Philip C. Chinn

PHILIP C. CHINN

Philip C. Chinn. Professor in the division of Special Education at California State University, Los Angeles.

The the issue with students of color has been going of for uh really since 1968. Since Lloyd Dunn in his article wrote uh that students of color particularly Mexican-American, Puerto Rican- American and uh and African American kids were disproportionately placed in special education and so since then the office of civil rights they started in 1968 has be tracking the placement of these children in special education classes. What we’ve found is particularly in, initially in the the early the the mid uh sixties and the early seventies that Latino kids and African-American kids were placed in disproportionaly large numbers in classes for the for the what we call educal (?) mentally retarded or that time mild mentally retarded. And these are the the highest level children who are in classes for the mentally retarded. Um basically what what Dunn found is that one out of every three children in special education was placed in one of these categories and in one of these classes of of mild mental retardation and between sixty and eighty percent of these children were as I said Latino or um or African-American. Uh he also found that most of these children were from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. So he concluded from this that special education had pretty much become a dumping place, particularly classes for the mentally retarded for poor minority kids. This was supported by the research by Jane Mercer in 1973 in Riverside County, California and then also civil rights started doing their surveys in 1968 and they do it every two years and this has supported this this thought through out all these years. The the degree proportionate placement is not quite as bad now as it was in in you know the early earlier years but it’s still a significant problem. Um for example African-American children uh in the total sample uh in the United States runs somewhere around 16 percent and their placement in classes for the mentally retarded no longer eligible ------(?) it’s it’s entire category of mental retardation uh runs some where around 33 percent. So so in the classes for the mentally retarded African-American children are placed a rate around uh one out of every three and they represent about one out of every six in the sample, the total sample. So they’re very disproportionately placed. That is a category that has the greatest amount of problem also the problem uh exists in the area of severely emotionally disturbed and the the issues and placement center more on African-Americans then any other group how ever in certain states where you have uh fairly large uh Latino population such as California and Arizona you will find that uh that Latino children uh are also uh disproportionately placed but not at the same degree as African-American children. But they’re they’re actually under represented now, Latino children are nationally are under represented in class for the for the mentally retarded.

There’s actually two ways that you can look at uh how children are placed or the, in classes for for kids with disabilities. Uh in one way which tends to be favored by the office of civil rights we look at the a particular category of disability such a mental retardation. And we say okay how many of these kids in classes for students with with mental retardation are African-American, how many of them or what percentage of them are white, what percentage are Asian. What we find is that when looking at the um the data from this point of view that one out of every three roughly one out of every three students in classes for students with with mental retardation is African-American. However we can does this mean that one out of every three African-Americans that we see walking around in the schools is mentally retarded. That is an assumption that most people you know come to by looking at this this data. This this is absolutely incorrect and another way of looking at it is to say let’s take a look at the total African-American population in the public schools and what percentage of African-American’s are in uh classes for for students with mental retardation. The answer is 2.54 percent. Not a very significant difference between 33 percent and 2.54 percent. Now this is an issue because there are individuals who say when you present data this way it minimizes the problem. Is this uh not really a problem and I would submit that this is a very significant problem because uh you have 2.54 percent of African-American’s that are in classes for the for students with uh mental retardation where as you have um in a neighborhood of .49 percent less than one half of one percent of Asian students that are in classes for an Asian specific American students that are in classes for with students for uh with mental retardation, you have somewhere around 1.13 percent uh white students and and even uh something like .74 percent um uh Latino students. So when you compare the percentages this way African-American’s are still uh disproportionately placed in classes for the students with disa—with disabilities whether it’s mental retardation or severely emotionally disturbed. Severely emotionally disturbed that the statistics are a little different but the amount of disproportionate placement is is comparable and what is important is we don’t want people to think and believe that one out of every three African-American students um has a disability that isn’t true but it is a very serious problem which needs to be addressed.

