While it is obvious to researchers that males and females are disproportionately served by special education programs, the reasons for the gender bias are not clear. Boys and girls are known to “comprise equal proportions of the school-aged population;” nevertheless, boys are known to “account for approximately two-thirds of all students served in special education (Gender as a Factor in Special Education Eligibility, Services, and Results). ” Is it because the educational policies of most states of America prefer to send off more boys than girls for special education programs?
Or, are there essential differences between boys and girls to account for the gender gap in special education? The present research evaluates the answers to these questions for education professionals to attempt to bridge the gender gap in special education. Are there gender differences to account for the gender gap in special education? Studies on disability have by and large emphasized on commonalities among persons with disabilities instead of addressing gender based differences. This is the reason why there is little known about the different experiences and characteristics of boys and girls with disabilities (Gender as a Factor).
It is interesting to note that the problem of the gender gap in special education does not exist in the United States alone. Studies have addressed this topic in relation to the disabled populations in the United Kingdom, Norway, and Canada as well. As a matter of fact, researchers have also noted the differences between the learning needs and academic achievements of boys and girls in the regular classroom. The differences among boys and girls in the regular classroom allow us to infer that boys and girls are, indeed, different in terms of their educational needs and achievements.
Hence, the gender gap in special education may exist for a genuine reason. Chapman (2006) writes: Sitting in the same classroom, reading the same textbook, listening to the same teacher, boys and girls receive very different educations. In fact, upon entering school, girls perform equal to or better than boys on nearly every measure of achievement, but by the time they graduate high school or college, they have fallen behind. However, discrepancies between the performance of girls and the performance of boys in elementary education leads some critics to argue that boys are being neglected within the education system.
Across the country, boys have never been in more trouble: They earn 70 percent of the D’s and F’s that teachers dole out. They make up two thirds of students labeled “learning disabled. ” They are the culprits in a whopping 9 of 10 alcohol and drug violations and the suspected perpetrators in 4 out of 5 crimes that end up in juvenile court. They account for 80 percent of high school dropouts and attention deficit disorder diagnoses. This performance discrepancy is notable throughout Canada. In Ontario, Education Minister Janet Ecker said that the results of the standardized grade 3 and grade 6 testing in math and reading showed, “…
persistent and glaring discrepancies in achievements and attitudes between boys and girls. ” In British Columbia, standardized testing indicates that girls outperform boys at all levels of reading and writing and in Alberta testing shows that girls, “… significantly outperform boys on reading and writing tests, while almost matching them in math and science. ” However, the American Association of University Women published a report in 1992 indicating that females receive less attention from teachers and the attention that female students do receive is often more negative than attention received by boys.
In fact, examination of the socialization of gender within schools and evidence of a gender biased hidden curriculum demonstrates that girls are shortchanged in the classroom. Furthermore, there is significant research indicating steps that can be taken to minimize or eliminate the gender bias currently present in our education system. If teachers are, indeed, responsible for giving more attention to boys than the girls, this may very well be a reason why boys are more often referred to special education programs than the girls. Even so, the academic achievement of girls tends to be higher than that of the boys in most regular classrooms.
Therefore, there may be no reason to blame the teachers for referring more boys than the girls to special education programs. Vaishnav (2002) writes that boys are more likely to act out in class than the girls simply because boys tend to be more active while girls tend to be more passive. Furthermore, girls are more likely to be compliant, and this attitude on their part can be misleading because girls may be hiding their disabilities behind their compliance. Even so, it is noteworthy that the gender gap in special education varies from school district to school district in the United States.
Among the emotionally disturbed children in Milwaukee, for example, only fifty five percent are boys. In Kansas City, on the other hand, almost ninety percent of the students diagnosed as emotionally disturbed are males. In the schools of Massachusetts, males are “slightly more likely than girls to be identified with hearing or vision problems,” and one and a half times more likely to be identified as mentally retarded (Vaishnav). What is more, males are twice more likely than girls to be labeled with learning disabilities, and “more than three times as likely to be called emotionally disturbed (Vaishnav).
” Are state policies responsible for the gender gap in special education? Data on the gender gap in special education reveals that boys are overrepresented in special education regardless of school district and state. Nonetheless, it is noteworthy that the school districts in Massachusetts, on average, refer students for special education programs according to the following ratio for male to female students: 7:3 (“District Rates: Students with Disabilities by Race and Gender,” 2004). Perhaps this ratio is based on a state policy that requires more males to be referred for special education programs.
Indeed, there are three typical reasons cited for the gender gap in special education, one of which is the “bias in special education referral and assessment procedures (Tschantz & Markowitz, 2003). ” The other reasons include the biological and behavioral differences between male and female students. Even so, the reason that points to blatant discrimination in special education requires the collection of data from states to reveal the actual gender gap in special education in different states and school districts.
By knowing that the gender gap in a certain state is wider than the gap in another state, for example, we may very well be able to identify the state policies that may be responsible for the difference (Tschantz & Markowitz). Coutinho & Oswald (2005) have conducted a study on state policies with regards to special education. According to the researchers, states that either have a high or low proportion of students assigned to special education programs are more likely to identify more males than females for these programs.
