Group Acts to Address Overidentification of Black Children as Disabled

Nirvi Shah, Education Week, January 12, 2012

A new initiative hopes to tackle one of special education’s most persistent problems: the disproportionate identification of black children as having disabilities.

Now, the National Association for the Education of African American Children with Learning Disabilities will use grant money from the Oak Foundation to train parents how to better advocate for their children and address this persistent disproportionality.

How big is the problem? While African Americans make up approximately 17 percent of public school enrollment, they account for 31 percent of students identified as having mental retardation or intellectual disabilities, 28 percent of students labeled as having an emotional disturbance, and 21 percent of students who have learning disabilities. Some of these categories aren’t pure medical diagnoses, calling judgment, and perhaps bias, into play.

Advocacy and special education go hand in hand. Parents who push for diagnoses and services do have a leg up over parents who rely on schools to do the heavy lifting. (I have been told by some special educators that while some white students are diagnosed with having autism based on their characteristics, sometimes, black children with identical behavior will wind up with a diagnosis of emotional or behavioral disturbance based on parents’ persistence, or lack thereof.)

With the grant money, the association will create 20 African American master teachers and train more than 1,100 parents to become leaders.



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  • Anonymous

    I’m guessing the two down-low perps are “disabled” for benefits purposes.

    Two 10-year-old Houston boys charged in sex assault on 8-year-old on school bus Cops: Abuse was captured on surveillance video By Philip Caulfield / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Published: Wednesday, January 11 2012, 11:35 AMUpdated: Wednesday, January 11 2012, 11:42 AMTwo 10-year-old boys in Houston are facing up to 40 years in prison for sexually assaulting an 8-year-old boy aboard a school bus in August, police said.A security video from Aug. 25 caught the two boys pulling their pants down and forcing the younger boy to perform sex acts on them, police told the Houston Chronicle.All three boys are special needs children in the Houston Independent School District. Their names were not released because they are minors, police said.The two suspects were arrested last week.

  • Anonymous

    It’d be preaching to the choir here to mention that blacks’ average IQ isn’t all that high to begin with….

    • Anonymous

      There is supposed to be the talented 10% but the rest are below average in intelligence….and they produce more children….also of lower intelligence.

  • And because SSI picked up where welfare reform time limited what were the favorite social welfare programs for black welfare recipients, namely AFDC renamed TANF.

    Public schools love the disability classification, because it means more money.  They have an incentive to classify as many students as possible as “disabled.”

    • Anonymous

      I think each state is authorized to waive the time limits on welfare, for up to 25% of so-called “hardship cases”.

      • Anonymous

        I looked it up.  I don’t see being a “special education” student on the list of SSI disabilities. 

        “Following are some conditions that may qualify:
        HIV infection;Total blindness;Total deafness;Cerebral palsy;Down syndrome;Muscular dystrophy;Severe intellectual disorder (child age 7 or older); andBirth weight below 2 pounds, 10 ounces.”

         I was a teacher and worked with SPED kids but was not certified in that area.   I think a lot of this talk about SSI for disabled SPED kids is an urban legend.  I  worked with a white kid who was retarded.  He now works at a major grocery store chain stocking shelves.  I’m sure he gets SSI but he also works.  

        Please don’t get me wrong.  The system is broken and I would totally eliminate welfare if I were king of the world.  But this SSI story for typical SPED kids appears to be false to me.  

        • Anonymous

          I was probably not as clear as I should have been in my previous post.

          I only meant to point out that there are ways for the state to allow  a significant percentage of people to stay on welfare/welfare-type programs…….well past imposed (wefare reform) time limits.

    • Anonymous

      Great point, QD.  I’ve often thought that there wasn’t really any welfare reform at all.  In NYC,  the recipients are transferred from one program to another until the social worker recommends applying for SSI.  I don’t think Clinton/Gingrich would have signed a welfare reform bill without there being some kind of acknowledgment that it would then become much easier to get SSI.  And the stats show a huge increase since then.

      • SSI was the fastest growing Federal budget line item between the “welfare reform” pretense of 1996 and 9/11.  Its growth leveled off between then and the ascension of Hussein Jugears al-Chicago (TM), but its growth has picked back up in the Era of Hope (TM).

        The angle that many welfare households used to get on SSI was that their low IQ children were “retarded.”  Even though there’s supposed to be no such thing as IQ, and certainly no racial differences therein.

  • Anonymous

    With blacks, is’t ALWAYS damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

    They scream that their children need special help and then scream that their children are getting ‘special help’.

  • cm810

    “How big is the problem? While African Americans make up approximately 17 percent of public school enrollment, they account for 31 percent of students identified as having mental retardation or intellectual disabilities, 28 percent of students labeled as having an emotional disturbance, and 21 percent of students who have learning disabilities. Some of these categories aren’t pure medical diagnoses, calling judgment, and perhaps bias, into play.”

