Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Overcoming Obstacles: African American Students with Disabilities Achieving Academic Success

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Overcoming Obstacles: African American Students with Disabilities Achieving Academic Success

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to investigate African American high school students with high incidence disabilities who are academically successful. This article tells their story, how they overcame obstacles to reach their academic potential. It includes a discussion of

* the overrepresentation of minorities in special education,

* African Americans and special education,

* teacher beliefs and expectations,

* parent and family involvement,

* student perceptions, and

* a description of the study and its findings.


"Digging the educational graves of many racially and/or economically disadvantaged children . . . " (Dunn, 1968, p. 9) are the words used by Lloyd Dunn to express his concern that far too many children from minority and underprivileged backgrounds were being labeled as mentally retarded or emotionally disturbed on the basis of cursory identification procedures and inappropriate use of intelligence testing. Concerns about the overrepresentation of minority groups, mainly African Americans, in special education date back many years and the topic has gained significant attention more recently (e.g., Harry & Klingner, 2006). While some argue that identification of disabilities is important to the acquisition of assistance and accommodations, there is often a stigma, lowered expectations, and inadequate education associated with special education (Harry & Klingner, 2006; Shifrer, 2013).

African Americans and students with disabilities (SWDs) are both recognized as groups explicitly and historically denied opportunity for education (Blanchett, 2009). Many believed neither group had the right nor the capacity to participate in formal education. The two have run what some would see as a parallel course in the fight for integration and equality, while others argue their movements for equality have not run a parallel course, but instead have converged and collided, resulting in the segregation of many African American students in special education programs (Harry & Klingner, 2006). Critical race theorists in education contend African American schoolchildren "are systematically marginalized and miseducated in an educational system that seeks only to highlight what they lack and disregards the cultural wealth they bring to bear" (Lynn et al., 2010, p. 291). Critical disability theory argues that traditionally, the response to persons with disabilities is one of either pity or "welfarism" (Devlin & Pothier, 2006) and that people with disabilities often experience a system of deep structural, economic, social, political, legal, and cultural inequality. Therefore, African Americans with disabilities are members of not just one, but two groups that have historically been oppressed and discriminated against.

Currently, practices such as culturally responsive teaching and response to intervention (RtI) have been implemented to address the issue of minority overrepresentation in special education (Klingner & Edwards, 2006). Reasons for these practices include an attempt to decrease erroneous placement of students in special education, and to increase learning gains using evidence-based interventions and regular progress monitoring in general education settings (Gersten et al., 2008; Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA, 2004). However, an important focus that remains is the academic progress and postsecondary outcomes for African American SWDs in special education. Individuals with disabilities from minority groups continue to be at high risk for poor school performance, high unemployment, low wages, limited access to postsecondary education and training, and fewer opportunities for living independently and participating fully in their communities (Simon, 2001). Although there are African American SWDs who have been able to demonstrate academic success, the special education literature is fraught with negativity regarding this particular group (e. …

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