Culturally Competent Practices and Implications for Special Education Leaders

Culturally Competent Practices and Implications for Special Education Leaders

Katherine Sprott (Lamar University, USA) and Clementine Msengi (Lamar University, USA)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5727-2.ch007
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The over-identification of minorities in special education in the Unites States continues to exist. Such over-representation separates these students from their general education peers to the degree that they may not have access to challenging academic standards and effective instruction. Factors impacting these students include a systemic lack of understanding of cultural frames of reference and curriculum and leadership issues that influence the referral and placement processes in special education. This chapter will address the five culturally competent practices with regard to inclusion and special education. Implications for educational leaders will be discussed.
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The National Summit for Educational Equity reported that culturally competent leadership is key to the United States’ racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse public schools, especially addressing disproportionality (NSEE, 2017). For decades, an abundance of research documented that students from diverse backgrounds are overrepresented in special education compared to their counterpoints across the United States (Diaz-Rico, 2018; Ford, 2012; Sullivan, 2017). In today’s schools, treating students and families from different backgrounds and cultures thoughtfully and with equity has become a pivotal concern (Chang, 2007; Umansky, Thompson, & Díaz, 2017). School leaders must engage in ways that enable both the individual and the organization to respond effectively to people who are different from themselves (Kirven, 2009). According to IDEA (Diaz-Rico, 2018), schools are mandated to provide educational opportunities to benefit all students; however, many of our students in special education classrooms are not succeeding. Gaps exist in graduation rates, suspensions, expulsions, retention, achievement, and special education, especially for culturally and linguistically diverse student populations (Gay, 2002; Ford, 2012).

Culturally competent leaders esteem culture and understand how to work with students and families by interacting effectively in a variety of cultural environments (Terrell & Lindsey, 2009). Such leaders advocate for lifelong learning for the purpose of being effective in serving the educational needs of cultural groups in the school community (Terrell & Lindsey, 2009). In the same manner, culturally competent special education leaders engage in practices that improve services and outcomes for all students. Those leaders are proactive and apply cultural competence practices to both the organization and individual behaviors (CEEP, 2006).

This chapter addresses cultural competence in education and offers specific implications for special education leaders. The authors suggest that creating and implementing Culturally Competent Practices that moves education towards optimum results in culturally rich settings.

Three questions were formulated in accordance with the purpose of this research:

  • 1.

    What culturally competent practices are imperative to improve student services for CLD students in special education?

  • 2.

    To what extent do cultural competencies inform the interactions of special education leaders in the school environment?

  • 3.

    What are some recommendations for educational leaders to become more culturally competent?



Cultural competence is a developmental process through which a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies come together to form a system that works effectively across cultures (CEEP, 2006). Gay (2010) defines culturally responsive teaching as “using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning meaningful and relevant” (p. 31). Cultural competency is relevant in all contexts: rural, urban, and suburban, despite the population. Ladson-Billings (2001) added that culturally responsive teaching is “a pedagogy that empowers students with intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes” (p. 20). Cultural competence behaviors align with standards that move an organization toward interactions of equity for all (Terrell & Lindsey, 2009). Educators who use culturally competent methods see culture as a strength to enhance academic and social achievement. In essence, cultural competence involves acquiring the ability to function efficiently in cultural contexts which differ from one’s own.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Inclusion: Secure services for students with disabilities, regardless of the disability to receive their total education within the regular education classroom in their home school in the least restricted environment.

Educators: Any individual or a group of individuals who provide leadership or instructions in education settings.

Culture: The attitudes, beliefs, values, and customs that distinguish a particular group.

Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students: Individuals or a group whose culture, language, and ethnicity are different from the dominant group.

Local Equity Action Development (LEAD): Is a local change process grounded in cultural competence that addresses disproportionality in special education and other equity issues facing schools.

Over- Identification: Students are classified into disability when they do not have genuine disabilities.

Students with Disabilities: Students with exceptionalities within the context of an educational setting.

Under-Identification: Diverse students who are not equally represented in gifted and talented programs.

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