Disproportionality in Special Education
Inequity and de facto racial segregation raise their ugly heads in special education programs. In school districts with White majorities, a pervasive and paternalistic ideology with middle class expectations works to impose arbitrary rules of conduct and behavior on Black and Latino children. Consequently, minority children who find themselves in this type of educational setting, often react by withdrawing from the teaching/learning process and opt into behavior s that impact negatively on their academic achievement. Minority students “self-select” themselves out of mainstream and gifted and talented programs. The “good” White teacher believes that the minority child, who misbehaves or does not achieve academically, is not educable in the general education class and dutifully refers the poor performing Black/Latino for evaluation to determine eligibility for special education. In too many cases, Black and Latino children are misdiagnosed, placed in more restrictive environments/settings where they languish for years and experience uninspiring instruction characterized by rote memorization and few opportunities to engage in higher order thinking skills.
Recent studies have found that in predominantly White school districts and schools a greater percentage of Blacks is placed in special education programs than any other racial or ethnic group. Special education class placement practices are especially unsettling in the case of Black males diagnosed as “emotionally disturbed”. More often than others, they receive placements in the most restrictive environments where they have no opportunities to interact with the rest of the student population. Conversely, White students in special education programs are more likely to be placed in “inclusionary” or general education classes where they have more opportunity to experience engaging lessons, quality teaching, and more effective teaching strategies to counteract misbehavior.
If we are not vigilant, special education can become the handmaiden of re-segregation. Even in urban school districts, increased spending on special education programs results in increased numbers of minority students in special education. Solutions to this problem require (1) professional development for supervisors, teachers and support staff in human relations and racial attitudes, (2) teaching alternative strategies implemented within the general education classroom, and upgrading of teacher education courses on the college level.
Region II Data
Disproportionality in New York: Per the mandate of IDEA 2004, New York identified twelve school districts with significant disproportion in their 2006-07 data for over-identification of students by specific disability (i.e., learning disability, emotional disturbance, mental retardation, speech and language impairment, autism, other health impairment) (New York State Education Department, 2008a). While black students comprise 19.8% of New York’s student population, they account for 23.59% of students in special education, 32.79% of students classified with Mental Retardation, and 39.65% of students with Emotional Disturbance (IDEAdata.org, 2006).
Disproportionality in New Jersey: While 17.6% of New Jersey’s student population is black, 21.10% of all special education students, 37.97% of those classified with Mental Retardation, and 36.15% of those classified with Emotional Disturbance are black. Hispanic students comprise here 18.2% of New Jersey students, 17.34% of those in special education, 27.03% of those classified with Mental Retardation (possibly indicating language difference issues), and 15.34% of those classified with Emotional Disturbance (IDEAdata.org, 2006).
Disproportionality in Puerto Rico: Since virtually all public school students in Puerto Rico are Hispanic, 99.07% of those in special education are Hispanic, while .03% are black (IDEAdata.org). On its State Performance Plan required by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs, Puerto Rico has indicated that Indicator 9 (percent of districts with disproportionate representation of racial/ethnic groups in special education and related services that is the result of inappropriate identification) and Indicator 10 (percent of districts with disproportionate representation of racial/ethnic groups in specific disability areas) do not apply to Puerto Rico.
Disproportionality in the Virgin Islands: On its State Performance Plan required by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs, the Virgin Islands did not report the data for Indicators 9 and 10. Other data sources indicate that 76.20% of special education students and 81.91% of those classified with Mentally Retardation in the Virgin Islands are black (IDEAdata.org, 2006).