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Multicultural education training for special educators working with African-American youth.

* As we prepare to enter the 21st century, African-American youth continue to remain in a crisis situation within the public school system. They are still subjected to differential patterns of treatment (Banks, 1989; Ogbu, 1978; Payne, 1984; Smith, 1988). Recent data continue to reveal their overenrollment in classes for students with mental retardation and serious emotional disturbance and disproportionate underrepresentation in gifted/talented classes (Chinn & Selma, 1987). This phenomenon exists despite the enactment of federal legislation designed to eliminate inappropriate placement of these students within special classes and efforts by professionals advocating adequate identification of African-American gifted learners. A large percentage of these students will exit school without receiving a diploma or certificate (National Education Association, 1990). And, research indicates that these African-American youth, in particular, are at a great risk for adolescent pregnancy, problems related to drugs, involvement in the juvenile justice system, and unemployment or underemployment (Jones, 1989). We must identify and systematically adopt school practices that provide African-American youth (with and without disabilities) with access to quality educational opportunities and experiences within the total school enterprise (Gay, 1989).

Barriers to the provision of quality educational services include ethnocentric attitudes of racial superiority; low expectations and negative attitudes toward African-American students with disabilities and their families and communities; testing, misclassification, and tracking; monocultural textbooks and cumcula; narrow and limited instructional techniques; differential disciplinary and reward systems; and deficit-model (genetic or cultural factors) definitions of African-American youth's academic and socioemotional behavior (Baker, 1983; Banks, 1989; Gay, 1989; Ogbu, 1978).

Furthermore, researchers have indicated (Keisler & Stem, 1977; Payne, 1984; Ogbu, 1978; Smith, 1988) that teachers hold lower expectations for African-American students. For example, the Smith study revealed that African-American males (both upper middle class and lower class) receive lower ratings on measures of teacher expectation than do white students in general. Teachers exhibit such lowered expectations, both overtly and covertly, by being less interested in these students, being more critical of them, praising them less often, providing less and nonspecific feedback, and demonstrating less acceptance of and patience toward them.

These kinds of behavior are as great or greater within special education programs. Until recently, special educators planned classroom instruction and developed curficula with very little consideration of the influence of sociocultural factors or the experiential backgrounds of African-American learners. Instead, the student's disability label largely determined the choices of curriculum, instructional, and management strategies (Goldstein, Arkell, Ashcroft, Hurley, & Lilly, 1975). Many special educators have not given a high priority to the positive recognition of individual differences relating to cultural backgrounds and attitudes, worldviews, values and beliefs, interests, culturally conditioned learning styles, personality, verbal and nonverbal language patterns, and behavioral and response mechanisms (Baker, 1983; Bennett, 1988).

The literature states that without specific training, special education teachers are not prepared to create and maintain complementary learning environments to meet the needs of African-American students with disabilities (Almanza & Mosley, 1980; Fox, Kuhlman, & Sales, 1988; Gay, 1989; Smith, 1988). For current special education classroom teachers, inservice programs on how to provide educational services from a multicultural educational perspective are essential in reducing or eliminating barriers to quality educational opportunities for African American youth (Almanza & Mosley; Fox et al.; Gay). Teacher training institutions are also beginning to incorporate a multicultural orientation in all phases of their special education preparation activities (Fox et al.; Gonzales, 1979; Reuda & Prieto, 1979).

Recently Wayson (1988) examined the beliefs of student teachers concerning their level of competence in providing educational services for students from socioculturally diverse backgrounds. The results confirmed that many student teachers are graduating without basic skills, attitudes, and knowledge in promoting equal educational opportunity and preparing students to participate effectively in a just and fair society.

A variety of definitions and goals are associated with the concept of multicultural education. In a broad sense, multicultural education refers to the practices and policies that "transform the school so that male and female students, social class, racial, and ethnic groups will experience an equal opportunity to learn in school" (Banks, 1989, p. 20; see also Rueda & Prieto, 1979).

Assisting special educators to provide services from a multicultural framework entails the following experiences:

* Engaging teachers in self-awareness activities to explore their attitudes and perceptions concerning their cultural group and beliefs--as well as the effects of their attitudes on students in terms of self-concept, academic abilities, and educational opportunities.

