The 1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act require that children with disabilities progress in the general education curriculum.
But, as a May 2002 report from Michigan’s special education advisory committee noted, “the concept of curricular access is new territory” for many teachers in special and general education, who have often lacked common goals. In particular, the panel said, few research-based, best-practice models exist to help guide educators.
“The shift to outcomes is like shock therapy to people in education,” says Sandra L. Laham, a consultant to the committee. “In special education, we spent 25 years being concerned about process.”
The three profiles that follow describe efforts by schools and their districts to give all children access to the general curriculum and standards.
''What we do in Long Beach is standards-based instruction for all kids,” explains Judy Elliott, the assistant superintendent for special education in California’s Long Beach Unified School District.
“It’s really about teachers’ being able to differentiate instruction for all students—general education kids and special education kids,” she adds. “That’s not a special education issue.”
Though the schools profiled differ in many ways, they use a number of common strategies, including: close collaboration between special and general educators, sustained professional development and common planning time for teachers, and a willingness to overcome past thinking.
While none of the schools is perfect, they provide a vision of the possible. They illustrate what can be accomplished when schools have high expectations for special education students, ensure their access to the general curriculum, and provide them with the necessary supports to succeed.