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"That’s Where the Rubber Meets the Road”: The Intersection of Special Education and Dual Language Education


by Sara E. N. Kangas — 2017

Background: English language learners (ELLs) with special needs remain an underresearched student population. Although providing services to these students proves to be a daunting task, bilingual schools are uniquely poised to meet the educational needs of ELLs with special needs. Yet, research has not explored service provision practices in bilingual contexts for ELLs with special needs.

Purpose of Study: This study examined the service provision practices of a bilingual school for ELLs with special needs and how these practices shaped the educational opportunities of these students.

Research Design: This study is an ethnographic case study of a charter bilingual elementary school.

Data Collection and Analysis: Fieldwork lasted for a majority of one academic year with the following data collected: classroom observations, interviews with staff, participation in meetings and informal conversations with staff, and school artifacts. The data were analyzed through an intersectionality framework, examining how disability and primary language resulted in multiple disadvantages for ELLs with special needs.

Findings: That data analysis revealed how providing services to ELLs with special needs is fraught with challenges and compromises. Specifically, despite the school’s commitment to bilingualism, ideological and material conditions in the school worked in concert to restrict the access of ELLs with special needs to bilingual and academic support. The findings also illuminated how in an attempt to provide services, the school was enacting a de facto policy that both disregarded the bilingual development of ELLs with special needs and misappropriated effective models of bilingual and special education.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The study argues that when schools prioritize language and special education services in parity, educational opportunities for ELLs with special needs will improve. This study also asserts that the educational opportunities of ELLs with special needs are contingent upon the implementation of bilingual and special education programs with fidelity. Thus, to best prepare schools to serve ELLs with special needs, teacher education programs need to dedicate more attention to developing in-service and preservice teachers’ interdisciplinary knowledge about these students and their educational needs and rights.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 7, 2017, p. 1-36
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21792, Date Accessed: 10/23/2017 1:14:23 PM

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About the Author
  • Sara Kangas
    Lehigh University
    E-mail Author
    SARA E. N. KANGAS is an assistant professor of Teacher Education at Lehigh University. Her research interests focus on the largely unexplored interface between educational linguistics and special education with particular attention to ELLs with special needs’ educational opportunities and rights. Her recent publications include “When special education trumps ESL: An investigation of service delivery for ELLs with disabilities” (Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 2014), and “‘I’m not going to be, like, for the AP’: English language learners’ limited access to advanced college-preparatory courses in high school” (American Educational Research Journal, 2014).
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