Overrepresentation of Minorities in Special Education


Shippen, Curtis, and Miller (2009) noted that there is an overrepresentation of minorities in special education. In their study, the authors investigated the perceptions of teachers, special education teachers, and school counselors of the overrepresentation premise. The study concentrated primarily on African American students. The study took place in a rural school district in central south Alabama. In this district, the overrepresentation of African American students that have been labeled as mentally retarded had been identified as a chronic problem by the Alabama State Department.


The participants took part in three different focus groups. The focus groups included either teachers (n=5), special educators (n=4), and school counselors (n=4). The data taken from these groups were compiled qualitatively and overlapping themes that identified overrepresentation was identified. The themes collectively identified the lack of family involvement, unclear ideas about disability characteristics, a lack of understanding overrepresentation, and the misinterpretation of assessment results. The results showed variables that were related to susceptibility and bias in the disability labeling. The study then discussed the implication for professional development and educator training in these shortcomings.


It can be speculated from this study that any district in the United States with an ethnic population who has a majority in the community could be discriminating against that population. Administrators and school psychologists should look at the demographics of the community and investigate if an overrepresentation in the special education population is present. If so, the themes brought forth in this study should be identified and the procedures and perceptions should be reevaluated and assessed.


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