According to Patton (1998) the overrepresentation of African-American children in special education programs that are intended for students that have serious emotional or behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, and mental disabilities has continued to be a problem even though many researchers have recognized the problems that have occurred as a result of such overrepresentation. In fact there is exhaustive amounts of literature that explains the "causal factors that range from failure of the general education system (Artiles & Trent, 1994; Deno, 1970; MacMillan & Hendrick, 1993; McDermott, 1987; Townsend, Thomas, Witty, & Lee, 1996) to inequities associated with the special education referral, assessment, and placement processes (Harry & Anderson, 1994; Mercer, 1973)."
With all these things understood, the problematic issue of overrepresentation of African-Americans in special education continues even after the causes of such overrepresentation have been found and accepted as accurate. For instance, research over the years has found that in spite of all the research and recommendations concerning this problem, the proportion of African-American students labeled as mentally disabled has "not changed much from 38% in 1975 when those students constituted 15% of the school population. In 1991 they made up 16% of this nation's school population and 35% of the special education population (Harry & Anderson, 1994)." Additionally the overrepresentation of African-American males in particular has also been thoroughly noted as it pertains to disciplinary practices (corporal punishment and suspension) and the fact that with the context of certain special education categories black students receive their special education in segregated classrooms or in buildings that are completed separated from an inclusive setting (Harry & Anderson, 1994).
Causes of Overrepresentation
Fitzgerald (2006) explains that the overrepresentation of Black males in Special education has much to do with racism and the need to control a population that is often viewed as a threat. The author explains that there is a systematic effort to control and punish black male students who attend public schools in America. He asserts that this system is the byproduct of the ideologies embraced during slavery (Feagin 2000; Hutchinson 1994). The author first posits that since White men who controlled the American school system believed that Black males were a threat to them both physically and sexually. In addition these individuals created myths and manipulated stereotypes to justify the need for social control (Cose 2002; Feagin 2000; Hutchinson 1994;Fitzgerald (2006).
Other researchers have also asserted that racism has played a significant role in the overrepresentation of black males in Special education. According to Watkins and Kurtz
"The issue of discrimination by White teachers with African-American students is a significant problem. For example, Irvine (1990 ) found that white teachers have more negative expectations for African-American students than for white students.
An analysis of large urban school districts as the proportion of African-American
teachers in a school district, proportion of African-American students assigned to special education classes, suspended or expelled decreased (Watkins & Kurtz,
Watkins & Kurtz (2001) further asserts that an article in the March 3, 2001, issue of the Chicago Tribtme cited a study conducted by the Illinois Department of Education in 1997 that found African-American students to be 2.9 times more likely to be identified as having a disability than their White peers. Those who criticize the practice of labeling black students in this manner assert that the experts that were so interested in equality for all students were actually instrumental in the promotion of the inequality that currently exist. At the current time special education has been used in a manner that is abusive and has effectively created segregation within the American public school system. The author explains that "The practice of labeling these students and segregating them academically from the regular education population underlies these inequities (Barton and Tomlinson
1984). Thus, public school education sharply diverges from Hiner's (1990) vision of education as "...the entire process by which human beings develop a sense of self and formulate an identity; learn the ways of society so that they may function within
it; and define and transmit their culture from generation to generation" (p. 138)"
Impact of overrepresentation on African-American Males
There are dire consequences associated with the overrepresentation of Blcak males in special education classrooms. Harry & Anderson, (1994)explain that the descriptions associated with the socio-cultural construction of the classifications of learning disability, mild mental disability,, and serious emotional or behavioral disability (SED) are associated with definitional and validity problems. These problems are associated with severe negative consequences for African-American students. For instance, Ysseldyke, Algozzine, and Thurlow (1992) discovered that the random changes in diagnostic criteria and frequency rates for the SED label combined with the extreme variability in placement rates across the schools in different states calls into question the rationality of the SED label. The article explains that "these concerns and the attendant cultural variability of student behavior and teacher judgment place African-American youth at great risk of being falsely labeled as SED. Similar arguments have been made for the educable mentally retarded (EMR) and specific learning disability (SLD) categories (Harry & Anderson, 1994)." Such labels impair the ability of African-American males to succeed in academic settings for the rest of their lives.
Efforts to Reduce Overrepresentation
Cherryl (2003) explains that since the initial survey concerning the overrepresentation of African-Americans in special education programs appeared in 1968 there has been a great deal of debate concerning how the numbers of black students in Special education programs can be reduced. Although there has been a great deal of research related to attempting to reduce the proportions of Black students in Special education, little headway has been made as it relates to an actually decline in the number of Black male special education student. The author also explains that "exclusive of the growth in legal protections for special education students between 1970 and 1980, core values and beliefs associated with the field of special education have remained unaltered (Cherryl, 2003) ."
The author contends that one of the main defenses against the improper labeling of African-American males in public school is social workers. Social workers have a responsibility to ensure that each student receives a quality education and is treated properly in the school environment. The author also explains that there are legislative policies and provisions that establish the responsibilities of social workers in the school setting. Although this legislation is present, positive outcomes for the most vulnerable and educationally challenged populations is dependent "on the extent to which social workers do not succumb to professional drift, practice successfully within their professional domain, uphold ethics of the profession, exercise cultural competence, and are effective in countering pressures and challenges from other professionals that may lead to a position in which the best interest of children is compromised (Cherryl, 2003) ."
The author further insists that social workers are equipped with unique skills that lead to some difficulties when in an academic setting. For instance Hancock (1982) pointed out that social workers often experience a lack of clarity among social workers as a result of the differences in the interpretation "of their function from one school to the next. Hepworth and Larsen (1982) have explained that the dilemma for social workers lies in the fact that the main purpose of schools is education and social workers often find it difficult to help fulfill this educational mission (Cherryl, 2003)."
The author further explains that social workers are often compromised by administrators because they assign the social worker with tasks that are limited to roles that do not include referring or declining students to special education programs. As such the very people who are properly equipped to assign students and help them academically are distracted wit other types of work. The author also explains that when this is the case new or vulnerable social workers may submit to the pressures place on them by principals, guidance counselors, teachers, psychologists or other professionals to support the assignment of a special education label to students even when there is no evidence to suggests that they are special education students. Additionally,
"Given that complaints about the behavior of African-American males are most likely, social workers may contribute to disproportionate outcomes for these students in special education placements due to improper screening of referrals associated with deference to another professional or pressure form school officials to eliminate a "problem student." Additionally, beleaguered school climates that cultivate an environment of racial strife and indifference to cultural diversity can mitigate efforts to exercise culture competence in the evaluation and assessment process. As a consequence, the probability that African-American students will be over-identified, and referrals will lead to the assignment of a label and placement is increased (Cherryl, 2003) ."
With this understood these students need advocates that will assist them in ensuring that they are receiving the quality of education that they deserve to have and that will be…