Toward a free appropriate public education for African American male students with disabilities : a case analysis of culturally responsive leadership

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Ray Horton (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Craig Peck

Abstract: It is hard to overstate the plight of African-American boys and young men in our education system today. The gap between their performance and that of their peers from other racial and ethnic backgrounds is perceptible from the first day of kindergarten, and only widens thereafter. In the 2008 National Assessment of Educational Progress—the massive, federally mandated report card on student performance, measured in grades four, eight, and 12—the reading scores of African-American boys in eighth grade were barely higher than the scores of White girls in fourth grade. In math, 46% of African-American boys demonstrated “basic” or higher grade-level skills, compared with 82% of White boys. One out of every three Black boys born today can expect to be sentenced to prison, compared to 1 out 6 Latino boys and, one out of 17 White boys (NAACP, 2021). Only 10 percent of African American males in the United States are deemed proficient in 8th grade reading, and only 52% are graduating from high school in a four-year period. Two issues that systematically and negatively impact African American males are disproportional rates of placement in special education and school suspensions after being placed in special education. The purpose of my case study research project was to examine how key school personnel in a small district described their experiences in regard to African American male students’ suspensions and placement in special education. I also investigated participants’ experiences with using Culturally Responsive School Leadership (CRSL). In studying the Saint John’s School District (SJSD), I analyzed state-level, district-level, and school-level policies and data. I also conducted interviews with district-level and school-level participants from SJSD. After analyzing the data and policies and coding the interviews, I found that African American male students in the SJSD are referred to special education at disproportionate rates when compared to other races. The African American males in SJSD experience educational difficulties and engage in behaviors that are deemed disruptive, therefore leading to high referrals to special education and high suspensions. In SJSD, participants at the school level are not familiar with the laws regarding disproportionate placement in special education, but the district-level special staff is familiar with the law and the ramifications of violating the law. The difference is concerning because students are placed in special education at the school level. Based on my findings, I recommend that SJSD establish additional equitable procedures and programs to address low student performance and to address discipline incidents in the district. There is also a need for SJSD to implement all state mandated programs and to develop a culturally responsive professional development plan to address the needs of their marginalized students.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2023
African American males, Culturally Responsive, Special Education
Culturally relevant pedagogy
African American students
Students with disabilities
Special education

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