Trends in Special Education - Education Essay Example

Trends in Special Education



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More and more students with disabilities are being educated in the general education classroom creating a need for changes in the forms of educational training and certification requirements. Government policy within the last 10 years, along with teacher shortages, has helped to challenge members of the education community to develop answers to the question of how best to educate the disabled.

An historical examination of special education teacher preparation provides a vocation that began in residential settings. But over the years, perspectives on how best to teach the disabled has resulted in changes in special education programs and structure (Brownell, Sindelar, Danielson, 2010). Today, the disabled child is most often mainstreamed into the general education classroom and is expected to perform satisfactorily. This expectation occurs in an atmosphere full of rigorous standards in the academic arena, assessments, teacher accountability and special education teacher shortages. These requirements make the special education administrators and teachers consider what changes must be made to enable best practice in the classroom (Brownell, 2010).

Originally, teacher preparation for special education grew out of specialized clinical study within a residential facility. Slowly, special education teachers moved out of the residential scene and into teaching colleges. During the last half of the 20th century laws were enacted that were designed to build high quality education for the disabled. This resulted in the growth of special education classes within our colleges and universities. The early programs, however, were only designed to train teachers to deal with specific disabilities. In the late 1990s, it became time to reconsider the role of the special education teacher as the movement developed to educate the disabled in the general education classroom (Brownell, 2010). As the move to educating the disabled in the general education classroom progressed, the collaboration of the special education and general education teacher became more prevalent. Teacher preparation programs, at that time, established training for the collaboration of instructors (Brownell, 2010)

Laws governing education, such as IDEA, The Individuals with Disability Education Act, mandated that the disabled be provided access to general education classes. Similarly, the No Child Left Behind Act, 2001, stated that schools are responsible for student performance on assessments related to general education subjects. This law meant that the special education teacher had to now be qualified to teach the general education curriculum. Now that this situation exists, it is essential to reconsider the way teachers, both general education and special education, are prepared to teach in the classroom (Brownell, 2010).

Research has indicated that special education teachers have strong skills in classroom management; they often come up short in subject-matters, such as reading. The inability of the special education teacher to provide excellent content area instruction has resulted in the issue of collaborative teaching (Leko, Brownell, 2009).

In 1986, Madeline Will, assistant secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services suggested that there be a “shared responsibility” (Brownell, 2010), in the education of the disabled. However, calls for reform soon developed as the accommodation of the disabled in the general education classroom began to be questioned. The idea of preparing both the general education teacher and the special education teacher at the same time developed. Supporters of the integrated program believed that teachers could work together without issues of competency, and respective ego problems (Brownell, 2010).

Therefore, the idea of special education within the resource classroom found little support within the educational communities. Nevertheless, most general education teachers readily admitted to not being ready to teach the disabled. By 1993 most of the states had policies of inclusion for the disabled. With that trend, teachers found that they had to adapt to the new role they faced.

In 1984 integrated training programs began for both special education and general education teachers. Some of the programs only asked the general education teacher to take a course or two in the special education curriculum. There were some states, however, that recommended all prospective teachers to engage in dual certification, in core subject area and special education (Brownell, 2010).

A teacher with dual certification is better equipped than other instructors to handle any classroom situation that might arise. Some scholarship even reports these instructors should be paid a higher salary for their increased subject knowledge and skills (Brownell, 2010.

Researchers state that general education teachers who are prepared in special education are ready to meet the challenges of classroom literacy and mathematics, for the disabled. Analysis of data indicates that training in special education has a positive effect on disabled students’ achievement. Similarly, the special education teacher with training in a core curriculum enhances learning for the disabled (Brownell, 2010).

For the general education teacher, the challenge is to create a learning environment that supports struggling students, even those who have disability. The No Child Left Behind Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Educational Improvement Act of 2004, embrace the philosophy that at the core of every child’s learning is an effective teacher. These acts require all children with disabilities have instructors who know the grade-level curriculum. These teachers must be able to show that they can meet the needs of diverse learners (Smith, Deutsch, Mortoriff, West, Tyler, Chowdhuri, 2010).

The majority of special education students today are working towards making progress to meet state academic guidelines. Meanwhile, the resources once used to assist the special education teacher are being blended into the budget of the general education classrooms (McLaughlin, 2010).