* Exposing teachers to accurate information about various cultural ethnic groups (e.g. historical and contemporary contributions and lifestyles, value systems, interpersonal-communication patterns, learning styles, and parental attitudes about education and disabilities).

* Helping educators explore the diversity that exists between, as well as within, cultural ethnic groups.

* Showing teachers how to apply and incorporate multicultural perspectives into the teaching-learning process to maximize the academic, cognitive, personal, and social development of learners (e.g., assessment; curriculum; and instructional management, strategies, and materials).

* Demonstrating effective interactions among teachers, students, and family members.

* Providing special education teachers with opportunities to manifest appropriate applications of cultural information to create a healthy learning climate.

Multicultural education attempts to reeducate school personnel, moving them away from an inaccurate deficit model of viewing African-American learners with disabilities--as well as those in gifted/talented programs.

The critical need for multicultural training at both inservice and preservice levels is further supported by analysis of teacher employment and student enrollment trends. Available data predict a significant decline in the number of African-American teachers within the public school (Education Commission of the States, 1989; Gay, 1989; National Clearinghouse for Professions in Special Education, 198 8). By the year 2000, these teachers will drop to barely 5% of all teachers.

This projected shortage of African-American teachers will be a tremendous loss to aH students; but for African-American students, the loss will be particularly detrimental, because African-American administrators and teachers have traditionally served as role models and mentors for African-American students. This decline will occur at a time when the enrollment of African-American students will increase substantially (National Clearinghouse for Professions in Special Education, 1988). Within the school, the special education teacher has the greatest impact on the educational process in the classroom. According to Gay, the scarcity or absence of African-American educators heightens the demand for cultural sensitivity by other school personnel and in the total school environment.

The involvement and support of administrative personnel is a prerequisite to the success of any school-sponsored inservice training (Baker, 1983). Yet there is virtually no research examining the perceptions and opinions of administrators responsible for inservice training of special educators in multicultural education. Also absent from the literature is research focusing on the specific competencies and expertise level required of those who conduct multicultural inservice training for special educators. Previous literature (Gonzales, 1979; Hurley, 1979) has raised the critical issue of trainer competency. As Hurley cautions, "Trainers can only transmit those beliefs and values which they themselves hold" (p. 19). Clearly, this is an area requiring investigation. A small-scale pilot study was undertaken in Ohio to investigate (a) the perceptions of special education administrators regarding multicultural education inservice training for special education teachers working with African-American students, and (b) their background experiences in multicultural education.



Subjects were special education administrators in the state of Ohio. In a small district, a person who holds responsibility for special education staff and inservice training may serve full time as the coordinator of special education or may be a parttime counselor or psychologist. Therefore, to help ensure that the appropriate personnel would receive the survey questionnaire, I addressed the mailed questionnaires to the "Director of Special Education."

Thirty administrators from various geographical locations in Ohio were selected from the potential pool of subjects for participation in the study. Using public information obtained from the Ohio State Department of Education, I identified 20 school districts in which African-American students composed at least 10% of the total enrollment, Most of these districts were located in the northern part of the state, which is described as urban (large or mid-sized) and suburban. The remaining 10 districts were selected from different geographic regions within the state.

Questionnaire Construction and Procedures

A Survey questionnaire was designed to investigate the perceptions of administrators concerning multicultural education inservice training, as well as their exposure to such training. The questionnaire consisted of two pans. Part 1 focused on demographic information about the administrator and the school district. The demographics included ethnicity, sex, and years of experience as director of special education. Two questions were included under structured experiences in multicultural education: (a) Have you ever taken a college course and/or participated in a workshop/seminar focusing on multicultural education? and (b) Have you ever taught a course or conducted a workshop/seminar on multicultural education? Respondents then were asked to describe their school district by checking off the following options: (a) area (urban mid-sized, urban large, suburban, rural, and other); (b) approximate percentage of African-American students enrolled in their districts (0-9%, 10-19%, 20-29%, 30-39%, 4049%, and 50% or greater); (c) percentage of African-American students receiving special education services (same percentage options as above); and (d) socioeconomic status of the majority of African-American students enrolled in their districts (upper, middle, low, and other).

