Online Program

Overrepresentation of black boys as cognitively disabled in special education

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Jennifer Bronson, PhD, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Department of Justice, Washington DC, DC
Race, class, and gender significantly influence whether or not a student is properly identified and referred to special education. In 2006, Black students comprised about 17% of U.S. public school enrollees, but represented 30% of all students classified as emotionally disturbed, 31% as mentally retarded, and 21% as learning disabled. However, Black overrepresentation does not extend to categories where the presence of an objective, physical impairment(s) is central to the diagnosis, such as blindness. This disproportionate pattern has been formally noted for decades and hypothesized to relate in part to racial discrimination, cultural biases, and poverty. Poor Black boys are particularly at risk for misidentification and are the most likely to be referred by teachers or other education professionals for emotional disturbance or conduct disorders. Studies show that once in the special education system, these students are more likely remain in it, to be in segregated classrooms, to drop out, and to receive more disciplinary actions than their White counterparts all of which contribute to the School-to-Prison Pipeline phenomena. Evidence suggests that special education is increasingly used to remove “undesirable” students from the classroom, a practice that is justifiable with a disability label. This work uses Critical Race Theory and Disability Studies to contextualize this issue in the deeply embedded hegemonic ideologies of Whiteness and Normalcy that shape society and our notion of the “disabled.” This social justice issue affects students who are misdiagnosed and students whose resources are used as a "dumping ground." Implications and next steps are discussed.

Learning Areas:

Diversity and culture

Learning Objectives:
Describe the scope of racial and ethnicy minority over and under-representation in special education. Analyze the impact of Black overrepresentation on the indiviudal in the near-term and future. Assess the role of race in special education placements.

Keyword(s): African American, Disability Studies

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have written and presented on issues relating to the disproportionate representation of racial and ethnic minorities in special education for over three years.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.