One day Ronnie Sidney, from Tappahannock, Va., was goofing off with his classmates in math when one of them threw a paper football at the board — and it landed a little too close to the teacher. Sidney says the eighth-grade teacher, visibly frustrated, turned around and said, "None of you are going to college."
That was a pivotal moment for Sidney. Not only did he feel stigmatized as a special education student diagnosed with ADHD; Sidney says he had also felt discriminated against in school as an African-American.
By the time of the incident with the football, he had already spent seven years in special education, feeling like he was bad at school. But Sidney says that instead of letting the teacher's outburst get to him personally, it motivated him to graduate from high school, then college and eventually get a master's degree in social work at Virginia Commonwealth University.
But the numbers don't bode well for students in similar situations. The National Center for Learning Disabilities analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Education and found that students with learning disabilities drop out at nearly three times the rate of students overall. And for black students, dropping out is even more likely.
Robert Balfanz, a professor at Johns Hopkins' School of Education and director of the Everyone Graduates Center, says the double stigma these students face is a key factor in their graduation rates. It's not only the academic challenges that can affect these students' self-esteem and motivation to learn. For black students, there's also the awareness of racial biases and discrimination.