Special Education

This section includes studies on the way special education functions as a form of streaming in the elementary years. Studies include reports, articles and fact sheets on the processes and implications of special education.

Changing Lanes: The Relationship Between Special Education Placement and Students’ Academic Futures

Authors: Gillian Parekh & Robert S. Brown
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Special education is an approach to schooling that draws significant critique. Scholars often identify special education as a system vulnerable to and complicit in racial, class, and disability segregation, particularly segregation enacted and rationalized through the structural organization of schools and programs. Employing data from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), Canada’s largest public education system, this article highlights key policy decisions around special education. Controlling for achievement, results reveal significant disparities in access to secondary programming critical to postsecondary education.

The Intersection of Disability, Achievement, and Equity: A System Review of Special Education in the TDSB

Authors: Robert S. Brown & Gillian Parekh
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This report (2013) explores system trends in special education in relation to students' identifications, achievement, suspensions and constructs of 'at-risk'. There are many ways in which disability is conceptualized. This report includes a theoretical overview of the medical, social and human rights model of disability.

Special Education: Structural Overview and Student Demographics

Authors: Robert S. Brown & Gillian Parekh
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This is the first system review of special education conducted at the TDSB (2010) that explores trends in special education identification, placement, and outcomes in relation to students socio-demographic identities.

Special Education in the TDSB and Ontario: An Overview, 2011-13

Authors: Robert S. Brown, Lisa Newton, Gillian Parekh, and Hayley Zaretsky
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This report (2013) compares TDSB system data related to special education in comparison with boards inside and outside of the Greater Toronto Area as well as the province of Ontario as a whole. Analyses include trends in student identification and placements in special education programs.

Deconstructing disability and structural exclusion in elementary school

Authors: Gillian Parekh, Robert S. Brown, Chris Conley
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Initial PPT highlighting data used in the 'Changing Lanes' article above. After an exploration of a part-time special education program in the TDSB, these are the following conclusions:

  • There is a strong relationship between special education identification and placement in elementary school to secondary streaming.
  • Access to academic programming in Grade 9 is severely restricted (relatively fixed) for students placed within an elementary HSP program and streamed towards non-academic programming regardless of student achievement.
  • Students in the lowest income tertile, students self-identified as Black, and students whose parents have not gone to university are disproportionately over-represented in the HSP program and are at the greatest risk for encountering academic restrictions in secondary and post-secondary access.
The Social Construction of Giftedness: The Intersectional Relationship Between Whiteness, Economic Privilege, and the Identification of Gifted

Authors: Gillian Parekh, Robert S. Brown & Karen Robson
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Wide socio-demographic disparities exist between students identified as gifted and their peers (De Valenzuela, Copeland, Qi, & Park, 2006; Leonardo & Broderick, 2011). In this paper, we examine the intersectional construction of giftedness and the academic achievement of students identified as gifted. Using data from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), the largest and one of the most diverse public education systems in Canada, we consider racial, class, and gender characteristics of students identified as gifted in comparison to those who have very high achievement. Results demonstrated that there was almost no relationship between students identified as gifted and students who had very high achievement (Pearson’s correlation of 0.18). White, male students whose parents had high occupation statuses had the highest probability of being identified as gifted. Female students were more likely to be high achievers. Compared to White students, it was only East Asian students who were more likely to be identified as gifted; yet South, Southeast and East Asian students were more likely to be very high achievers. Parental occupation was strongly related to both giftedness and very high achievement. Results point to the socially constructed nature of giftedness and challenge its usage in defining and organizing students in schools.