    How about an exaggeration on the part of the parents/children to secure additional government funds?

  • No one is being served by pretending that Blacks and Whites are the same–that they learn the same, behave the same, value the same things we do.  In a society that truly valued diversity, we’d all be judged on our own merits.

  • Anonymous

    Erm…….doesn’t the old saying go something like this “If the shoe fits””???

    Urban Americans have strong points, education and fitting into a modern society are not among them.

  • MAJ

    Money is certainly part of this issue.

    That goes for Whites who make a living off the poverty industry. An entire sub-economy has developed consisting of Whites being paid government money to help blacks in a society where most do not belong.

    Look at it this way. It’s not a great analogy but if you took an ADHD-addled 8 year old and put him in a college physics class  of course the school would ultimately classify the 8 year old as learning disabled.

  • Yet another example of why you can never win with blacks. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t! They are victims in perpetuity.

  • Shot while trying to escape

    Retired Cop has it right about “crazy money”.  Each diagnosed child gets, I think, over $600/mo.  Four or five children and there is some serious money.  In the old days the mothers used to complain when the school said the child was going to be labeled; now the parents demand a diagnosis so they can get the money. In fact, “welfare as we know it” is so 20th Century.  With entitlements, the government cannot just stop them; there has to be a whole adjudication process. Your tax dollars at work. 

  • Sincerely Concerned

    It is almost unbelievable what people will do, say, advocate, or lie about to obtain money.  That’s always the bottom line.  Underdiagnosed?  Give us money.  Overdiagnosed?  Give us money.  Bias?  Money.  Racism?  Money.  Whenever and wherever it suits them money and race always play into the picture.  And it’s disgusting.

  • Justin Travis

    They aren’t retarded,  they’re just…. well… black.

  • Anonymous

    For the record, there are bright children in special ed.  My child’s one of them.  His teachers have said he’s bright, but there’s like a “disconnect” somewhere when it comes to language.  It’s like having a nice computer, but there’s something not quite right with the wiring.  At least my child has an IEP instead of a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

    • Anonymous

      I wish him well and I’m sure he’ll do fine

      • Anonymous

        Thanks. I’ve been trying to feed him good food and cut out the junk, and I think that’s helped him too.

        Having had an aunt, and a sister, and now a son in special ed, it’s taught me that they’re not necessarily lacking in intelligence, but they learn differently…they’re just not in the “norm.”

    • Anonymous

      As a Special Ed teacher of many years’ standing, let me say that your child is a definite minority today. When I began in the SPED field almost 20 years ago, I was teaching kids with Downs Syndrome, mental retardation, profound physical impairments, or TRUE learning disabilities. This is NOT what are in the classrooms today. Overwhelmingly, Special Ed has become a dumping ground for “emotional support”  thugz- i.e., severe behavioral problem kids. Kids who are out of control, violent, disrespectful, threatening, and often, clinically psychotic – kids who need keepers, not teachers. And yes, in my own experience, the overwhelming majority of these kids ARE black. I have had my nose broken twice and been stabbed (13 stitches) by 3 different black kids in 2 different eastern cities. THIS is why the average SPED teacher currently lasts exactly 11 months  before quitting. THIS is why states are FORCING ‘regular ed’ teachers to earn SPED certifications along with their primary certs. THIS is why 1/2 of regular ed teachers quit after 3 years. THIS is why the number of applicants to teacher colleges has nearly halved in the past half-dozen years. NO ONE wants to teach these students – and no one should be expected to. Just for a lark, log onto the REAP website, click under “Special Ed” and see how many of the job vacancies posted specify “behavioral management” classrooms. It’s a real eye opener – and a tragic, tragic commentary on education today.

      • Bon, From the Land of Babble

        When I began in the SPED field almost 20 years ago, I was teaching kids with Downs Syndrome, mental retardation, profound physical impairments, or TRUE learning disabilities. This is NOT what are in the classrooms today.

        Oh, so true!  What was once in Special Ed “self-contained” classrooms is now mainstreamed into regular classes; what was once in psych wards are now in the “self-contained” classrooms.  Some of these students are psychotic and downright dangerous.  I work next door to a school that services students who are “Severely Emotionally Disturbed” and I could write a book on what I’ve seen and heard from that school!   The entire staff  turns over about every two years.

        It’s all about money!! (as usual).  Special ed is busting the budgets of school districts; bankrupting others so there has been a HUGE push to mainstream kids who have severe learning disabilities, are emotionally disturbed, have autism, are mildly retarded or otherwise.   The schools will tell you this is so Special ed students have “access to the curriculum” or so they “won’t be stigmatized” or  will be in the “least restrictive environment” — but that is not the reason; it is to save money.

        According to

        Because they need additional services, the federal government is supposed to contribute 40 percent of the costs of educating special education students. But many school districts say they are lucky to get between 10 and 15 percent, leaving the districts to make up the difference.

        As a result, more money is being taken from the general fund.

