Racial and Ethnic Disproportionality in Special Education Programs
- Saili S. KulkarniSaili S. KulkarniSan José State University
The disproportionate representation of students of color in special education has been an established issue in school systems around the world. The over-representation of students from racially, culturally, and linguistically diverse (RCLD) programs has been documented since the late 1960s. Scholars have included several reasons for the existence of disproportionate representation including (a) systemic racism present in school systems, (b) schools as colonial spaces, and (c) the intersections of race with poverty and health. Previous research on disproportionality in the U.S. context has posited two overlapping types of rationales: those who believed disproportionate representation is linked to poverty and health outcomes versus those who believed in the systemwide racist practices that contributed to over-representation of RCLD students. The former rationale has led to more recent tensions in special education, namely, with research suggesting that RCLD groups were actually under-represented in special education and that issues of health and poverty made it more crucial to identify individuals for needed educational services. Since the early 2000s, however, has highlighted the need for in-depth qualitative research that might illustrate how students from RCLD backgrounds are being deprived of meaningful curriculum and placed in low-tracked (often known as remedial) courses. Lastly, RCLD groups such as Asian Americans have within-group differences that problematize traditional ways of identifying overrepresentation. Ultimately, there is a need to address current tensions and recognize future directions of research in the area of disproportionate presentation.