Photo by the Star Tribune.
Photo by the Star Tribune.

1. What led you to do this research?

“Everyone knows” that racial/ethnic minority students are over-represented in special education programs. We wondered whether this is actually true, especially given recent policy efforts to counter this perceived reality.

2. What should everybody know about what you found?

When you compare students who are the same with respect to family socioeconomic origins, test scores, and so on, racial/ethnic minority students actually have lower special education placement rates and lower rates of diagnosis for learning disabilities, speech/language impairments, intellectual disabilities, health impairments, emotional disturbances and ADHD.  This despite the fact that these students tend to experience less healthy environments growing up with respect to poverty, violence, segregation, exposure to lead and other toxins. Contrary to current policy initiatives, we need to seek to provide more — not fewer — special education services to these children.

3. What are you going to do next on this topic?

There are many things we’d like to study.  The data we analyzed come from a national sample of children who entered kindergarten in 1998.  Since then, the data collection has been replicated with a sample of children who entered kindergarten in 2010.  We want to see whether the patterns we found with the older data are still occurring recently.  We would also like to learn more about how environmental conditions lead to disability, and which characteristics of families, neighborhoods and schools are most likely to lead to under diagnosis of disabilities in minority children. We would also like to learn how special education services can become more effective in helping children to overcome disabilities.

You can read the full article here:

Paul L. Morgan, George Farkas, Marianne M. Hillemeier, Richard Mattison, Steve Maczuga, Hui Li, and Michael Cook. (2015). Minorities Are Disproportionately Underrepresented in Special Education: Longitudinal Evidence Across Five Disability Conditions. Educational Researcher.