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Special Education in Europe, Overrepresentation of Minority Students

In Europe, as in the United States, special education brings customized interventions to bear on the difficulties that some learners experience in school. The assumption is that these difficulties relate to learners' individual characteristics—for instance, to disabilities—and that processes of individualized assessment are needed to identify which learners need what kind of help. On this basis, social characteristics such as ethnicity, gender, and class should have no bearing on who receives special education, and members of different social groups should be equally likely to be identified.

In practice, however, this is not the case. In European countries that have looked at this issue (and not all have), special education is commonly characterized by disproportionality—that is, learners from particular social groups are represented in proportions that are ...

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