The Education of African American Students: The Struggle Continues

Article excerpt

Introduction and Overview

In the past 50 years, tremendous strides have been made in educating individuals with exceptionalities. Much of this progress would not have been possible without the landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education (1954). "Separate but equal" schools for Whites and Blacks had been the legal tradition of the South and the defacto practice of the North, prior to 1954. Brown has had a profound effect on where and how children in America are educated. This Supreme Court case declared the practice of segregated schools unconstitutional. Since the Brown decision, there have been subsequent court decisions and laws enacted to protect the rights of all children, including those with disabilities, to an appropriate and free public education (Individual with Disabilities Act, 1974/1997).

The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) has enabled millions of American children with disabilities (previously excluded from schools) to receive a free public education. Today, millions of children with disabilities not only attend their community schools, but significant numbers are being educated in classrooms with their nondisabled peers. Families of children with disabilities also have been given more authority to actively participate in their children's education. Further, society has benefited from the inclusion of many skilled persons with disabilities, who are now a contributing part of the workforce (Heward, 2000). These remarkable advances should be celebrated, but they are only part of the story.

Despite the important improvements in the educational opportunities for African American children and children with exceptionalities, all is not well, especially for poor urban African American children (Gardner & Talbert-Johnson, 2001). Segregated schools have been ruled illegal for almost 50 years, yet the school experiences for African Americans often differ dramatically from their European American peers. African American students are more likely to be placed in classes for persons that are mildly mentally retarded (MMR) or have serious emotional disturbances (SED), and less likely to be placed in gifted education classes than are European American students. These issues are compounded by a dwindling number of African American educators, who have traditionally played an important role in creating a positive learning environment for African American students. The diminishing number of African American educators may have a direct impact on the sensitivity of the school climate to African American children.

The reality is that an unequal education process continues in America, despite legal and moral mandates. This series of articles highlights some of the issues that plague the education community, particularly in regard to African American children and their families. Not only are issues raised, but solutions to the various concerns are promoted.

Cartledge, Sentelle, Loe, Lambert, and Reed describe an inner-city classroom for gifted students who were experiencing high levels of defiant and other inappropriate behaviors. Far too often, gifted African American children are overlooked and their educational needs are not met (Ford, 1996). The authors describe interventions that were successful in creating a positive academic environment, while decreasing inappropriate behaviors. …