Academic journal article The Journal of Law in Society

The Elusive Quest for Equity: An Analysis of How Contextual Factors Contribute to the Likelihood of School Districts Being Legally Cited for Racial Disproportionality in Special Education

Academic journal article The Journal of Law in Society

The Elusive Quest for Equity: An Analysis of How Contextual Factors Contribute to the Likelihood of School Districts Being Legally Cited for Racial Disproportionality in Special Education

Article excerpt

   I. OBJECTIVES   II. CONTEXT  III. DISPROPORTIONALITY IN SPECIAL EDUCATION   IV. THE INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES EDUCATION ACT (IDEA)       AND DISPROPORTIONALITY    V. SOCIOLOGY OF SPECIAL EDUCATION: EXPLORING THE       THEORETICAL UNDERPINNINGS OF DISPROPORTIONALITY   VI. SITE SELECTION  VII. DATASET DESCRIPTION VIII. THEORETICAL VARIABLES OF INTEREST   IX. METHODS    X. DATA SET CHARACTERISTICS   XI. MODEL RESULTS  XII. FINDINGS XIII. DISCUSSION/IMPLICATIONS 

I. OBJECTIVES

The paper explores how district level contextual variables contribute to the likelihood of a legal citation for racial disproportionality in special education. The study relies on sociological organizational theory and uses a neo-institutional lens to understand the relationship between technical legal compliance and symbolic compliance when mediating disproportionality. The study is quantitative with the unit of analysis at the district level and uses event history analysis to understand how a federal and state level citation for disproportionality, and the acts of compliance that follow from receipt of the citation, relate to the probability of a reduction in disproportionate outcomes. The focus of the inquiry is to understand how district sociodemographics and compliance to disability legislation may exacerbate, neutralize, or mediate disproportionality. The findings indicate that there is a complex relationship between the size of a district, a district's sociodemographics, the duration of a citation, and a history of repeated citations. The findings also suggest that addressing the root causes of disproportionality lies beyond legal compliance alone.

II. CONTEXT

Racial and ethnic disproportionality in special education is a pervasive and problematic educational and social issue in the United States. It has persisted for decades despite extensive federal and state level regulations that have been enacted to address it. Disproportionality in special education is the overrepresentation of a specific group in special education programs and suspensions relative to the presence of this group in the overall student population, and/or the underrepresentation of a specific group in accessing intervention services, resources, programs, rigorous curriculum and instruction. (4) Because these placements often result in students of color being unfairly denied access to important educational opportunities, disproportionality is increasingly identified as not merely an educational problem, but a violation of civil rights.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA5) is the single most influential piece of legislation affecting students with disabilities in schools. The legislative history of IDEA began in the early 1970s with the enactment of Public Law 94-142. (6) The law came into being after parents in 26 states initiated litigation related to the violation of educational rights and opportunities for children identified as being in need of special education. Passage of IDEA relied upon the same litigation strategy used in Brown vs. Board of Education. (7) The law was predicated using civil rights legislation to gain rights for students with learning disabilities, a historically marginalized group. IDEA was designed to legally ensure fair and equitable delivery of education to students with disabilities and to meet the multiple demands of schools, teachers, students, families, and districts. (8) IDEA is procedurally laden, and compliance to its provisions, especially in relation to disproportionality, has grown more complex over time. (9)

Despite extensive federal legal protections for students with disabilities in schools, numerous studies have found that gross inequities and violations of educational rights persist. (10) In recent decades, the federal government has embedded several "indicators" into IDEA legislation to monitor state and district progress on important educational outcomes for the purpose of ensuring equity for students with disabilities. …

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