Overrepresentation of African-American Males in Special Education Thesis

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Special education programs abound throughout the United States. Such programs are needed and beneficial for many students that have problems remaining in general education classrooms. However, over the last few decades African-American males have represented a disproportionate amount of special education students. This overrepresentation has real-world consequences for these students and the communities in which they live.

Traditional notions of education have been questioned as it relates to the ability of traditional curriculum to embrace cultural norms of minority groups. That is, many educators have asserted that some minority students learn in ways that are completely different from those of the majority and as such curriculums should reflect these differences. When curriculums fail to embrace these differences students are mislabeled and do not receive the proper education.

Additionally stereotypes play a significant role in determining how Black males are treated in academic setting. In some instance African-American males are perceived as treats to society and when behavioral issues arise, instead of confronting the behavioral problems appropriately African-American males are placed in special education programs.

Review of current literature

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Moore et al. (2008) explains that in many public schools throughout the country African-American Male students are not receiving the education needed to thrive and survive in the world and the workplace. The authors also explain that this particular population has difficulty succeeding because they are often labeled at risk (Bailey, 2003; Bailey & Moore, 2004; Farmer et al., 2004; Moore et al. 2008). The authors explains that through the academic career of African-American males including elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education levels Black males are not on par with their African-American males academically. They are also less successful that Black females academically (Jackson & Moore, 2006; J.L. Moore, Flowers, Guion, Zhang, & Staten, 2004; Moore et al., 2008).

Thesis on Overrepresentation of African-American Males in Special Education Assignment

According to Fenning and Rose (2007) for more than three decades researcehers have studied the phenomenon of the over representation of African-American males in special education classrooms. Many of these studies have focused on the discipline consequences of such placements as it pertains to expulsion and suspension.

The researchers contend that one of the primary reasons for disproportionate representation among African-American males "is that school personnel perceive such individuals as

"not fitting into the norm of the school" (Casella, 2003). Coupled with an anxiety

on the part of school personnel that they must always be in control of student behavior (Domenico, 1998; Noguera, 1995), those who are not perceived as fitting the social and behavioral norms of the school are subsequently labeled as

"dangerous" (Casella, 2003) or as "troublemakers" (Bowditch, 1993). Once

labeled in this manner, these identified groups of students (who are primarily poor ethnic minority students and those with academic problems) are removed primarily for nonviolent infractions found in the school discipline policy (Skiba et al., 2000)."

The authors further insists that many educators have simply lost control of their classrooms as opposed to these students actually posing any really threat. Indeed it appears that the most vulnerable students are placed in the position of being placed in exclusionary education situations and its related disciplinary outcomes. The author also explains that minority students are often the target of fear and anxiety and as such they are more likely to have to endure certain punitive disciplinary consequences. These consequences occur because there is a perceived threat associated with children who do not seem to fit into what is considered the norm of the school. These norms can be associated with academics, race, and socio-economic differences. Once students have been place in special education programs they are more likely to enter into the prison system. This is often referred to the school to prison pipeline (Wald & Losen, 2003).

Purpose of the study

The purpose of this study is to examine the overrepresentation of African-American Males in Special education classrooms. The investigation will examine the reasons why such overrepresentation exist and the manner in which traditional racist ideologies play a role in informing the current educational system. The research will focus on how such overrepresentation can be detrimental to this particular group of students over the long-term.

Need for the study

The research to be conducted is needed to determine the causes of overrepresentation. Once the reasons for the disproportionate number of African-American males in special education are more fully understood, steps can be taken to ensure that the overrepresentation is decreased. This particular study will be particularly useful because there are significant numbers of African-American males that do not gradate from high school. A great deal of this may be attributed to the greater likelihood of Black males being placed in special education classrooms. As our review of the current literature has revealed, once a child has been placed in special education there are labeled as such for their entire academic career. This means that students that were mislabeled are placed in classrooms that do not challenge their intellect. Ultimately they may become frustrated and drop out of school. As such a concerted effort needs to be made to not only identify the reasons for overrepresentation, but also to ensure that such overrepresentation does not continue to occur. A decline in the proportion of African-American males in special education will lead to higher rates of high school graduation and fewer incarcerations.

Statement of the problem

Special education classrooms are necessary because they assist students that have needs that are substantially different from general education students. As such, when students that should be in general education are placed in Special Education their educational needs are not met. This leads to disciplinary problems because the misplaced student is not engaged in the educational activities that are presented. Disengagement can lead to disinterest in school and ultimately many students who are misplaced in special education programs drop out of school completely.

With all these things understood, overrepresentation in Special education is particularly detrimental to minority populations. More specifically African-American males suffer greatly when they are mislabeled in this manner because of the historic and current inequalities associated with being a Black man in American society. Overrepresentation leads to other social problems that are difficult to overcome and affect society in adverse ways.

Research Questions

The research questions for this study are as follows:

Why does the overrepresentation of African-American males occur in so often in public schools?

In what ways if any does overrepresentation in special education classrooms effect disciplinary outcomes for African-American males?

In what ways if any does overrepresentation in special education classrooms contribute to high drop out rates for African-American males.

What policies can schools develop to ensure that African-American males are not placed in special education classrooms for reasons that are inconsistent with the stated purpose of special education?

Key Terms


General Education



Special Education

Chapter Two

Review of the Literature


The study to ensue is designed to address the problem of overrepresentation of African-American males in special education classrooms. The research will focus on why such overrepresentation occurs, how it effects disciplinary and academic outcomes for African-American males and what can be done to minimize this overrepresentation at te current time and in the future. The research provided in the literature review will cover a significant time span and it is designed to address many of the concerns that have developed since this issue was first addressed decades ago. The research for the literature review will be taken from books, journals, newspapers and magazines.

Review of literature

Special Education

According to Harry and Anderson (1993) Special education programs were first placed in publics schools as a result of a 1975 federal mandate (Harry & Anderson, 1994). This mandate developed as a result of the Education for all children Act which was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (Harry & Anderson, 1994). The initial intention of the act was to provide students that did not have the ability to benefit form regular curriculums the opportunity to receive an education (Harry & Anderson, 1994). The law was designed to allow all school-aged children in America the opportunity to attend school and receive a free education through the public school system. However problems quickly serviced and the misuse of the law became apparent (Harry & Anderson, 1994).

Overrepresentation of African-American Males in Special Education

According to Minority Students in Special and Gifted Education most of the concern about the overrepresentation of some minority groups in special education classroom usually focuses on a limited number of disability categories. For instance, in a National Research Council report published in 1982 the primary focus was on special education students that were identified as mildly mentally retarded. However the category that has been the center of much debate and even the subject of litigation is "the fairness of intelligence testing as the "reason" behind disproportionately high enrollments of black and Hispanic children in special education programs (Reschly, 1988a). In the years since that report, the focus has broadened to include LD and ED. Concern has been raised as well over the underrepresentation… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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