Well p—we suspect that poverty plays an important roll. There’s th—it’s difficult to determine precisely uh you know how many of these kids that in classes in special education are this this is a result of poverty. There’s probably not a great deal that that teachers can do in terms of of minimizing this because this is really a societal problem but let’s let’s look at some of the issue. Okay. Children who live in poverty uh often live in substandard housing, older homes, and we know that homes that were built prior to around 1975 were often painted were typically painted with led based paint and so consequently estimates are that anywhere from twenty to twenty five percent of many of the children who live in poverty uh suffer from led poisoning which can cause mental retardation it can cause learning disabilities, hyperactivity, tension deficit disorders and so forth and what happens is that in these older homes that are not well maintained the paint chips end up one the floor infants end up touching this put it in their ingesting it and they end up with led poisoning. That’s just one of the problems. They’ve got mothers who who live in poverty generally do not have the same degree of medical care that mothers that come from middle class, upper class backgrounds consequentially they don’t get the same kind of nutrition they don’t get the uh the care from uh uh from uh the obstetrician and at the at the post natal care they don’t have the post natal care that for their children that individuals that have HMO you know coverage or at least some sort of medical care uh when they have to depend on governmentally supported medical uh situations then it becomes much more drastic. We also know that more women who live in poverty tend to have children at a very early age and when this happens, when there, when you have teens and essentially children having children that there’s a greater possibility as actually a greater likelihood that the children were born pre-term and we know that children that are born pre-term um there’s a greater likelihood of neurological uh impairment. Uh one study that was done many years ago, over half the children, a little over 50 percent of the children that were under 1500 grams, which is 3 pounds 5 ounces had neurological damage and when you have young women who are living in poverty uh teenager having children this is a much greater likelihood. Um we also know that there are a number of other issues that are related because very often women who live in poverty have to continue working until the day that the child is born and so when most physicians would tell a mother to go home, put your feet up on the bed and and stay there until the baby is born these mother’s can’t do that. So they put themselves and their and their their you know that their children that they’re having at a much greater risk. So we have all these problems. Nutrition, um you know the proper medication uh and things of this sort um very often these children and their their mother’s are short changed in terms of their medical care so these are just some of the the problems that that are associated. I think what we can do is to to help our students in the school to understand the the effects of of poor nutrition and things of this sort so that even if they live in poverty that they themselves can take appropriate measures to minimize the risk you know in the in the in the process of having children.

Well one of the things that we need to look at is you know the whole issue of of how did kids get into special education. Most kids are going to get into special education through a referral process and the people who are doing most the referrals are teachers. If we look nationally most of the teachers, the overwhelming number of of teachers are are individuals who are women and uh you know across the country this is true and another things that we see is that the overwhelming number of individuals that are teaching in this country, over 90 percent, are white, uh and then the third thing is that almost all the teachers that we see in classrooms are from middle class backgrounds. We don’t although you know some of them may have a difficulty when they’re paying their bills every month they’re not from from backgrounds of poverty. They’re they’re middle class, middle class values and in some cases maybe upper middle class okay that’s basically what we’re saying. So you’ve got primarily white, middle class, females who are doing the teaching and these are the ones that will do the referrals. Who are the ones that are getting referred? Typically they are students of color and they come from from minority uh background of poverty and most often African-American and African-American males. These are the ones that are most frequently referred and placed in classes for students with mental retardation and severely emotionally disturbed. So you’ve got white, middle class, women, who are referring African-American males from lower socioeconomic backgrounds um into special education and what we do know is that it’s in some of the research that’s been done. One one study done by I------(?) at the University of Minnesota, roughly about seventy to eighty-five percent of children that are referred to special education are eventually placed in special education so the reality is if you’re referred to special education you’re probably going to be placed. And if you look at the incongruent backgrounds between teacher and student uh you know you have a very often a um a white middle class woman and you may have a uh uh black male, -- let’s take a you know a scenario you’ve got a five foot five inch tall female white teacher from middle class background and you have a twelve year old African-American male who is six feet one inch tall or even six feet tall and uh and this kid walks in the class and he’s aggressive uh at least by the perceptions of the teacher and he intimidates the teacher and the teacher doesn’t like his behavior and pretty soon she begins to read into his responses to her, his lack of enthusiasm for work as being slow or retarded or emotionally disturbed and then makes a referral. Uh and and then as we said before, if they’re referred to special ed. they are probably going to be placed in special ed. and we know that you know the science assessment, and IQ tests and things of this sort that lead to placement of special education are you know the th they it’s not an infallible thing and when people want a student to be placed in special education a psychologist can pick the particular IQ test that they they want to to yield a lower score uh and and and the child very often end up ends up in special education. Uh I’m not saying that every child that is African-American and are male is going to be placed in special education nor am I saying that every African-American male that’s placed in special education is inappropriately placed. But there may very well be some who are be because of the of the over zealousness of of of teachers to refer um students who’s values are very incongruent with theirs. You have have a child for example uh who is loud and aggressive in school in but in his community no one neighbors or any one else thinks that this child is emotionally disturbed uh mentally retarded. They may think that he’s a real pain in the rear-end uh he’s an annoyance and they wish he’d hurry up and grow up but know one says this kid is emotionally disturbed he ought to be put in a hospital or you know put in a class for for severely emotionally disturbed children. He’s just a loud you know pain in the butt.

