Side by Side
|Today, many states are considering including some special education training in their certification requirements for general education teachers.|
At Syracuse University's education school, a leader in embracing inclusion, general education and special education teachers are taught together and receive dual certification at the end of the four-year program.
Douglas P. Biklen, the chairman of the inclusive education department at the private university in Syracuse, N.Y., says the faculty there found that a lot of coursework was duplicated in the special education and general education programs, and decided that all education students would benefit from a combined degree.
The program has been popular, he says.
"We were a little worried, because whether or not they were interested in elementary or secondary education, they were coming to this inclusive program," he notes. "We were pleased to find out the students came in large numbers."
Today, many states are considering including some special education training in their certification requirements for general education teachers. Last year, 22 states required elementary teachers and 21 required secondary school teachers to study some coursework related to students with disabilities, according to an Education Department report to Congress in December. But only 11 states required general education teachers to have practical experience with disabled students before receiving certification.
"The general education teacher needs to understand, basically, how the disability affects a child's ability to learn," Hehir says. "They should also expect that they have available to them competent help."
Teachers' union leaders say that many districts do not plan well for inclusion, leading to problems for both teachers and students.
Too often, inclusion occurs as "a collision in the night," says Ed Admundson, the chairman of the National Education Association's Caucus for Educators of Exceptional Children. The 2.3 million-member NEA has worked to push districts and administrators to put aside enough funding to train teachers adequately and to provide the support that they and their disabled students need, Admundson says.
And often, the perceived reluc-tance by a teacher to have a class that includes a disabled child stems from the teacher's previous bad experiences with inclusion, he adds.
The 5,000-member West Virginia Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, successfully lobbied for state laws giving teachers more of a voice in student placements after the state urged schools to embrace full inclusion.
The laws, enacted in 1994, gave general education teachers a seat on the individualized education plan team. Further, if a disabled child is placed in a regular classroom but the teacher feels the placement was a mistake, the teacher can call another IEP team meeting after 30 days to review the decision.
The changes "slowed down what we perceived to be wholesale inclusion," says Bob Brown, the West Virginia union's executive director. "It brought some sense and meaning to what's going on."
Calling for a moratorium on inclusion that year, the union released a survey of 1,121 teachers that found that 87 percent did not believe inclusion would benefit general education students and 78 percent did not believe it would help the special education students. The root of the problem, the union concluded, was inadequate resources and preparation, as 77 percent of the teachers said they had received one hour or less of training in inclusion.
An October 1996 report in the 40,000-student Howard County, Md., district echoed those findings. Responses from a survey of 475 middle school teachers found that "almost two-thirds of the teachers (64 percent) believe that inclusion detracts from their ability to fully serve the needs of the general student population." Only 21 percent of the teachers thought inclusion met the needs of special education students.
|Parental resistance also may dampen enthusiasm for inclusion, many administrators say.|
When Congress amended the IDEA last year, education and disability-rights advocates pressed for a range of changes that, while more expensive and cumbersome for administrators, could help general education teachers become more comfortable with their new role.
One of the changes the advocacy groups have embraced is a requirement that a disabled student's general education teacher participate in meetings on the student's individualized education plan, or IEP. Such meetings, required by the IDEA, determine the education path that a disabled student will follow.
Diane Schust, a lobbyist for the NEA, says the union had pressed for the mandate for several years because teachers often were not informed of disabled students' needs. Often, a teacher would not even be allowed to see a copy of the student's IEP and would not be given any information on the child's disability, she says.
Further, the IDEA amendments require that a disabled child's coursework be tied to the general classroom's curriculum. States and districts also must include disabled students in assessments, making modifications or giving an alternative test where necessary.
Juleen Hanberg, a special education teacher in rural Lapoint, Utah, has been working with school officials there to set up inclusive classrooms. She says many of her colleagues, particularly those teaching in upper grades, feared having disabled students in their classes. Not only did the teachers not know how to adapt and modify the curriculum to meet the students' needs, she says, but some also were intimidated by the students' behavior and worried that a child might become uncontrollably violent.
The 6,445-student Uintah district has worked to allay those fears by keeping a special education teacher in the classroom or on call should problems arise. School officials have also assured teachers that if a child is violent or disruptive, they will make a change in placement quickly, Hanberg adds.
Administrative support, from problem-solving skills to leading workshops, is also a crucial piece of the puzzle, teachers say.
Many times, enthusiastic and open-minded teachers do not receive the support they need from principals, other administrators, and their peers, says Ann Perez, a teacher in the 29,000-student El Dorado County, Calif., schools and distinguished-teacher-in-residence at California State University-Sacramento.
Teachers who attempt to create inclusion programs on their own "turn into Joan of Arc," says the strong-willed teacher who moonlights as a ski instructor on weekends. "They get beat up pretty quickly" by administrators, other teachers, and sometimes parents.
Parental resistance--most often from parents of nondisabled students who worry that their children's education might be slighted--also may dampen enthusiasm for inclusion, many administrators say. At Taylor Elementary in the 18,300-student Arlington County, Va., district, Principal Ralph E. Stone set up committees of parents and teachers that meet every few weeks to address concerns and solve problems stemming from the school's inclusive programs.