Special needs students in poor urban schools


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Special needs children are children that need assistance because of a medical, mental or a psychological condition so as to be able to learn and develop.  These kids normally have impairments such as terminal illness, panic attacks, food allergies, and psychiatric problems. The Individuals with Disability Act was enforced so that special needs child would have the chance to receive free and quality public education. For the achievement of this goal a mandate for every school to ensure that they have the needed procedures to help them determine the children that need special needs education services. Many cases have proved that children are wrongly committed to need special education yet they do not need these services. Over-representation is when the number of group membership is disproportionately higher in special education than in the general school system (Tajalli, H, 626). This variance in the population is becoming a concern especially for the African American students because their population is higher in public schools.

It has been proven that teachers are referring more African American students to the special needs education program more than even the Caucasian students. African American student’s mainly boys are being placed in special needs programs because of behavioral problems rather than academic issues. Studies that have been conducted show that the number of black male students being enrolled in a school corresponds with the compounded percentage of students in special education programs. From the studies done, it begs the question of racism, and social inequalities are the system feeding this vice instead of working to eliminate it? In the year 2000 studies show that 14.9% of African American students in the age bracket of three years to 21 years were receiving special education services yet they only made 16.6% of the overall school population (Constantine, M. G., 167). The African American males’ percentage is much higher in special education classrooms for reasons like cultural differences, educational disadvantages, and labeling by school psychologists, counselors, and teachers.

This dilemma of black male students being overrepresented in special education is not about to end unless the change is applied in training of teachers, new culture sensitive examinations and the involvement of Black psychologists in the process of evaluation. This overrepresentation can date back to the days of slavery. Statistics show that African-American males are more likely to attend schools that lack enough textbooks, technology resources and have teachers that are less educated and equipped (Beachum, F, 169 ) . It is more likely that because African American male students from poor backgrounds experience violence and crime, they may require special education services. Because of the cultural differences, African American men are different from their Caucasian counterparts and as such should be treated differently.

Another reason for overrepresentation is the standardized and unreliable procedures used for identification of special needs students. To know if a student needs special education services a referral then testing is usually done by the teachers and administration. These measures are proving to pose challenges to the crisis of frequently placing African American males in special education. These two measures are unreliable in correctly identifying children who are in need of special education. The standardized tests used to assess the place of the students are usually based on the values, language, and experiences of the Caucasian middle-class students and not from the African American culture. These makes the procedures biased and cannot accurately test students who need special education services. There is a need for giving cultural considerations when coming up with interventions the African American males who have learning disabilities (Serpell, Z, 329). Cultural responsiveness will not only help to understand the behaviors of students, but it will provide responses that are attentive to the racial and ethnic factors.

The misplacement of an African American male child to special education program usually leads to the child being affected negatively. The child may develop a negative self-worth, their personal life goals might be destroyed making them low achievers. There will be an increase in high school dropouts and incarceration because of engaging in crime or drug activities (Simmons-Reed, E, 109). An African American male who goes through the special education program is never prepared enough to be productive enough in the society because of the difference of the academic and social curricula of general education. The special education program is increasing the risks of students dropping out which will increase the possibility of incarceration. Research done shows that 17% of all Black males in the age bracket of 18-29 get incarcerated regularly (Artiles, A.J, 429).

The African-American men are significantly affected by the special education program because of the high dropout rates, increased incarcerations, and labeling. Studies have shown that students from special needs program usually are employed by jobs that pay less compared to students from general education programs. There have been talks all over the United States in urban areas for single-sex education especially for males to be introduced. The idea for single sex education will be a good solution for the African American men as it is believed that they will have people who are capable of leading them to a better performance emotionally, physically, and psychologically (Morse, T, 335). Security is also important for the African American males as this will aid in them being successful. If the African American male will get the opportunity of having a caring teacher who will connect with them on a social and moral aspect to promote positive racial identities they will have a chance of being high achievers.


The American society is bound to feel the consequences of the overrepresentation of African American male students in special education. More than any gender and minority group the African American men are continuously faced with the grim reality of being placed in special education classrooms because of behavior and emotional disorders. Most researchers claim that this overrepresentation of African American males is due to cultural differences, academic misidentification, and teachers lacking adequate cultural knowledge. The high drop-out rate, scarcity of employment opportunities and increased rates of incarceration are some of the consequences that the American society is going to have to face. For these reasons, it is crucial to address and put a stop to this burning issue. The responsibility to address this problem should not only be left to the school counselors but a joint effort from the school administrators as well. They will need to get more training and knowledge on the African-American culture so as to ensure that the students are not misplaced (Robinson, 169). With their collaboration, they will make sure that the needs of African American males are being met. From the researches that have been conducted on the single-sex education program, it has been proved that the number of African American men being placed in special education classes because of their behavior and academic achievement is reducing. If this issue of overrepresentation is not addressed racism and judging a person’s accomplishments and capabilities based on their skin color will continue to take root.

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  2. Tajalli, H., & Garba, H. A. (2014). Discipline or Prejudice? Overrepresentation of Minority Students in Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs. The Urban Review, 46(4), 620-631.
  3. Serpell, Z., Hayling, C.C., Stevenson, H., Kern, L. (2012) Cultural Considerations in the Development of School-Based Interventions for African American Adolescent Boys with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. The Journal of Negro Education, 78(3), 321-332
  4. Artiles, A.J., & Trent, S.C. (2014). The overrepresentation of minority students in special education: A continuing debate. The Journal of Special Education, 22, 410-436
  5. Simmons-Reed, E., Cartledge, G. (2014) School Discipline Disproportionality: Culturally Competent Interventions for African American Males. Interdisciplinary Journal of Teaching and Learning, 4(2), 95-109
  6. Blanchett, W. J., Mumford, V., & Beachum, F. (2015). Urban school failure and disproportionality in benign neglect of the constitutional rights of students of color. Remedial and Special Education, 26(2), 169-265.
  7. Robinson, Shawn Anthony. (2013) Educating Black Males with Dyslexia. Interdisciplinary  Journal of Teaching and Learning, 3(3), 159-174.
  8. Constantine, M. G. (2013). Racism attitudes, white racial identity attitudes, and multicultural counseling competence in school counselor trainees. Counselor Education & Supervision, 41 (3), 162-174.
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