Unproven links: Can poverty explain ethnic disproportionality in special education?

Russell J. Skiba, Lori Poloni-Staudinger, Ada B. Simmons, L. Renae Feggins-Azziz, Choong Geun Chung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

146 Scopus citations


The high degree of overlap of race and poverty in our society has led to the presumption in both research and practice that ethnic disproportionality in special education is in large measure an artifact of the effects of poverty. This article explores relationships among race, poverty, and special education identification to arrive at a more precise estimate of the contribution of poverty to racial disparities. District-level data for all 295 school corporations in a midwestern state were analyzed for this study. Records included information on disability category, general and special education enrollment by race, socioeconomic level, local resources, and academic and social outcomes for 1 school year. Simple correlations among the variables demonstrate that correlations between race and poverty of even moderate strength do not guarantee that the 2 variables will function in the same way with respect to outcome variables, such as identification for special education services. Results of regression analyses indicate that poverty makes a weak and inconsistent contribution to the prediction of disproportionality across a number of disability categories. On the other hand, rates of suspension and expulsion consistently predict district rates of special education disproportionality. Inconsistent relationships between special education disproportionality and achievement may indicate a developmental trend in the systemic contribution to racial disparity. Ideal-type analyses examining race-poverty relationships indicate that where poverty makes any contribution above and beyond race in predicting disability identification, its primary effect is to magnify existing racial disparity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)130-144
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Special Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Rehabilitation


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