Teacher Perception Of The Role Of Race And Culture In Special Education Referrals For African-American Males At An Urban Elementary/Middle School
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Type of WorkText
DepartmentAdvanced Studies, Leadership, and Policy
ProgramDoctor of Education
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Disproportionality in special education identification has been long debated by researchers and scholars in the field of education, yet understanding of this phenomenon remains limited (Sullivan & Bal, 2013). Racial, gender, and cultural biases are integral aspects of the special education process, especially for African-American males (Harry & Anderson, 1995; Fiedler, Chiang, Haren, Jorgensen, Halberg, & Borsen, 2008). African-American males have been overrepresented in special education for decades. Cultural mismatch, unexamined biases and assumptions, and stereotypes of African-Americans contribute to the high rate of special education referrals for African-American males. The purpose of this qualitative case study is to determine if teacher perception of race and culture plays a role in the referral of African-American male students to special education. Qualitative research methods, specifically case study research methods, were used to gather data for this study. A sample of 6 elementary school teachers employed at an urban elementary/middle school participated in individual interviews, a focus group, and provided documentation related to special education referrals. After analyzing that data, four themes emerged: (1) Teacher Stereotypes of African-American parents, (2) Social/Emotional/Behavioral Referrals, (3) Respect and Relationship: African-American vs. white teachers, and (4) Acceptance of all, but one: Cultural competence. The findings of this study illustrate the teachers perceptions related to teaching in an urban school, specific experiences in an urban school, knowledge of overrepresentation and cultural competence, thoughts and opinions related to race and culture in the classroom, and reasons why the individual teachers decide to refer students to special education, including specific behaviors that trigger referral. The analysis and conclusions of this study provide insight into reasons for special education referrals and overrepresentation of African-American males in special education using the theoretical lenses of Critical Race Theory and Cultural Competence. Based on its findings, this study discusses recommendations for PK-12 policy, practice, and further research.