Learning Disabilities, Crime, Delinquency, and Special Education Placement

Article excerpt

Crime statistics indicate that levels of academic achievement, school attendance and graduation rates play an important role in the involvement of youth in the criminal justice system. Research indicates that the level of education attained can affect opportunities for future employment. Although juveniles often fail to make this association, they do possess monetary ambitions (Farnworth & Lieber 1989, p. 265).

Research consistently illustrates that poor academic achievement is a major factor in crime and delinquency. Farnworth and Leiber (1989) noted that: ". . . the gap between economic goals and educational expectations was more effective in predicting the prevalence of serious utilitarian than serious nonutilitarian delinquency."

Definition of Learning Disability

Learning Disabled (LD) is the second largest category of special education (Ysseldyke, Algozzine, & Thurlow 1992). In Illinois, 5.19% of the special education students were LD (Ysseldyke, Algozzine, & Thurlow, 1992). Nationally LD students account for 43.6% of the special education categories served in the United States (Ysseldyke, Algozzine, & Thurlow, 1992).

The U.S. Office of Education (1977) has defined learning disabilities as follows:

. . . a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations. The term includes such conditions as perceptual handicaps, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. The result of visual, hearing, or motor handicaps, mental retardation, or emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage." (U.S. Office of Education. p. 65083).

Before a student can be classified as LD and placed in appropriate special services s/he must meet one of five criteria:

(1) There must be an intrinsic neurological problem (i.e., faulty processing of information in the brain); (2) intraindividual differences must be present (i.e., the student must manifest problems in learning that are unique for that child only; (3) there must be a discrepancy between the student's potential (as illustrated by testing) and his, or her academic achievements; (4) the student must not exhibit any exclusionary factors (e.g., the learning problem must not be the result of mental retardation, sensory problems, limited command of English, cultural differences, and emotional illness); and (5) the student must exhibit developmental and/or academic problems (Winters 1993b, 1994).

If a student's learning difficulty can be explained by other factors not attributable to a developmental or academic problem, that student does not meet the criteria for special education (Winters 1994).

To be LD, students must have an IQ that is average or above, and show a discrepancy between their academic potential and their achievement (Winters 1993; Rutherford, Nelson, & Wolford, 1986).

A learning disability is not equated with slow learning. True learning disabilities are not transient, and cannot always be remediated.

Public Law 94-142

In the United States, educationally handicapped children have a right to an education. This constitutional right is given through the statues of P. L. 94-142, which was enacted in 1975.

This law ensures all American children up to the age of 21 a free and appropriate education. It calls on school districts to conduct a systematic screening by qualified professionals to determine which children require special education. Children who are identified as possible candidates participate in a case study evaluation, after which, special education personnel will prepare an individual education plan (IEP). In general this law requires the school to address the child's problems - not the parent.

Even though this law guarantees all persons aged 3-21 a free and appropriate education, many fail to obtain adequate special educational services in school or later on in juvenile detention centers. …