Part 2 requested administrators to indicate their degree of agreement with 14 statements (items) on a 5-point Likert-type scale. Choices ranged from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5). The 14 items tapped directors' perceptions of their districts' policies and plans regarding multicultural education, teachers' attitudes and competencies, and school practices relative to African-American families.

Two published questionnaires served as models for the 14 items: The Multicultural Education Quick Assessment Test (Ogilvie, 1983) and Evaluating the Educational Context Questionnaire (Ortiz, 1988). Some items were taken from these, some were modified versions of items from models, and others were originally written. Part 2 also contained a "Comment" section that requested administrators to describe "the single biggest schoolrelated problem experienced by African-American exceptional learners and their parents."

To examine the validity of the questionnaire regarding this study, three special educators from Ohio with expertise in multicultural education were asked to: (a) review the format of the questionnaire, (b) analyze the statements for relevancy and clarity, (c) make comments about adding or deleting items, and (d) rewrite specific statements if necessary. (Details on the questionnaire are available from the author.)

A copy of the final questionnaire was mailed to each of the 30 directors of special education. A total of 21 questionnaires were returned, for a 70% return rate.



The majority of the respondents were white (14/21; 66.7%) and male (15/21; 71.4%). There were 5 African-Americans (23.8%) and 2 Native Americans (9.5%). On the average, the respondents had 4-6 years of experiences as directors of special education (see Table 1 for demographic results).

The school districts of the respondents were located primarily in the northern part of Ohio (11/21), in urban areas. Six of the 21 respondents were from school districts that contained 0-9% African-American students in the total population. Each of the remaining 15 directors was located in a district that had a population of 10% or greater of African-American students. Eleven directors worked in districts with a special education enrollment of more than 10% African-American students, Most (16/21 ) respondents described the African-American population in their districts as being in a low socioeconomic range.

Four of the 21 directors had participated in a workshop or college course in multicultural education. Each of these 4 respondents was from a different geographic location (eastern, northern, southern, and "other"), Three were male (2 white and 1 Native American), and I was female (white). In addition, three had 4 or more years of experience as directors, and one had 1-3 years. Three worked in districts with an African-American student population of 10% or greater. Twenty of the 21 respondents stated that they had either conducted a workshop or taught a course relating to multicultural education.

Overall, as indicated in Table 2, most respondents agreed with the statements in Part 2 of the questionnaire. For example, more than 80% believed special education teachers should participate in multicultural inservice training programs that have special emphasis on African-American learners. The exceptions were to Items 5, 9, and 11. Although the majority of administrators believed that special educators should be involved in training that focuses primarily on AfricanAmerican students, only about one-third of them reported that this district-wide type of training had been conducted or planned. Only half believed teachers adjusted instructional materials to accommodate culturally conditioned learning styles and interests of African-American learners. Two-thirds felt that educators within their district were receptive to input from AfricanAmerican parents, but fewer than half believed that their district provided training to facilitate involvement specifically by parents of AfricanAmerican children.

In response to the question, "What, in your opinion, is the single biggest school-related problem experienced by African-American exceptional students and parents within your district?" seven of the directors stated that their AfricanAmerican student enrollment was too small to comment. The remaining comments fell into three categories: (a) the problems of AfricanAmerican students and their parents were no different from other students; (b) problems that resulted from family/student differences in home values and school; and (c) problems within the school. Responses in the first category were academics, lack of basic skills, or dropping out of school. The second category responses included: family exhibits a pervasive sense of powerlessness; pregnancy; lack of family structure; mobility and transferring from school to school; the differences between African-American students' life experiences in the home and community and school expectations; failure to become actively involved in the educational process and system; verbally and physically aggressive behavior leading to barriers between students and teachers; perceptions that African-American students are receiving a greater percentage of punitive consequences; children often part of developmentally disabled with related concerns; acceptance of students' disabilities and recognition of their strengths. In the third category were responses such as racial prejudice, lack of systematic plans for educating and managing the behavior of black students, greater than normal referral of black students to special education, difficulty of adjusting mainstream curriculum and methods to meet the needs of African-American students, and cultural bias present in tests used to make placement decisions.

