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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