Well I think you see the same – I see—I think you see the same things going on with uh the the lack of placement of of particularly African-American uh Latino and um uh American-Indian children in classes for the gifted and talented. The same variables that cause their their their placement in in classes with students with disability contribute to their low numbers in the other classes. Because generally these children are referred you know to uh you know the psychologist and what not and were a teacher says I think this is a gifted child. Uh so you have the same thing going on in terms of incongruent values between teacher and student and often what you see is is lack of um you know um enthusiasm about school uh from some of these students and when you don’t see uh this this anxiousness to learn on the part of the student you can’t read into this uh giftedness. You also see differences in learning style because what we typically see is that uh at least what some people have have speculated is that when you see uh lower socioeconomic African-American kids and and and lower socioeconomic particularly Mexican-American kids at least the research from from -------(NAME?) is that these are feel sensitive learners and in in contrast most of the teachers that we see are white uh and these individuals tend most whites tend to be um feel independent um uh teachers and thinkers and so their style of instruction is is feel independence the students uh learn much better in terms of feel sensitive teaching and learning and so you’ve go incongruent learning and teaching styles between teacher and students. So the the teacher may not see uh you know the giftedness in a child and they see they don’t see the motivation in the child and they’re consequently they’re much less um hesitant to to um to refer this child to special education. You know I’m not I don’t have a great deal of expertise in giftedness but you know what I’ve I’ve heard people doing in the in the past is that they may use pure referral in unless they you know who in your class can do this the best and what not and very often the teachers are surprised when they see that some individual who who they think is a big goof off in the class uh is the the at least from the perceptions of their classmates the best in several different things and and then their they realize that maybe this child really does have some abilities that he or she the teacher may have not observed and and this is sometimes how they pick up kids kids who are gifted. But we don’t do enough of this and we we don’t do enough to train our teachers to observe you know differences and behaviors.

