2. Special Education Overidentification 2011: Minorities

Too many children in special education? Why?

A long-standing “cause” is the incorrect placement of minority children. Black and Hispanic children are significantly misplaced. Prior to the reauthorization of IDEA 2004, major controversies broke out: “Disproportions in the racial makeup of special education classes exist all over the country. Indeed, Congress made monitoring disproportions in special education one of the priorities in its reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act last year” (New York Times, 2005).

The U. S. Civil Rights Commission took up the matter of minority over-representation in special education. “Such disproportionality is viewed as a problem because in certain disability categories, minority students are represented in higher proportions than they are in overall student enrollments. Those students are often placed in self-contained special education classrooms and given instruction that isn’t as rigorous as the curriculum offered to other students. Many minority students in special education never graduate from high school….Minority students are more likely to be found in the so-called judgmental disability categories that require some degree of subjectivity on the part of a school-based team in the evaluation process, such as learning disabilities, mental retardation, and emotional disturbance” (Samuels, Goldwater, 2007).

A key factor is misdiagnosis: ‘Experts who have studied the issue … throughout the country said disabilities are often misdiagnosed in minority children, especially boys. Children who are placed in special education for the wrong reasons face stigmas that are difficult to overcome, psychologists said” (New York Times, 2005).

A mystery recurs throughout the discussions of disproportions in racial make up in special education. Whereas the thunder of class action complaints occupy national debate, at the level of the local school districts it is business as usual. An enormous gap exists between what national policy makers are proposing and what practitioners are doing in thousands of monthly IEP meetings across the country. SLPs in particular and special educators in general have little awareness of the crucial roles they play in shaping the distributions of special education determinations. They cannot manage a problem they do not perceive.

The history of IDEA has evolved to exclude minority children from special education when no disability is present: “IDEA has supported the provision of culturally relevant instruction for diverse learners in mainstreamed environments. Throughout the 1980s, IDEA-supported Minority Handicapped Research Institutes documented that culturally and linguistically diverse students with disabilities make, at best, limited progress in school programs that employ “watered-down” instruction in segregated environments. Building on and extending the work of these institutes, IDEA has supported the development and validation of culturally relevant assessment and intervention practices” (IDEA History after 25 years).

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