[en] With educational expansion and rising standards, ever more students are being transferred into special education. These programs serve children and youth with ‘special educational needs’ (SEN), a heterogeneous group with social, ethnic, linguistic, physical, and intellectual disadvantages. An increasing proportion of students at risk of leaving secondary school without qualifications participate in special education. While most European countries aim to replace segregated schools and separate classes with school integration and inclusive education, cross-national comparisons of special education’s diverse student bodies show considerable disparities in rates of SEN classification, provided learning opportunities, and educational attainments. Analyses of European special education demographics and organizations emphasize institutional instead of individual explanations. Findings from Germany and the United States further demonstrate that which students bear the greatest risk of becoming less educated depends principally on the institutionalization of special education systems and on definitions of ‘special educational needs’.