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The Debate Over Minority Representation in Special Education

The Debate Over Minority Representation in Special Education

Are minorities over-represented in special education—as has been the common thought for the past couple decades—or are they grossly under-represented as indicated by a controversial study published earlier this month?

Kevin Welner, Director of the National Education Policy Center, said in an opinion piece for the Huffington Post that he believes flawed research behind the paper published by Paul Morgan and his colleagues in the journal Educational Researcher is what led to their conclusion that minorities are in fact underrepresented in special education.

"The over-representation in special education of students of color, particularly Black students, has been studied extensively for over 40 years. This over-representation has been documented in countless research studies by individual researchers, in comprehensive collections of studies, and even by the prestigious National Academy of Sciences," Welner said.

That's why when Morgan's paper concluded minorities are actually being underrepresented, the findings captured the attention of those in the field who believed otherwise for decades, and rightly so.

"If these findings were to hold up, it would have serious practical consequences—it would mean that almost 20 years of federal policy, based on the evidence of over-representation of students of color, was just plain wrong," he said.

However, Welner does not believe that Morgan and his colleague's findings hold up. He believes erroneous data has led to their conclusion and sets out to explain why.

"Faced with such massive discrepancies between their own findings and the vast body of research that came before, many researchers would make cautious claims at best ... Morgan and colleagues, however, show no such caution," Welner said.

He call's Morgan's paper "hasty" and "ill-considered," and the data used to arrive at the conclusions of over-representation as suspicious.

"The key data come from surveys of special education teachers about their students' special education status--data that may or may not be an accurate representation of actual numbers. During the same time period, the federal government collected actual enrollment data for the millions of students who were being served in special education."

He supports the federal policy currently in place, which Morgan's paper questioned, and argues it's appropriate to deal with the complex and nuanced issue of minority representation in special education.

Read his full argument here and Morgan's op-ed here. What do you think? Comment your thoughts and take our poll below.

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor


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