Black Boys in Crisis: Why Are So Many of Them in Special Education?
In this series, appropriately titled “Black Boys in Crisis,” I highlight the problems facing black boys in education today, as well as provide clear steps that will lead us out of the crisis.
Special education classes have changed drastically in the past 20 years. Namely, the students who take advantage of these adapted learning classrooms have changed. Contemporary public school education recognizes that there are degrees of disabilities that may impact student learning and the rise of conditions like autism has fueled the need for more special education intervention.
As a result, the mental image that even today’s youngest educators have of special education students is probably not accurate. For example, did you know that black boys are more likely than any other group to be placed in special education classes, with 80 percent of all special education students being Black or Hispanic males? Black boys account for 20 percent of U.S. students labeled as mentally retarded, even though they represent just 9 percent of the population. On the other end of the extreme, black boys are 2.5 times less likely to be classified as “gifted and talented” even if their academic record shows that potential.
If all things were weighed equally, these statistics would indicate that there is something genetically wrong with these young men that is causing a higher incidence of disabilities and smaller percentage of gifted individuals. Educators know better. While some, perhaps even a majority, of the black boys categorized as special education students belong in that grouping, some are simply misunderstood.
While unpleasant behavior is certainly a symptom of learning disabilities – like ADHD and some degrees of autism – it isn’t in and of itself a disability. A lack of understanding surrounding how black boys interact with the world, and a quick trigger when it comes to disciplinary and removal practices, is contributing to higher-than-average numbers of black boys in special education classrooms. This is not something that any educator can sit by and let continue, for it impacts the way all students are treated in the public school landscape.