Shortly after I returned home from school, I noticed that my good friend @ShanaVWhite tagged me in a post shared by @PedroANoguera. Upon opening the tweet, I immediately got a sinking feeling in my stomach. I thought: Not this again? By ‘this’ I mean the idea of whether Black students (capital ‘B’), namely boys, are overidentified or overrepresented in Special Education. This topic surfaces every year, sans any real discourse or policy changes. Special Education is complex; much too complex to discuss in one post. Here, I just wanted to share what came to mind this time. Maybe I will address some of the other points in subsequent posts.
Anyone who’s followed me on Twitter or Facebook knows that I am committed to equity for marginalized students. As a Special Education teacher, I work with students who face additional barriers because they have an IEP. My field is fraught with outdated and unenforceable policies, large amounts of paperwork, district-to-district and state-to-state programming discrepancies, lack of respect from colleagues, low pay, and high turnover rates. But the article in Chalkbeat did not address any of those things. As previously stated, the article revisits the question of overrepresentation of Black students in Special Education, as a result of segregation. If you’ve already read the article, or plan to do so, then the questions I’m going to pose will make sense (I hope).
Let’s say we accept that there is, indeed, an overrepresentation of Black students in Special Education. What are some questions we need to start asking? As I read, these questions came to mind: Does this overrepresentation suggest that the school psychologists are biased in their administration of the psychological exams? Are the tests themselves biased? Do we need more Black and Hispanic psychologists? (Hell yes) How much longer are we going to write about discrimination in federally-funded public schools before we actually start filing lawsuits? How many more kids have to be denied services/given unneccessary services before we act?
I need everyone to understand that kids do not simply get placed in Special Education by way of schedule changes. They have to meet criteria in order to receive a diagnosis for an intellectual or learning disability. I hope everyone understands at least that much. Furthermore, we already know that the tests for Gifted Education programs are racially/culturally biased; however, many districts continue to use them. We also know that teachers who lack cultural competency are more likely to identify students as having ‘behavior issues’ or ‘attitude problems’. Chris Emdin wrote a book to address those teachers and that phenomenon. What are we going to do?
I’m currently working as a Special Education Teacher in a state that was actually sued for overidentifying Black students as Mildly Intellectually Disabled (MID) in the 80s. As a result of that lawsuit, districts now have a Student Support Team (SST) process in place. Instead of students immediately being referred for psychological evaluations, the school’s team must hold a meeting to discuss concerns and develop a plan, including classroom strategies, to help the students. The problem with this model? Even it is not implemented with fidelity. Now we also have RTI. I have seen both programs poorly implemented and, as a result, kids reading 3-4 grade levels below their peers are not making improvements because they do not have the appropriate services. This is a cycle. Everyone’s watching and writing commentary, but no one is listening to the people who are actually doing the work.
I could easily go on and on about this topic since I actually work in this field. I’ve spun my wheels enough. I am not fond of repeating myself. My talents are of better use in the classroom and working with parents.