead, low birth weight [and] other risk factors for disability have often not been accounted for in the analyses when investigating minority disproportionate representation.”

The underrepresentation of minority students also could stem from social and cultural obstacles.


In fact, compared with otherwise similar white children, African-American children were 77 percent less likely to be identified as having health impairments, 63 percent less likely to be identified as having speech or language impairments and 58 percent less likely to be identified as having learning disabilities, the researchers found.

Hispanic children were more likely than African-American children to be identified as having a disability, but were still significantly less likely–by as much as 73 percent in some cases–to be identified with one than white children. {snip}