The I think the entire backbone for uh policy has really come from from the impotice(?) for policy change has come from litigation. In historically if we look in and what has moved educators to bring about change it’s be litigation uh they’re generally very content to maintain the statice quo. It’s too much of an effort to change things because it’s it’s simply better to do. Uh when we look of course a Brown vs. the board of education this is the key piece of legislation that we have used in terms of special education excuse me it’s it’s not legislation but litigation. It’s a key piece of litigation uh that we have use for special education um situations and when we look in terms of even um throughout the country and um and in the state of Utah. Uh in in you know the back in the 1970’s um it was the Paulson uh and Wolfe case that brought change in the legislature of the state of Utah and in the 1970’s um moderately retarded children in in the state of Utah were not entitled to a public school education and it took a class action suit uh in in Wolfe vs. the uh the legislature in the state of Utah and when when the state of Utah the legislature saw that they’re about to lose this case they very quickly passed legislation to provide public school education for these kids. So this is true in the terms of you know wh-- whether it was in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania association for retarded children vs. the common wealth of of Pennsylvania, the Mills case uh in the District of Columbia all of this came basically out of the um out of the Brown case because um and this was the basis of it because you can’t deny an individual the that the the loss of uh life liberty or property without due process and what was established in Brown was that education was a property right. Once a state chooses to provide a public education then a property right has been established in that particular state. The constitution does not guarantee a free public education for any one okay but once with Brown, once state chooses to provide a public education a property right has be established and you cannot deny a person this property right of an education un until uh with out due process and this is was the basis of Brown and we have used this in special education and so what we’re looking at basically is a you know not only an education but an appropriate education. So this has been the basis of of special education and the right to education. Okay with with the whole issue of kids and and kids that are inappropriately placed in special education again we have issues that are related um and we can go back to a lot of issues that are related to assessment procedures inappropriate assessment. In the Dianna case uh in uh California, this was in Solidad California in the 1970’s, uh there were a number of Mexican children uh of Mexican workers who were placed in classes for the mentally retarded when they went back and reassessed these kids they found that with an appropriate qualified bi-lingual psychologist they found that these children were uh not at all mentally retarded one I think one child was still classified as mentally retarded I and I think one or two were in the in this class action suit were border line the rest of them were were uh were basically found to be of normal intelligence and what they found is that you had items in the uh in the in the test that they were using that were totally inappropriate for these kids. For example one of the questions that was asked was is it better to pay uh your bills by check or with cash? Not one of these children’s parents had a checking account. Every one of these children indicated that it was better to pay with cash this was according to the test key was an incorrect response that lowered their IQ. Okay if if you look at tests that are culturally bias um and it’s very easy for us to not you know pay attention to this. For example um if you were to ask a four year old child in Florida to point out on a on a on a group of pictures which one of these pictures uh indicates a squirrel a four year old in Hawaii might not be able to do it, there are not squirrels in Hawaii, if you ask a four year old child in Hawaii to point out a snake there there is technically a little uh thing that looks like an earth worm that I have never seen growing up in Hawaii that is technically considered a snake but you don’t have snakes in Hawaii. So a four-year-old child in Hawaii might not be able to do that. Ask a four year old child what a mongoose is and they can point out a mongoose where as there are probably very few children that are four years old in in Florida or Massachusetts or where ever it is that could point out what a mongoose is so it’s very easy for us to overlook the biased nature of of text and this this is one of the problems and so in the the Dianna case and again with the Larry P. vs. Ralls(?) which is in California is was the uh Ralls(?) was the superattendant of public instruction in the state of California. Again this was an issue in terms of the use of ina—inappropriate IQ tests on African-American students um and there was a class action suit which led to the ban of of the use of IQ tests in the state of California for African-American students this has since been interpreted by most school districts to also mean Latino kids and some school districts are not the larger ones do not use IQ tests on any student of color.