Some scholars believe that the No Child Left Behind Act eliminated the problem of the quantity of special education teachers by redefining the highly qualified provision to include a teacher gaining certification by an alternate route. In other words, the teacher may have majored in the core subject that they are instructing and passed a content exam without educational studies. Many state that the education department has deprofessionalized special education training by easing entry into the field to increase the supply. This fact indicates that the focus of teacher preparation moved to developing a core knowledge base (Sindelar, Brownell, Billingsley, 2010).

It is essential that faculty with knowledge in special education expand to cover all areas of education. This, in part, is due to shortages of special education teachers. With the trend towards inclusion of special education students in the general education classroom, the requirement for the “highly qualified teacher” continues (Smith, 2010).

According to the United States Department of Education, 57 percent of disabled students were taught in general education classrooms for 80 percent of the class day in 2007. Keeping this in mind, most general education teachers are teaching disabled students (Smith, 2010).

Therefore, special education teachers are now finding themselves not teaching in the segregated classroom. Often, the special education teacher ends up teaming with the general education teacher to provide “best practice” in the education of the disabled. However, many special education teachers are not happy and see themselves playing a supportive role to the general education teacher in the inclusive environment. Teachers are not finding themselves comfortable for inclusion of the disabled into the general education classroom (Whitten, Rodriquez-Campos, 2003).

School administrators must address, however, the inadequate training that general education teachers now receive regarding the disabled. They are not ready to cope with the needs of the disabled who may not respond to classroom teaching. Research indicates that general education teachers cannot effectively teach the disabled (Brownell, 2010). In light of this factor, the idea of the importance of preparing all students to work with the disabled is growing.

A study by Feng and Sass in 2009, suggested that all states require all beginning teachers to attain dual certification. They suggested that special education teachers be prepared in the content areas. In fact, they recommended states implement standards to assure general education teachers can teach the disabled, and that special education teachers learn content (Brownell, 2010).

The “highly qualified” statute in No Child Left Behind has proven controversial as people question how to measure effective special education teaching. The special education teacher has always had a complex role within school systems; however, at the elementary level they are expected to effectively teach reading and math (Brownell, Bishop, Gusten, Linger, Penfield, Dimino, Haagar, Menon, Sindelar, 2009).

Currently, all special education teachers must have a Bachelor’s Degree and certification from the state in their field. They must pass an exam to be a qualified special education teacher. Disabled students are assessed on the same standards of achievement as the non-disabled. The disabled students, however, have and Individual Education Plan requiring the instruction in academics with accommodations if necessary. It is clear the special education teacher must be prepared to teach the core curriculum (Quigney, 2009).

In many schools throughout the nation the inclusive placement of the disabled has come to depend on the general education teacher as the direct provider of educational services. The special education teacher has come to be the consultant. The idea is that both teachers should act as a team to produce quality instruction. This movement in the direction of inclusive classrooms requires each teacher to assume a new role. However, there are barriers to this collaborative process. The main problem is that the general education teacher is not trained in the delivery of services to the disabled (Kerns, 1996). In this respect, the recommendation remains that dual certification is best to insure quality education of the disabled. A general education teacher with certification in special education becomes a more confident teacher in the classroom. These teachers are less likely to ask for help to handle the disabled, or students with severe behavioral issues. Similarly, the special education teacher gains more credibility when they attain a background in regular curriculum programs and methods (Kerns, 1996).

The collaboration of general education and special education teachers is considered critical to educate the disabled within the general classroom; however, many new teachers report being uncomfortable in that environment. They claim that the general educators are often unwilling to work with them or teach the disabled within their room (Billingsley, 2010). When two individuals work together, there will always be disagreements. Studies reflect the issues of culture and personality differences reflecting negatively on the collaborative approach (Gurur, Uzuner, 2010).

Since 1982, the University of New Hampshire’s Department of Education has offered a dual certification within its Master’s Degree in education program. From the year 1982-1993, only 65 attained the status of dual certification (Kerns, 1996). The dual certification gives the teacher the best opportunity to meet the needs of the disabled student. The training gives the teacher the confidence in the classroom to focus on the ability level of the student, and plan activities to meet his or her needs (Kerns, 1996).

As the number of dually certified teachers begins to grow across the nation, teachers have become more confident about inclusion as a policy. Graduates with dual certification felt more competent, able to enact different teaching strategies, and could access students’ styles of learning. The teachers had an advantage because they knew the vocabulary associated with both special education and general education (Kerns, 1996).

