Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Within-Group Diversity in Minority Disproportionate Representation: English Language Learners in Urban School Districts

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Within-Group Diversity in Minority Disproportionate Representation: English Language Learners in Urban School Districts

Article excerpt

The disproportionate representation of minority students has haunted the special education field for more than 3 decades (Artiles, Trent, & Palmer, 2004). This problem includes overrepresentation (typically in high incidence disabilities) and underrepresentation in programs for students with gifts and talents; by far, the disproportionality scholarship has focused on the overrepresentation problem. Most scholars agree disproportionate representation is a problem as reflected in the appointment of two National Research Council (NRC) panels to examine this problem in a relative short time period (Donovan & Cross, 2002; Heller, Holtzman, & Messick, 1982), recent federal mandates to monitor this problem, and the creation of a national technical assistance center to support states in their efforts to address the problem.

Answers to key questions about this problem are not straightforward. For instance, the latest NRC report asked two crucial questions (Donovan & Cross, 2002, pp. 357-359): (a) [Are there] "biological and social/contextual contributors to early development that differ by race and that leave students differentially prepared to meet the cognitive and behavioral demands of schooling?" and (b) does "the school experience itself contribute to racial disproportion in academic outcomes and behavioral problems that lead to placement in special and gifted education?" The panel's response to both questions was affirmative. To the fundamental question about differential outcomes--"Does special education ... provide a benefit to students, and is that benefit different for different racial/ethnic groups?"--the NRC panel responded: "The data that would allow us to answer the question adequately do not exist."

Although the available evidence about key issues is still inconclusive, an empirical knowledge base is beginning to emerge. For instance, research suggests the magnitude of disproportionality changes depending on the level of analysis--for example, national, state, district, school. Overrepresentation at the national level only applies to African Americans and Native Americans; the former in mental retardation (MR) and emotional/behavioral disorders (E/BD) and the latter in learning disabilities (LD; Donovan & Cross, 2002). Although Latinos are not overrepresented nationally, evidence indicates this group is affected in some states and districts (Finn, 1982). Other factors that can mediate the magnitude of overrepresentation include the size of the district, the proportion of an ethnic group in the district population, the indicators used to measure the problem, and the availability of alternative programs such as bilingual education or Title I (Heller et al., 1982).

Efforts have been undertaken to understand and address disproportionality, particularly in the last decade. Examples include federally funded technical assistance centers (The Center of Minority Research in Special Education [COMRISE], the Linking Academic Scholars to Educational Resources [LASER] Project, the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems [NCCRESt], and the National Institute for Urban School Improvement [NIUSU]), research projects (Harry, Klingner, Sturges, & Moore, 2002; Oswald, Coutinho, Best, & Singh, 1999), amendments to federal legislation (e.g., data reporting by race), the National Academy of Sciences panels, and professional associations' efforts. Despite this progress, a programmatic research effort is needed and key theoretical issues remain unaddressed. For instance, the notion of minority group has been treated as a monolithic population, and thus, there is a scarcity of research on within-group diversity. This is problematic as contemporary culture theory and identity scholarship offer more complex understandings of culture and minorities' experiences (Artiles, 2003). Similarly, we have a limited understanding about the potential impact of various diversity markers on disproportionality--for example, language proficiency and social class. …

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