Failure to Address Disproportionality in American Schools

In the Utah Special Educator, Essential Educator Online (http://essential educator.org/), Edward Fergus (Equity Assistance Center Arizona State University), writes thoughtfully on, “Distinguishing Difference from Disability: The Common Causes of Racial/Ethnic Disproportionality in Special Education” (November. 2011). The project was supported by the U. S. Department of Education.

One point made is that placement in special education is a “restrictive environment” and limits educational opportunity to access more rigorous curriculum and instruction: “For example, students are less likely to receive access to rigorous and full curriculum (Harry & Klingner, 2006; Fierros & Conroy, 2002); limited academic and post-secondary opportunities (Harry & Klingner, 2006); limited interaction with “abled” or academically mainstreamed peers and increased sense of social stigmatization (Gartner & Lipsky, 1999; National Research Council, 2002); and a permanence in their placement (Harry & Klingner, 2006).”

This is not good news.

We damage children when we put them in special education. We know that Native American children already arrive at school with an historic negative expectation. Placing them in special education serves to confirm the negative expectation, a self-fulfilling prophecy. And once they are in, they stay in and the label sticks. After all, “they are indians.”

Black American children we know can be put on the road to prison by consignment to special education.

Why do we continue to do it anyway? What is the mainstream motive? At one point don’t we lose our credibility as educators?

The problem of over-identification of non-disabled children has been known to us since the 1960s, as Mr. Fergus documents.

It’s against the law!

Stop sign along country road.

We advocate here for direct action among local schools. As we say to the children in our schools, “Stop, you are making bad choices!” The mechanics of cutting back on disproportional representations and misidentification practices can be understood by a 5th grader. Of course we need thoughtful studies to work from, but we do not need them all that much.

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