Minorities Are Disproportionately Underrepresented in Special Education: Longitudinal Evidence Across Five Disability Conditions


Published online first in:
Educational Researcher
June 24, 2015

Paul L. Morgan, Pennsylvania State University
George Farkas, University of California, Irvine
Marianne M. Hillemeier, Pennsylvania State University
Richard Mattison, Pennsylvania State University
Steve Maczuga, Pennsylvania State University
Hui Li, Pennsylvania State University
Michael Cook, Pennsylvania State University

We investigated whether minority children attending U.S. elementary and middle schools are disproportionately represented in special education. We did so using hazard modeling of multiyear longitudinal data and extensive covariate adjustment for potential child-, family-, and state-level confounds. Minority children were consistently less likely than otherwise similar White, English-speaking children to be identified as disabled and so to receive special education services. From kindergarten entry to the end of middle school, racial- and ethnic-minority children were less likely to be identified as having (a) learning disabilities, (b) speech or language impairments, (c) intellectual disabilities, (d) health impairments, or (e) emotional disturbances. Language-minority children were less likely to be identified as having (a) learning disabilities or (b) speech or language impairments.