Racial and ethnic minority
children in the United States are less likely than their Caucasian peers to be
identified as disabled and underrepresented in the special education system,
finds a new federally funded study.
The study was undertaken
jointly by researchers at Pennsylvania State University and the University of
The researchers analyzed five
disability conditions in children - learning disabilities
, language impairments
health impairments and emotional disturbances.
The study also noted that
language minority children or children who speak substandard English are less
likely than otherwise similar children from standard English-speaking homes to
be recognized as having learning disabilities or speech or language
The researchers say that these results contrast with current
federal legislation and policies.
The US policy makers have regularly attempted to bring down
what has been identified to be minority overrepresentation in special
Authorities with the education
department are currently planning to issue further compliance monitoring
guidelines regarding minority overrepresentation.
"Our findings indicate
that federal legislation and policies currently designed to reduce minority
over-representation in special education may be misdirected. These
well-intentioned policies instead may be exacerbating the nation's education
inequities by limiting minority children's access to potentially beneficial
special education and related services," said Paul L. Morgan from the
Pennsylvania State University.
In the study, multi-year
longitudinal and national level data from the U.S. Department of Education was
analyzed. The researchers considered children's academic achievement and
behavior, physical characteristics, family socioeconomic status and health
insurance, and their state of residence, among other factors.
"Earlier researches have
mostly looked at simple comparisons between the general population and the
special education population. Also, many of these studies have not accounted
for minority children's greater exposure to factors that increase the risk for
disabling conditions. In contrast, our study corrects at the child- and
family-levels for minority children's greater exposure to these risk factors,
including the strong predictors of academic achievement or behavior for a
school-based disability diagnosis," said Morgan.
The research concludes that
the underrepresentation of racial and ethnic minority children is evident
throughout elementary and middle school.
The study results include:
- African American kids have odds of
learning disability identification that are 58% lower than their Caucasian
- African American kid's odds of
identification for language impairments, intellectual disabilities, health
impairments, and emotional disturbances are, 63%, 57%, 77%, and 64%
respectively, that are lower than their Caucasian peers.
- Hispanic kids (Spanish-speaking kids,
especially one of Latin American descent, living in the US) have odds of
learning disability, language impairments, or other health impairments
that are, respectively, 29%, 33%, and 73% lower than their Caucasian
- Kids from non-English-speaking
families have odds of learning disabilities or language impairment
identification that are, respectively, 28% and 40 % lower than their
- Kids have no health insurance cover
are less likely to be recognized as having speech or language impairments.
- Kids from lower income and
undereducated families are less likely to be recognized as having other
The researchers consider that
this underrepresentation may result from different responses of professionals
associated with education to Caucasian, English-speaking children and their
They also suggest that
authorities with an education department should be more attentive to cultural
and language barriers that may retain racial and ethnic minority children with
disabilities from being appropriately identified.
increase children's risk for many adversities, including persistent academic
and behavioral difficulties in school. As a matter of social justice, we should
work to ensure that all children with disabilities, regardless of their race,
ethnicity, or language use, receive the care they need," Morgan said.
1. P. L. Morgan, G. Farkas, M. M. Hillemeier,
R. Mattison, S. Maczuga, H. Li, M. Cook. Minorities Are Disproportionately
Underrepresented in Special Education: Longitudinal Evidence Across Five
Disability Conditions. Educational Researcher, 2015; DOI: