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The Role of School Context in Explaining Racial Disproportionality in Special Education

There has been an explosion of special education research and new policies surrounding the topic of racial and ethnic disproportionality. Some recent research shifts focus to whether school context moderates findings (e.g., is a Black student less likely than a White student to receive special education services as the proportion of a school’s Black students increases?). We extend this emerging literature using eight years of elementary student-and school-level data from NYC public schools, examining more school contextual moderators, expanding racial categories, and distinguishing between cross-sectional and over-time differences. We find that student racial/ethnic composition, teacher racial composition, school size, concentration of poor students, and teachers’ perceptions of school climate all moderate disproportionality. These school context factors appear to be particularly salient for the classification of Black students, and most of these associations are driven by differences across schools, suggesting new avenues for researchers and levers for policy.

special education policy; disproportionality; school context
Education level
Document Object Identifier (DOI)

EdWorkingPaper suggested citation:

Stiefel, Leanna, Syeda Sana Fatima, Joseph R. Cimpian, and Kaitlyn O’Hagan. (). The Role of School Context in Explaining Racial Disproportionality in Special Education. (EdWorkingPaper: 22-661). Retrieved from Annenberg Institute at Brown University:

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