For years, Black parents have been suspicious of schools and staff who try to place their children in special education programs, with much of the Black community believing that placement in a special education classroom is a mechanism for Black kids to be mislabeled because of “problem behavior.” However a new study reveals that Black children may actually be under-served by special education programs.
Black children are 1.4 times more likely than their peers to wind up in a special education program, but researchers Paul L. Morgan and George Farkas are saying that Black children actually need more help than what they are getting, largely due to the fact that the deck is stacked against them because of racism, low socioeconomic status and school systems that are geared towards not adequately recognizing and addressing the needs of Black children.
In a New York Times editorial, Farkas states, “Black children face double jeopardy when it comes to succeeding in school. They are far more likely to be exposed to gestational, environmental, and economic risk factors that often result in disabilities. Yet Black children are less likely to be told they have disabilities, and to be treated for them, than otherwise similar white children.”
Farkas and Morgan reviewed the things that contribute to the odds not being in Black children’s favor when it comes to education. They found that approximately 65 percent of Black children “live in families with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line” compared to around 30 percent of white children. “From 1985 to 2000, about 80 percent of Black children grew up in highly disadvantaged neighborhoods characterized by widespread unemployment, racial segregation, poverty, single-parent households, and welfare.”
In addition, “36 percent of inner-city Black children have elevated levels of lead in their blood. The figure of suburban white children is only 4 percent. Black children are about twice as likely to be born prematurely and three times more likely to suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome.” Farkas and Morgan point out, “The last thing we need is to compound these widespread disparities in disability diagnosis and treatment by making school officials reluctant to refer Black children for special-education eligibility evaluations out of fear of being labeled racially biased.”
Howard University professor Ivory Toldson feels that the study does not take the history of special education into account. “Special education is a system that too often offers a substandard curriculum to students who need the most academic enrichment. Decades of research, [which] includes the entire public-school population, has demonstrated that special education has been used to segregate unwanted students.”
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