Diagnosing "Differences" as "Deficts": Segregation in the educational system

Theoretical Framework

Is there equality for children from diverse cultures in the United States to receive the best quality of education? Despitethe Brown versus Board of Education (1954) decision that outlawed segregation, but it appears segregation is still manifested within the school system unjustly deciding who can receive quality education (Blanchett; 2009; Gardner & Miranda, 2001). Culturally diverse students have been overrepresented in special education classrooms (Blanchett, 2009). There has been a persistent problem for Black males being misplaced into special education classrooms. Culturally diverse students, especially Black male students, are under-represented in academic advanced placement classes designed for the gifted and talented. Osher et. al (2004) explains how special education classes leaves no room for students to advance academically, and refuse to provide them with options to return to the general school populations. Rather, special education classes have been utilized to retard academic achievement, stigmatizes students, and limits access to academic enhancement opportunities (Brown, 2010).  Therefore, segregation exists but manifested differently within the educational system.

Teachers’ expectations influence students’ motivation and academic standards in the classroom. If teachers have low expectations, children are often held to lower standards. It is important for teachers in special education classes to challenge and develop student’s critical thinking skills. In many instances, teachers’ low expectations led to poor quality education (Moore, 2002). Teachers’ perception/biases have led to misdiagnosis and misplacement among minority students (Moore, 2002).  Some teachers have perceived cultural “differences” as “deficits.” There have been many occurrences that educators have made special educational referrals because the student appeared a threat and presented unmanageable behavior in class. Many educators have perceived the dominant culture the classroom standard. If culturally diverse students do not identify and/or meet that standard; they are subject to special education placement. Culturally diverse educators in the classroom were least likely to refer students to special education based off the dominant culture standards. The education workforce must be diversified. There is a need for more Black male educators that can establish gender and cultural consonance with Black male students. Research has indicated Black male educators are in a positive position to utilize effective intervention involving Black male students (Brown, 2009; Brown & Butty, 1999; Frazier, 2009; Jackson, 2005; Mabokela & Madsen, 2007; Miller, 1993; Sullivan, 2010).  Culturally diverse educators embrace teaching diversity, develops respectful relationships, affirms cultural identities and displays genuine concern (Sullivan, 2010).  Therefore, educators’ influences and interactions play a key role in the students’ motivation and quality of education.

Many culturally diverse students have been misdiagnosed with learning disabilities due to inappropriate placement into special education classes. Special education placements have many influences that account negative implications toward the students, such as, (1) teachers’ biases, (2) segregation from the general school populations and (3) negative impact on students’ self-concepts and self-efficacy (Ford & Webb, 1994). Affleck et. al (1990) explained how culturally diverse students are vulnerable to higher rates of dropout and arrests, lower status employment and wages, and lower rates of independent living. Restrictive school settings, such as, some special education classrooms have been utilized as a warehouse for Black male students and has become a pipeline to prison (Brown, 2010). Misplacement into special education has been responsible for denying Black students equal educational opportunities (Brown, 2010). It can consist of cultural biased referral, testing and placement processes. Inadequate tools, such as, tests and measures to assess culturally diverse students (Sullivan, 2010). Standardize tests should not be given a great amount of weight as a predictor of academic success. Many of these measurements have mislabeled these students. Special education assessments must be critically examined for culturally biases (Brown, 2010). These byproducts of misplacement have supported the ideology of Blacks being inferiority and negatively affects culturally diverse students’ self-efficacy and self-concept (Brown, 2010).  Many culturally diverse students are victims to misdiagnosis and misplacement due to general educational classes are inadequately equipped to meet the needs of culturally diverse students. The lack of cultural sensitivity in educational curriculum in the classroom will affect students’ performance (Sullivan, 2010). The educational system must implement culturally sensitive curriculums to increase cultural diverse students’ chances to achieve academic excellence and increase awareness of their cultural identity which reduces acculturative stress.

It is our responsibility to cultivate high scholastics with our culturally diverse students. We need to focus on promoting cultural identity within the educational system. We need to be responsible for our youth. We cannot allow our youth to fall victim to racial discrimination and prejudices in the classroom. They need us in the community and they need us in the schools. We need to be more involved in their education. Their cultural background should not measure their quality of education. What are we going to do to make sure our youth are receiving the best quality of education?


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