Educators are being asked to produce the same learning outcomes whether the child is disabled or not. In fact, the No Child Left Behind Act tells school districts to minimize any gaps in achievement between non-disabled and disabled students (Voltz, Collins, 2010). Nevertheless, a recent survey indicated 37 percent of special education teachers felt prepared to teach disabled students core subject-matter (Voltz, 2010).

Special education teachers consisted of 12 percent of the education workforce in 2006. However, only 7 percent were nationally certified. By comparison, the general education teacher represents 88 percent of teachers, with 93 percent of them certified (Benson, Agran, Yocum, 2010). A survey by Patton and Braithwaite, 1980, recorded that 20 percent of education departments in the states required a general education teacher to complete some courses in special education to gain their certification. (Patton, Braithwaite, 1990). Eight percent of these surveyed required similar coursework for teachers getting recertified. This number jumped to 17 percent in 1990. The trend in this direction has continued with the need to provide special education courses to students majoring in general education studies (Benson, 2010).

The No Child Left Behind Act explained its definition of what it means to be a highly qualified teacher and asked the states to adopt the philosophy. The act stated that a highly qualified teacher must have; a Bachelor’s Degree, be fully certified, and demonstrated knowledge of the core curriculum they will teach (Drame, Pugach, 2010). How the issue applied to the special education teacher was not clear. Therefore, the Individuals with Disabilities Improvement Act explained the ambiguity. It required all veteran and new special education teachers to be of the same quality as the teacher of general education. Once again, the theory that the teacher is the most important part of the child’s education is presented (Drame, 2010). With many prospective teachers stating they are not prepared for education special needs children, more and more teachers are uncomfortable in the inclusive educational setting. According to A. Bandura, a teacher must develop the skills to engage in a task to develop a sense of proficiency (Burton, Pace, 2009).

Unfortunately, the United States Department of Education claims that teacher preparation is failing to produce the quality of teachers required under No Child Left Behind. Nevertheless, teachers that had full certification and extensive knowledge had higher certification level that those opting for an alternate certification program. The general education teachers with extensive training were more often teaching within their subject-matter. Both the general education and special education teacher reported more prepared to teach when highly trained (Boe, Shin, Cook, 2007).

Many of the teachers were more comfortable in special education when they had quality pre-service training within the classroom. The classroom training made them feel they could handle any problem that arose. But many of these teachers believe the course work training was not important to the job they did. In addition, the general education teacher appeared to be inadequate to meet the challenges of the special education classroom (Brownell, Smith, McNellis, Lenk, 1995). In past years the general education teacher has had little interest in learning about special education needs. However, with the change in government mandates, general education teachers are taking a greater interest in learning more about the needs of children with disabilities (Boardman, Arquelles, Vaughn, Hughes, Klinger, 2005).

According to McLeskey and Billingsley, 2008, the majority of special education teachers at the secondary school level are not meeting the guidelines established by the “highly qualified” segment of the No Child Left Behind Act. These researchers claim there is no evidence to prove that the mandate by No Child Left Behind is contributing to better quality special education teachers due to their shortcomings in the area of content (Therrien, 2009). In fact many teachers, especially in rural areas, that are teaching the disabled have no special education preparation (Bargerhuff, Dunn, Renik, 2007).

On a national scale, the number of children identified with disabilities has grown. In the 1990-91 academic year, 4, 361, 751 students received special education courses in school. In the 1999-2000 academic years, the number grew to 5,677,996, representing a 30 percent increase (Bargerhuff, 2007). Unfortunately, the growth of special education students did not keep pace with the number of special education teaching jobs. Special education positions were increased by 10 percent from 325,565 in the academic year 1990-1991. In the year 1999-2000 there were 358,537 positions (Bargerhuff, 2007).

With the discussion as to how best the disabled child learns, it is important to note that it does not just come down to academics and accommodations. It is important that the child feel comfortable in his or her environment. The teacher may be very skilled and know the subject-matter, but the entire child must be considered within the educational process. If the child is not comfortable and content, he or she will not achieve or meet expectations (Hong, Ivy, Schulte, 2009)

In conclusion, this report indicates the need for all classroom teachers to be training in the delivery of education to disabled children. With the federal and state mandates, the school systems must establish a form of teacher education that works in the inclusion environment. Many school programs have developed the collaboration process as a means to reconcile the mandates from the federal government. However, the collaboration process is difficult as many special education teachers feel that they are within a supplemental role to the special education teacher. The only real answer to meeting the designs of the federal government’s No Child Left Behind Act is to clearly prepare all general education teachers for the inevitable inclusion within their classroom of the disabled child.


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