Prevalence of Minorities in Special Education

Student Author(s)

Sarah Thoman

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Aaron Franzen

Document Type


Event Date



Minority groups are overrepresented in the United States’ special education system. These erroneous placements are often due to language and cultural barriers and teacher expectations, not specific learning disabilities or other impairments. James S. Coleman was a sociological theorist who addressed the education system in terms of social capital and social networks, but did not explore special education. This paper provides a theoretical explanation for the imbalance of minority students in special education by expanding Coleman’s original theories. Disengaged parents and teacher expectations are one aspect of this study. Parents facing inferiority in the education system may adopt passivity, perceived by educators as unwillingness to engage in the child’s education. The social network within the special education system is also addressed to examine potential outcomes of fragmented networks. Interaction with each member of the social network does not guarantee a child’s flourishing. Coleman’s theory does not provide a comprehensive explanation of the challenges of minorities in the special education system, but I have expanded these ideas, applied them to the minority educational experience, and exposed some of the unmet needs of a population of vulnerable students.

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