In this article, we present a conceptual framework for addressing the disproportionate representation of culturally and linguistically diverse students in special education. The cornerstone of our approach to addressing disproportionate representation is through the creation of culturally responsive educational systems. Our goal is to assist practitioners, researchers, and policy makers in coalescing around culturally responsive, evidence-based interventions and strategic improvements in practice and policy to improve students’ educational opportunities in general education and reduce inappropriate referrals to and placement in special education. We envision this work as cutting across three interrelated domains: policies, practices, and people. Policies include those guidelines enacted at federal, state, district, and school levels that influence funding, resource allocation, accountability, and other key aspects of schooling. We use the notion of practice in two ways, in the instrumental sense of daily practices that all cultural beings engage in to navigate and survive their worlds, and also in a technical sense to describe the procedures and strategies devised for the purpose of maximizing students’ learning outcomes. People include all those in the broad educational system: administrators, teacher educators, teachers, community members, families, and the children whose opportunities we wish to improve.
special education; disproportionate representation; culturally responsive education; cultural diversity; linguistic diversity.