Initiative to Tackle High Number of Black Kids in Special Education

January 17, 2012  |  

It’s no secret that education systems are quick to label hyperactive or troublesome black kids as learning disabled. African American children make up about 16.6% of students enrolled in the nation’s public schools, but they represent 31% of students identified as having an intellectual disability and 28% of those with an emotional disturbance, according to the National Association for the Education of African American Children with Learning Disabilities.

Recognizing how disproportionate that figure is, the association has developed an initiative to to train parents across the country to effectively advocate for kids to ensure that students are labeled appropriately by their school districts and receive the services they need.

“This project will start a movement of parents that are not solely dependent upon the school system for their children’s success but will allow them to discover how to work with schools in order to achieve academic success based on learning style,” said Nancy Tidwell, president of the National Association for the Education of African American Children with Learning Disabilities.

The initiative will include a partnership with the U.S. Department of Education’s parent training centers and other groups to help distrubute information to specifically assist parents of black children. The developers of the program expect to train 20 master teachers who will then reach 900 parent leaders through in-person trainings and another 240 through online sessions. I definitely hope this is an initiative that will catch on so parents can feel empowered to not just accept a teacher’s recommendation but fight for their child to get the education they need and deserve.

What do you think about this idea? Have you had to fight with school administrators who’ve tried to inappropriately label your child? As a educator, do you think this initiative will be effective?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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  • I think the issue is that many of these students are improperly labelled as “disabled” when their teachers just don’t know how to work with the needs of Black students, especially low income ones. Being a former guidance counselor in an urban public high school, I witnessed plenty of instances where students were referred to me for “evaluation” (especially emotional disturbance) for merely asking the teacher questions. While I do agree that parents need to be empowered to discuss such diagnoses with their students’ schools, I think the haphazard labeling also has to be addressed. 

    • Suz

      Private school. Home schooling. Charter schools run by Black administrators. The overwhelming majority of Black children in Special Ed do not belong there. Many teachers and administrators have a healthy retirement off of the backs of the black children being inappropriately labeled.

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  • Mellijams

    WOW I didn’t realize the numbers for African-American students in special education was still so high.  I thought this had been settled years ago with the Larry P case. But 31% is definitely disproportionate to the number of African-American students actually in public schools. Interesting article, and the issue definitely needs to be addressed.

  • Realworldspeaks

    I think this program is a great idea because too many parents dont know how or where to go to recieve help regarding this matter.

    As a teacher, I have personally never witnessed a child inapproriately labeled with a learning disability. But I know this happens. In my experience, the schools I worked for, have pushed for students to exit / transition from special ed to regular ed. This looks favorably upon the school; shows improvement.

    But I know that many students with low test scores combined with behavioral problems are placed in special ed (due to poor performance) although they are highly intelligent. This article states that 28% of African American children have emotional problems.  Imangine the affect this has on the classroom and the child’s academic stance. I have seen schools bend over backwards to assist parents deal with behavioral issues (incl consult specialists and preventionists, provide extracurricular activities, etc ALL ON THE SCHOOL’S DIME). But without proper perental involvement, their is limited success in correcting this behavior.

    I think the underlying issue with our children (education-wise, socially, etc.) is the lack of parental involement. This program may face these obstacles because figuring out this process will require strict parental involvement. I have also seen teachers, schools throw up their hands because little Johnny “is a lost cause.” So we only have ourselves to blame.

    Point is, without negating the school’s responsibility in this matter, dont expect others to provide what’s best for YOUR child. Parents have to take every step to ensure their child is provided the best opportunity. If my child doesnt succeed and I know there is an issue, rightfully or wrongfully stagnating his growth, I will take every step and advantage presented to me to make improvements. Dont rely on govt, schools, or police. THAT IS THE TRUTH