        If a parent of a public school student is able to demonstrate that their district cannot provide adequate services for their child but a non-public school can, the local school district must pay for tuition, services and transportation.

        Tuition at non-public special schools often costs $30,000 +.  School districts have been forced to cut programs, usually honors or AP programs to pay for unfunded special Ed mandates.

        I spoke to the head of special Ed services in my area and asked about SSI (and a few other things for good measure).  She told me that the ink isn’t even dry on the IEPs before the parent files for SSI.  She said she’d never seen one denied yet in her 30 years of working with special Ed programs.

        IEPs (Individual Education Programs) are very powerful:  They are legal documents, signed by a school psychologist, special ed teacher, nurse, teachers and principal that the kid has a learning disability (or “intellectual disorder”) and is in need of special services.

         At many of these meetings, a lawyer or activist shows up with the parent to “advocate” for the child. Advocate my ***, they’re looking for an opening for a lawsuit!!(like the group mentioned in the article above).


    • Bon, From the Land of Babble

      Yes, there are bright children in special Ed.  My son was one of them.  
      He could not read at 10 years old even though he has a near eidetic memory and knew more facts about science and nature than the teacher (he’s gotten himself in a lot of trouble over the years for correcting teachers).

      I knew that he’d get it eventually so I never stressed over his lack of ability to decode written words; many of my male relatives told me they also didn’t learn to read until late childhood.   He showed 100% improvement one year on a reading test because he memorized the exact sequence of the multi-choice answers so when he was given the same test nine months  he scored 100%..  Tutoring didn’t help.  Extra practice didn’t help; he wasn’t ready to read for whatever reason, his brain wasn’t ready.

      The school decided to test him because there seemed to be a huge disconnect between what he knew and remembered and his reading ability, which was close to zero.  He was given the highly g-loaded Raven’s Progressive Matrices that use no written words.  It involves identifying and solving a series of increasingly difficult patterns.

      I was told by the district psychologist that he was the highest kid she had ever tested and the only one who’d ever finished and solved all of the patterns on the entire test.  

      But he still couldn’t read.  

      He landed in special Ed for a year with a wonderful teacher who used a phonics-based program to help him unlock the written word.  He still struggles with reading to this day and I suspect he always will.

      But he’s great at solving puzzles, especially intricate math and physics problems.

      Good luck to you and all the best!!


      Image:  An example of one kind of IQ test item, modeled after items in the Raven’s Progressive Matrices test...

  • Andy

    It would be interesting to know the stats regarding the incidence of Black placement in
    gifted education.  I confess to not knowing whether gifted education is still a special
    education category in those States electing to have gifted education as part of the federal
    special education mandate.   As this implies, unlike other categories of special education — mental handicap (retardation), learning disabilities, etc–that were mandated for ALL  states to serve,  gifted education from the inception back in the late 70’s was state optional.  It used to be that over 20 states did have gifted education in their state special education  mandates.   The general admission standard was a general  IQ of around 128—i.e, a program for the upper two percent.    With a Black mean of IQ 85–rather than the majority mean of 100—such a standard would accommodate only a fraction of one percent of Blacks…unless “elastic” standards were brought out from under the table.   That happened.  A lot. 

  • Andy

    I never found in working in/ near/ special education in public schools that Black parents were
    any worse, if as bad, as white parents in seeking to “milk the cow”  of benefits for their children.
    The Black parents seemed to have a  keener sense of how a school situation that was not
    working could prove very damaging and that “something else”   should be tried as a provision for their child. 

  • Andy

    In the rhetorical sense of “special education”, home schooling can be of enormous efficacy.

    However, for most parents, it is not feasible–in part because  most parents lack  the educational skills required for sustained success…and all too many lack the emotional interface required. My own sense was that “home schooling” is pretty much lily white.    Given the numbers of Blacks who have arisen into broad middle class status,  it is unclear why this should be. 

  • Anonymous

    Blacks are what…12-13% of the US pop.  Yet they are 17%  of public school enrollment.  Are their birth rates that much greater? 

    I taught Voc. ed. and half of my class was special ed students.  Many of the comments I see here are right on the money.  It’s a big mess. 

    I am not sure if those comments about getting SSI for a minor with a learning disability are true or not.  Why would a kid, living with their parent(s) get an SSI disability check?  If the kid didn’t have a learning disability, would he be expected to be working and earning a paycheck?  Nope. Doesn’t make sense but I have heard that story b/4.

  • Anonymous

    It’s all about getting the SSI checks.  I read a story quite a while ago about the very high percentage of students getting crazy checks in certain school districts in Mississippi.  I think the new DSM-V has added a couple of new “disorders” concerning disruptive behavior and conduct.  I wonder who that will benefit!  For the most part psychiatry and psychology are liberal, so I wouldn’t be surprised if these categories were added with these “troubled youth” in mind, paving the way for even more SSI.  After the diagnosis, lots of other benefits and legal protections follow.