Relationship Between Poverty & Special Education Placement

by Van Thompson

    Children living in poverty face a wide variety of hardships from unsafe neighborhoods to inadequate nutrition. A report by the University of North Carolina Department of Education found a strong correlation between poverty and special education placement and emphasized that children living in poverty are more likely to experience academic difficulties. Children living in poverty often do not have access to high-quality schools, and the special education programs offered by these schools may not provide poor children with the academic assistance they need.

    Environmental factors can make educational attainment more difficult for impoverished children, according to a 2006 study published in "Educational Researcher." Poverty correlates with drug abuse, alcohol problems and mental health difficulties, and when children's parents struggle with these issues, they're less likely to be involved in their children's schooling, which can cause academic problems. The stress of poverty can interfere with children's ability to learn, particularly when children go to school hungry or suffer from nutritional deficits. Children who don't meet educational milestones or who struggle with grades are more likely to be placed in special education classrooms, according to a 2006 study published in "Teachers College Record."

    A 2005 study published in the "Journal of Special Education" emphasized that racial minorities are more likely to be placed in special education programs and that poverty might be the real culprit. Children living in poverty tend to have more learning disabilities and developmental delays -- perhaps due in part to a stressful environment. A 2008 study published in "Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology" found that impoverished mothers often receive inadequate prenatal care and that this inadequate care can lead to developmental delays. Exposure to dangerous chemicals such as lead, family stress, frequent moves and inadequate nutrition can also interfere with learning and contribute to the development of learning disabilities.

    Children who are disruptive to a classroom are more likely to be placed in a special education program. Because poor children's parents are often less involved in their education, teachers don't have the option of working with parents to develop behavior plans. Consequently, they may recommend special education as an alternative that improves a child's chances of academic success. In other cases, teachers might be more concerned about students living in poverty and therefore more likely to observe their behavior, and this increased observation can lead to special education placement. The University of North Carolina School of Education, for example, emphasizes that teachers are increasingly concerned about reaching out to impoverished students and ensuring that they get appropriate referrals to special education programs.

    Unfortunately for many children living in poverty, special education programs at their schools might not provide them with the resources they need. A report issued by the U.S. Department of Education points out that low-quality schools are disproportionately located in poor areas and that the special education programs in these schools tend to be poor or nonexistent. Low access to good special education can exacerbate the conditions of poverty and the symptoms of learning disabilities.

    About the Author

    Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.

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