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The Context of Minority Disproportionality: Practitioner Perspectives on Special Education Referral


by Russell Skiba, Ada B Simmons, Shana Ritter, Kristin Kohler, Michelle Henderson & Tony Wu — 2006

Although there is extensive documentation of minority overrepresentation in special education, knowledge of the factors that create the context within which disproportionality occurs is limited. To gain an understanding of the local processes that may contribute to special education disproportionality, we interviewed 66 educators about their perspectives on urban education, special education, available and needed resources, and the specific topics of diversity and disproportionality. A number of clear themes emerged. Teachers and schools feel unprepared to meet the needs of economically disadvantaged students. Classroom behavior appears to be an especially challenging issue for many teachers, and cultural gaps and misunderstandings may intensify behavioral challenges. Special education is perceived by many teachers as the only resource available for helping students who are not succeeding. Finally, there was a surprising reticence among many respondents to discuss issues of race. These results paint a surprisingly complex picture of the factors that may cause and maintain minority disproportionality in special education. Together, they suggest that successful remediation efforts will avoid simplistic or linear solutions, increase resources to address learning and behavior problems in general education, and seek methods to use data on racial disparity as a stimulus toward reflection and action.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 108 Number 7, 2006, p. 1424-1459
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12562, Date Accessed: 10/22/2017 5:05:38 PM

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About the Author
  • Russell Skiba
    Indiana University
    E-mail Author
    RUSSELL SKIBA is professor in counseling and educational psychology at Indiana University and director of the Initiative on Equity and Opporutnity at the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy. His research interests are in the areas of school violence, zero tolerance, and cultural diversity. His recent publications are “Beyond Guns, Drugs, and Gangs: The Structure of Student Perceptions of School Safety,” Journal of School Violence (2004; coauthors A. B. Simmons, R. Peterson, J. McKelvey, S. Forde, and S. Gallini); “The Color of Discipline: Sources of Racial and Gender Disproportionality in School Punishment,” Urban Review (2002; coauthors R. S. Michael, A. C. Nardo, and R. Peterson); and “Culturally Competent Assessment: More Than Non-Biased Tests,” Journal of Child and Family Studies (2002; coauthors L. D. Bush and K. K. Knesting).
  • Ada Simmons
    Indiana University
    ADA B. SIMMONS is executive associate director of the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University. Her research on educational access and attainment focuses on factors that contribute to minority disproportionality in special education and to minority persistence in higher education. Prior to her current position, she was a research analyst in the Office of Institutional Research at Indiana University.
  • Shana Ritter
    Indiana University
    SHANA RITTER is the coordinator of the Initiative on Equity and Opportunity at Indiana University's Center for Evaluation and Education Policy. Research interests include systems change to address issues of equity, developing culturally responsive schools, creating measurements for ownership, and cultural competency.
  • Kristin Kohler
    Indiana University
    KRISTIN KOHLER is a doctoral candidate in the School Psychology program at Indiana University, and assistant director of the Institute for Child Study. Her dissertation research involves a qualitative investigation into the role that school psychologists can have in advocating for the psychological and educational needs of low-income children and families.
  • Michelle Henderson
    Indiana University
    MICHELLE HENDERSON is a doctoral candidate in the Curriculum and Instruction program at Indiana University. Her research interests include school violence prevention, democratic education, and service learning. Her dissertation research is a qualitative study examining the use of service learning in fostering empathy and compassion and creating a sense of community and cooperation for primary students.
  • Tony Wu
    Indiana University
    TONY WU is a nationally certified school psychologist, freelance writer, and consultant. His research interests are multicultural issues in psychology and education. He is particularly interested in providing culturally appropriate assessment and intervention to ethnic minorities in school and clinical settings. Additionally, he is interested in special education regulations and mental health policies for minority children and adolescents. He is couathor of “Disproportionality and Discipline Among Indiana's Students With Disability,” published by Indiana University at Bloomington, Indiana Education Policy Center (2001; coauthors R. Skiba, K. Kohler, C. Chung, and A. Simmons).
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