The Sunken Place: A Historical Examination of the Overrepresentation of Minorities in Special Education
featuring Dr. Doran Gresham, Assistant Professor of Special Education for Culturally & Linguistically Diverse Learners
For over four decades both advocates and educators have been interested in the overrepresentation of black males in special education (National Academy of Science, 2002; Losen & Orfield, 2002; Hilliard, 1990; 1995; 2001; National Association of State Directors of Special Education, 1994; 1995; Patton, 1998; Dunn, 1968; Deno, 1970). Black males are one and a half times more likely to be labeled as emotionally disturbed (ED) than other non-black students and are placed in special needs programs more frequently than their peers, both male and female (Coutinho & Oswald, 1998; Harry, 1994). National efforts to change this condition have fallen short of success (Coutinho & Oswald, 1998; Oswald, Coutinho, Best & Singh, 2002; 1999; Brady, Manni & Losen & Orfield, 2002,). Consequently, the overrepresentation and inappropriate placement of black males is cause for public concern at a time when the American student demographic is changing. Unfortunately, public concern remains that although America’s student body is becoming more and more diverse, children who are nonwhite, non-native-English-speaking, or poor continue to be overidentified as having disabilities and to be served in more segregated placements than their peers (Coutinho & Oswald, 1998; Artiles & Trent, 1994).
The purpose of this study was to survey general educators about their perceptions of factors affecting the overrepresentation of elementary aged black males in classrooms for students with emotional disturbance (ED). The subjects for this study were 158 elementary school general education teachers. In this descriptive study, a 34-item questionnaire was developed to determine general educators’ perceptions about causal factors for the overrepresentation of elementary aged black males identified as ED. The instrument was created, pilot tested and validated. The survey was then administered in a Maryland public school system to general education elementary school teachers. The data were collected, coded, analyzed and discussed. The results of this study showed that while general education teachers considered environmental, teacher perception and school-related variables to be influential to the overrepresentation of black males in ED classrooms, environmental factors were most frequently noted as being causal in nature for black students being identified as ED. The results of this study also produced interesting conclusions about the five independent variables that were studied. These were gender, ethnicity, training to identify students for special education services, training to identify ED characteristics and years of experience as an elementary school general education teacher. Of these independent variables, the ethnicity of respondents to the survey helped to contribute to more statistically significant differences in responses than all other variables combined. This indicates that overrepresentation research and policy changes should consider both the influence of environmental factors on ED identification rates and the power that ethnicity has on teacher perceptions.
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