What's So Special about Special Education? A Critical Study of White General Education Teachers' Perceptions Regarding the Referrals of African American Students for Special Education Services



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This study addressed the problem of the disproportionality of African Americans in special education by conducting critical white research. A review of literature revealed that research using this methodology had not been conducted with this problem in mind and that critical white theory might be a wise choice in order to understand this issue more fully. This study sought to fill that gap by providing information on the perspectives of white general education teachers regarding the referral and potential placement of African American students in special education. White teachers were selected in order to explore this phenomenon from a critical white perspective. Since most teachers are white, this population is critical in the development of an understanding of the problem of disproportionality. The purpose of this study was to identify the perceptions of white general education teachers regarding the:

  1. ability, behavior, and school readiness of African American students; 2. instruction, referral, and potential placement of African American students in special education;
  2. gaps that exist in the preparation of general education teachers regarding the instruction of African American students. The constant comparative (Glaser & Strauss, 1965) technique resulted in the identification of six themes. These themes supported the current research and confirmed that a lack of cultural responsiveness, a deficit view, and a misunderstanding of the special education referral process and potential services contributes to the gross disproportionality of African Americans in special education. The added perspective of my being a special education administrative practitioner and parent added a depth of understanding to this crisis that has not been previously explored in-depth literature. Also, a useful model called the pipeline to special education was developed to understand what occurs between general education and special education. Finally, a critical white perspective revealed that dominant white values in the classroom may perpetuate marginalization in the form of privilege on the part of the teacher to be permitted to abdicate responsibility for struggling African American students by referring them to special education.