Under or Over Representation of Black Students in Special Education? An Exploration of Special Education Decision Points
Ericka Weathers

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Pennsylvania State University

Primary Discipline

Educational Policy
Racial disproportionality in special education has been a recent focus of scholarly debate, with specific emphasis on the enrollment of Black students. While documenting patterns and trends of racial disproportionality in special education is important, the enrollment of Black students in special education is more than just a two-sided coin of under-or-over representation. The special education representation story is nuanced by contextual characteristics of schools, communities, and districts. Furthermore, there are various decision points leading to enrollment in special education (i.e., referral, assessment, eligibility, and placement) that inevitably complicate the representation binary. Using student-level panel data, this project asks: Are there differential patterns in special education decision points by student race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status? Do structural school and district factors predict disparities in special education classification at different decision points? Studying disproportionalities at the decision points can provide novel insight on what part of the special education classification process education policy and practice might intervene to ensure that students are justly identified for special education.
About Ericka Weathers
Ericka Weathers is an Assistant Professor of Education in the Department of Education Policy Studies and a co-funded faculty/affiliate of the Social Science Research Institute at Pennsylvania State University. Using quantitative methods, her research explores racial and socioeconomic disparities in education, with an emphasis on two overarching questions. First, what are the processes and contexts that lead to and/or are associated with racial and socioeconomic disparities in education? Second, how might K-12 education policies and programs reduce or exacerbate racial and socioeconomic disparities? Dr. Weathers believes that studying mechanisms and education policies can inform implementation and/or efforts to improve K-12 educational programs and policies in ways that promote educational equity and justice. Her recent and current scholarship focuses on the relationship between school segregation and school funding disparities; the effects of school resource/police officers on student outcomes; and the effects of truancy laws on educational outcomes. She is a recent recipient of a Russell Sage/Gates Foundation Pipeline Grant to study habitual truancy. Her recent Publications have appeared in AERA Open, Race and Social Problems, and Urban Education. Dr. Weathers holds a Ph.D. in education policy from Stanford University, a M.A. in Policy Studies from the University of Washington Bothell, and a B.A. in Psychology from Hampton University.

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