I think one of the most important thing is is that both in the public schools and in the teacher education programs that we need to make sure that we train our teachers. Prepare them to be culturally sensitive. Um we talk about this a lot but we don’t often walk the talk and uh until in in it is very problematic with many of the students who live in predominantly white communities that are that do not understand uh the importance of un—of them understanding cultural differences in their in their teacher preparation programs uh I have spoken to classes um of undergraduate students in states where the the university and and the communities where they came from are predominantly white and they cannot see the value of my talking about multi-cultural education they think it’s a waste of their time they’ve told their instructors this you know. Why are we having to learn this thing. You know we with the the change in demographics by by the year 2060 half of the U.S. population will be non-white. Already one third of our students in our schools are non-white and while perhaps in certain communities we don’t see this. Demographics change very rapidly we end up seeing a number of mung(?) children in in schools in Minnesota and Wisconsin. This chan- this change took place seemingly over night. Vietnamese children moving into the Gulf Coast of Texas along the Atlantic Coast in North Carolina um these types of things change very very quickly. In Nebraska uh we had in Norfolk Nebraska they built a packing plant a few years ago the local residence supported this they thought this is wonderful, it’s going to provide a lot of jobs. Well they found out what the work involved none of the locals wanted to work there. So they ended up having to import labor from outside of the state and the people who came were people of color. Suddenly overnight the Norfolk schools were I wouldn’t say they were filled but there were a lot of students of color uh that had not ever seen before and it was actually the students in the Norfolk high school uh in Jim Cubic(?) when Jim Cubic a teacher in Norfolk high school was teaching um a a government class uh and and um the students asked him why do we not ever talk about minority or cultural issues when ever uh it’s a topic that comes up in the textbook and Mr. Cubic’s response was probably the teachers don’t know that much about it and their uncomfortable talking about something they don’t know about and the response from the students was but if we’re going to live as neighbors and cul—class mates of these people w—doesn’t it make sense that we know more about them. These were the students that were asking this question. Mr. Cubic went on and and said yeh very definitely and they and the students said it ought to be a law and so Mr. Cubic went said okay I know some legislators in Lincoln and I’ll talk to them and so when Jim Cubic went and talk to these legislators they said it was a good idea and basically the response was kind of you know it’s a good idea uh we’ll we’ll we’ll look into this uh we’ll call you don’t call us but we’ll call you. And when he went back some one said you know you ought to see Senator Ernie Chambers who was the only African-American in the in the senate and uh of the the Nebraska senate and when Jim went to see senator Chambers, Senator Ernie Chambers said you know this is a great idea but you’re the government class you write the bill and I will sponsor it. So Jim Cubic and his students wrote a bill requiring multicultural education in all schools in the state of Nebraska and the students went out and lobbied for it. They lobbied their parents, they held rallies and it was Jim Cubics, primarily white students, who wanted this and this is now the law in the state of Nebraska because changes take place. The teachers that are trained in whether it’s at you know in in in Nebraska, Utah, you know, Iowa, who may not think they’re going to see a lot of individuals color. They may end up marrying somebody and uh or they may have a job opportunity in Los Angeles where when they get there they see incredible numbers of individuals of color. Latino kids, Asian kids, you know African American kids that they never ever dreamed existed and and if they’re not trained and prepared for this in a meaningful way and not just in some you know some insignificant way they’re going to be very unprepared for the classroom.

Well I think you know when when we’re talking about this we need to create with in teacher education programs and this has to come from the faculty. If if faculty themselves do not understand issues of social justice um they’re not going to communicate this to the students um this is something that is is very critical and I have you know I’ve been in teacher education for longer than than I want to admit and I do see a major problem with many of the people that I’ve worked with that do not have a commitment to issues such as social justice and what not. Um until this is created and I don’t know how exactly this is going to take place through in-service training and then even that’s hard because when you have in service training on something that people don’t want to learn this becomes very difficult. I think it it it bewhos teacher education programs to try to find faculty members who have a commitment to this issue um and then bring them in to to work with other faculty members and and slowly you can you can begin to change this. But but this is very critical and I have seen change you know it’s it’s not easy but I’ve been on NK(?) accreditation teams for a number of years and I go into schools sometimes I see some some schools where you some one or two people can make a significant change uh it’s the process that’s slow and it’s difficult. Other times I go to to institutions where I see a tremendous amount of resistance and and it’s very very difficult but I think this leadership you know really has to come from administrative individuals with in higher education it has to come from the president, it has to come from the from the deans, it has to come from the the department or division chairs where they they actually go out and seek these individuals uh to come and bring them into their faculty. We need to have continue with with more uh federal funding to to train more individuals in this this area you know make this possible um and there needs to be you know more grants and what not available in higher education uh to bring students for for training in this particular area so then they can go out as teacher educators.