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Discarding the Deficit Model

Harry, B., & Klingner, J.K. (2007). Discarding the deficit model. Educational Leadership, 64(5), 16-21. Available online at…

The main criterion for eligibility for special education services in schools has been proof of intrinsic deficit. There are two problems with this focus: first, defining and identifying high-incidence disabilities are ambiguous and subjective processes. Second, the focus on disability has become so intertwined with the historical devaluing of minorities in the United States that these two deficit lens now deeply influence the special education placement process. The end result is a disproportionate placement of some minority groups in special education. Some encouraging directions are underway that may help schools focus on differences rather than on deficits. These include a change in the discrepancy model, the Response to Intervention model (RTI), which focuses on early intervention; and involving parents in the placement process. A new vision of special education is called for in which the notion of disability is reserved for students with clear-cut diagnoses of biological or psychological limitations and the categorization is used only for the purpose of delivering intensive, specialized services in the least restrictive education environment possible.