Perceptions of urban public school administrators and general and special education teachers about the overrepresentation of African American males in special education
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The overrepresentation of African American (AA) males in special education is not a new problem. In 1968, Lloyd Dunn recognized that economically disadvantaged students and students of color were overrepresented in the mental retardation (MR) category of special education. Since 1970, the pattern of disproportionality in special education categories of MR and serious emotional disturbance (SED) has continued and, more recently, the trend has been highlighted as a significant problem in special education that needs immediate attention. The number of minority students identified according to the special education category of Other Health Impairment (OHI) has also increased. Notably, a disproportionate number of AA males have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The crux of the problem whereby AA students have been placed into special education programs—particularly in the categories of MR or Intellectual Disability (ID), Emotional/Behavior Disorder (EBD), and ADHD—has led to a host of negative outcomes that are strongly correlated to the special education membership of AA males. Using a qualitative research design, this study sought to obtain the first-hand perspectives of educators involved in special education regarding the overrepresentation of AA males in special education. Individual interviews and focus groups were conducted with campus administrators and general and special education teachers. Participants were asked to give their perspectives regarding the following: What factors are responsible for causing the overrepresentation of AA males in special education? Why does the problem persist? How can the problem be resolved? Thomas’ (2011) constant comparative method was used as means for analysis and to elicit themes from the data. Participants identified the causes contributing to the overrepresentation of AA males in special education as racism, poverty, systemic issues, and external forces and named problematic belief systems, failed funding, and limiting legislation as reasons why the problem persists. As potential solutions to the problem, they called for changes to teacher and administrator preparation and professional development programs, educators’ instructional practices, the educational system, the AA community, and the American public.