Two of the four respondents with multicultural expertise stated that African-American students' problems centered around "the failure to adapt teaching styles and expectations to the cultural experiences of students."


The results obtained from this small-scale pilot study indicate that most of the special education administrators perceived that special education teachers who work with African-American students should participate in multicultural education inservice training that focuses directly on issues relevant to African-American youth and their families. Twenty of the 21 directors had conducted a workshop/seminar or had taught a course in multicultural education. But only four of the special education administrators stated that they had received formal training in multicultural education. Because leadership in multicultural inservice training appears to fall to them, statewide training of administrators must be addressed, Of primary importance is exposing them to a high-quality multicultural educational training program. Such a program would include the components described previously (e.g., attitudinal self-awareness activities, accurate knowledge about cultural ethnic groups, and application of this knowledge into the classroom and parental interactions).

The current study is a small exploratory one. A larger, more detailed research project is needed to acquire a better understanding of the perceptions of people who conduct multicultural educational training for special education teachers and their competency to develop and implement this training. Such research should investigate the competencies of trainers who have received formal training in multicultural education inservice programs versus those who have not. Follow through research is also needed on how formally prepared trainers show leadership in proposing and supporting multicultural education inservice programs.

Another area of inquiry should center on how these leaders enhance a positive relationship between special education personnel and AfricanAmerican families. For special educators working in school districts with large percentages of African-American youth, such training programs should include attitudinal awareness activities, specific topics, and concrete experiences that result in an accurate understanding of these students and their families.

According to Banks (1989), despite the increase in multicultural education inservice training workshops, little if any of the information may carry over into the school and classroom environment. Therefore, factors that increase the probability of carryover into daily teaching practices warrant research. One of these essential factors may be the amount of time special educators engage in multicultural education inservice programs. In general, effective inservice programs should use formats that encourage ongoing education (conducted over a period of time), not "one-shot" programs. Because learning to teach from a multicultural education perspective is a process involving attitudinal and overt behavioral change, extended training is a necessity. Research does not provide a standard timeline for such training. However, literature pertaining to inservice models in general suggests several options: monthly training sessions focusing on a specific topic e.g.,learning styles, positive classroom interpersonal communication patterns); several (3-4) sessions every semester (fall and spring); or 2-3 weeks of daily meetings during the summer (Berry, McClain, Spencer, & Stewart, 1977). Regardless of limitations in time, self evaluation of attitudes concerning cultural diversity must be an integral part of any multicultural education inservice training program. Culture: Differences? Diversity? (Lockwood, Ford, Sparks, & Allen, 1991) is an example of a comprehensive inservice/preservice training program developed for special education personnel in the state of Ohio. The training resource includes activities that lead personnel, over time, through the sequential stages of cultural awareness (beginning with self-awareness), understanding differences, appreciating diversity, valuing diversity, and a commitment to the maintenance of diversity. A key component of this resource is its adaptability. It is designed to meet the needs of individual school districts. (Contact author for more details about this resource.)

It is imperative that we establish systematic retraining programs for special educators, from a multicultural perspective, if we are to reduce or eliminate the barriers to equal educational opportunities and experiences for African-American youth with disabilities. Three essentials of high quality programming (both preservice and inservice) are positive perceptions and attitudes of trainers concerning multicultural training, adequate qualifications of trainers, and the provision of ongoing multicultural education training.


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Banks (Eds.), Multicultural education: Issues and perspectives (pp. 2-26). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

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Smith, M.K. (1988). Effects of children's social class, race, and gender on teacher expectations for children's academic performance: A study in an urban setting. In C. Heid (Ed.), Multicultural education: Knowledge and perceptions (pp. 101-117). Bloomington/indianapolis: Indiana University-Center for Urban and Multicultural Education..

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BRIDGIE ALEXIS FORD (CEC #0138) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Counseling and Special Education at the University of Akron, Ohio.
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Title Annotation:Issues in the Education of African-American Youth in Special Education Settings
Author:Ford, Bridgie Alexis
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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