Seeing that the law of the United States does not demand school authorities to refer more males than females for special education programs, the authors recommend that all states must collect data to analyze the gender gap in special education. The data that is collected thus would allow researchers to examine where the problem truly lies. Is it because the teachers are referring more males than females because they observe the differences in the classroom? Or, is it because certain school districts prefer to send off more males than females to the special education classroom?
The authors further note that the educators may very well be biased in their implementation of identification and referral policies. Hence, a “vigorous, systematic evaluation” is a necessity in the identification of the real reasons for the gender gap in special education (Coutinho & Oswald). Analysis of the Findings and Conclusion Sanders (2002) confirms the conclusion of Chapman that there is a difference between the levels of attention received by boys and girls in schools.
Some of the reasons for the differences are pointed out by the author as the following: (1) The ratio of boys to girls taking the highest level Advanced Placement Test in Computer Science is 9:1; (2) Eighty five percent of girls from eighth to the eleventh grade report that they have been sexually harassed in school, while the percentage is lower for males; (3) All except one of the school shootings in recent years had been committed by white male students; and (4) The average boy in eleventh grade writes at the level of the average girl in eighth grade.
Perhaps, therefore, we must agree with the fact that there is a difference in the learning needs and academic achievements of boys and girls also in the regular classroom. The difference between boys and girls in the regular classroom helps us to understand that the gender gap in the special education programs is perhaps a genuine one. However, there is very little research on the differences between males and females with regard to disabilities. This is the reason why researchers are as yet unclear about the real meaning of the gender gap in special education.
Research in future must focus on the differences between males and females with regard to disabilities. Only then shall we conclude with certainty that there is a genuine gender gap in special education, perhaps because there are more disabled boys than disabled girls. Vaishnav’s analysis of the reason for the gender gap in special education is very important, seeing that girls are definitely more passive while boys are certainly more active in the classroom. This is the reason why educators find it easier to identify emotionally disturbed boys.
Males are also more likely to show their learning disabilities more easily than the females, for the simple reason that boys act out in class more often than the girls. Females may hide their disabilities from their teachers through their passivity and compliance. This analysis carries an important lesson for teachers: perhaps teachers should learn to identify learning disabilities and emotional disturbance in girls by a different method altogether. Psychological, including IQ testing, should definitely help. Research has also suggested that boys are twice more likely than girls to be identified as gifted students (Chapman).
If psychological, including IQ testing, is made mandatory for all students, however, the gender gap may very well be bridged. Lastly, it is important to note that researchers have not yet found differences in state policies with regards to the gender gap in special education. There is no state policy that clearly asks for boys to be referred in greater numbers to special education programs. Nevertheless, there are differences among states with respect to the gender gap. Besides, our research on Massachusetts shows that most school districts maintain an average ratio of boys to girls that are referred to special education programs.
Even though research would not identify the reason for this average ratio, Countinho & Oswald are correct to conclude that thorough data collection would allow us to analyze the gender gap more easily. By knowing exactly where the gender gap widens or contracts, educational researchers would be able to study the specific school district policies that relate to the same. This would allow them to identify the real reasons for the gender gap in school education, and why it widens or contracts in certain states or school districts as compared to the others.
Regardless of limited research on the real reasons of the gender gap in special education, educators are required to pay equal attention to girls and boys in their classrooms. This is, perhaps, the most important lesson to be learned from the present research. After all, by paying more attention to boys, teachers may be negatively impacting the lives of countless gifted girls. Similarly, there may be countless learning disabled girls who may benefit from special education programs even though their teachers have not identified them as learned disabled. Equal opportunity in education is of the essence.
Psychological testing, including IQ testing, is certainly expected to help educators along the way.
References Chapman, A. (2006). Gender Bias in Education. Research Room. Retrieved Nov 25, 2007, from http://www. edchange. org/multicultural/papers/genderbias. html. Coutinho, M. J. , & Oswald, D. (2005, Jan 1). State variation in gender disproportionality in special education: findings and recommendations. Remedial and Special Education. District Rates: Students with Disabilities by Race and Gender. (2004, Oct 1). Massachusetts Department of Education. Retrieved Nov 25, 2007, from http://www. doe. mass.
edu/InfoServices/reports/enroll/sped05/rg. pdf. Gender as a Factor in Special Education Eligibility, Services, and Results. Retrieved Nov 25, 2007, from http://www. iteachilearn. com/uh/meisgeier/statsgov20gender. htm. Sanders, J. (2002, Nov 1). Something Is Missing from Teacher Education: Attention to Two Genders. Phi Delta Kappan. Tschantz, J. , & Markowitz, J. (2003, Jan). Gender and Special Education: Current State Data Collection. Quick Turn Around. Retrieved Nov 25, 2007, from http://www. nasdse. org/publications/gender. pdf. Vaishnav, A. (2002, Jul 8). Some Say Boys Singled Out for Wrong Reasons. The Boston Globe.
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