Since immemorial, there have always existed disparities in terms of social grouping as well as economic status groupings, which have been advocated by human populace. A minority group refers to any group that is subnormal with respect to a dominant group such as the disabled among others. Minority groups are disproportionately represented in special education and are often over represented. This is because minority groups face unique and sometimes challenging problems in other learning institutions such as public schools.
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Poverty is one of the causes of over representation in minority groups to special education. As the rate of poverty increases the level of mental retardation also increases among students and this may necessitate study in special education. Poverty in its extreme form causes may block other preventive interventions. Minority children with disabilities who live in urban and high poverty environments are believed to be at particularly high risk for educational failure and poor outcomes because of inappropriate identifications and placement services. Coutinho and Oswald (1999).
Race is another cause of overrepresentation of this minority groups. Group membership is key to one's likelihood of placement in special education. It has been noted that economic, class, linguistic, racial, and family of origin issues as all impacting the process by changing the attitudes of teachers and other decision makers about the potentialities of the children who end up in these placements I.e. special education. Naglieri and Rojahn (2001) studied students who were assessed using both the WISC III and Cognitive Assessment System tests. They found that Black students consistently earned lower mean Full- Scale IQ scores than their White peers. They concluded that these differences did not constitute a test bias but that it did result in a disproportionate placement of African- American students.
One of the basis for unbalanced representation is unfortunate identification of students. The 23rd Annual Report to Congress (2001) found that although the number of children from diverse backgrounds in the nation’s schools is increasing significantly, many do not receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) as mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 1997. Minority children with disabilities who live in urban and high poverty environments are believed to be particularly vulnerable for educational failure and poor outcomes because of inappropriate identifications and placement services. Coutinho and Oswald (1999) found that “although America’s student body is becoming more and more diverse, children who are nonwhite, non- native English speaking or poor continue to be overrepresented as having disabilities and to be served in more segregated placements than their peers” (p. 66).
It is therefore evident that there disproportionate representation of minority groups in special education as outlined above.
However there are remedies that can be employed to prevent this scenario, Early recognition and basic avoidance have been acknowledged as mechanisms for preventing children from even getting to the stage where they need intervention (Serness, Forna & Nielsen, 1998). Early discovery involves recognition of the condition before it can reach the referral stage. It recommends the need for methodical school wide selection as well as primary rather than secondary prevention. Early Detection allows for Primary Prevention to be used to address any potential developing problems. This strategy is composed of a number of developmental stages and is meant to pre-empt emotional and academic problems in children. This system emphasizes worldwide intervention like that of parent or teacher instructional training, which is delivered in school. For example, Serna et al. claims that the model enhances interventions before the recognition of emotional or behavioral difficulties, minimizes labeling effects and creates a more favorable environment.
Another preventive measure to avoid placement in special schools is effective instruction in general or special education settings. This include academic and social competence, resiliency and promoting self-esteem, Lambert (1998) suggested that district; state and national level administrators should monitor special education placements and the nature of instructional services offered with particular attention to racial concerns. Through such measures, teachers may be able to teach social competence, resiliency and self-determination skills so that children can advocate self-independence and exhibit a behavior that instills success in school and family settings.
Finally, ethnic backgrounds of the professionals responsible for producing the knowledge base in special education have, according to one theory, (Patton, 1998), not included African-Americans, especially those directly affected by overrepresentation. There exists therefore a mismatch of chasm proportion between the social, political and cultural backgrounds and experiences of its knowledge producers and those African-American learners studied, placed and overrepresented in special education classes “(Patton, 1998, p.27). This claim rests on the belief that both knowledge and its production is far from culture free and that those producers of this knowledge shape the boundaries and definitions of issues such as paradigm formation, definitional contrasts, theory development and choice of research methods, all of which characterize the overrepresentation debate. The cultural identities of the knowledge producers shape the notions of what is ‘real’, ‘true’ and good, which create a ‘pseudo objective’ nature of knowledge production. Should this be accurate and the absence of objectivity in knowledge production influence overrepresentation of minorities, then this is a serious problem in need or address. It would perhaps require an increase in the number of knowledge producers from the ethnic groups affected by it, but as a result, the scales of subjectivity could end up leading the other way, which would not appropriately address the problem.
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