Inclusion of Special Education Students with General Education Curriculum

By Keith Lockwood, PH.D. & Leah Henry-Beauchamp, PH.D.

  The education of prospective teachers becomes significantly impacted when individuals’ with disabilities are included in the dialogue of school reform within schools. It is estimated the 54 million Americans live with disabilities. The exact prevalence figure indicates that 7.7 percent of the general school population is children with disabilities (U.S. Department of Education, 1998). School districts to date (“National Study,” 1994, 1995) indicate an increase not only in the numbers of school districts implementing inclusive education programs, but also an increase in the numbers of special education students in general education classes.

Despite these facts most educational theories have been formulated with little, if any, regard for disability (Hahn, 1994). It therefore becomes imperative to argue that in order to truly prepare prospective teachers to be responsive to the realities of today schools, the faculty from colleges of education, colleges of arts and sciences, and local schools need to coordinate their understanding, knowledge base, and efforts collaboratively to include individuals with disability. The purpose of this study was to explore how University faculty at the post-secondary level dealt with the training of prospective teachers regarding the issue of inclusion.

Based on the findings of Zinn, Lavizzo and Taylor (1993) and Attkisom (1989) a survey was designed to measure the attitudes and actions of college professors who prepare and train teachers for work in inclusive settings. Specifically, the survey sought to explore issues pertaining to inclusive education. The primary purpose of the survey was pilot a professional development needs assessment tool in order to help identify areas of professional development that could later be pursued to improve any efforts in preparing pre-service and in-service teachers within public school settings. Section I included basic descriptive information about the respondents, such as gender, tenure status, and department affiliation. Section II included twenty items describing three domains of inclusive education: 1) general attitudes and perceptions of inclusion, 2) issues relating to professional staff development at the University level, and 3) pedagogy and curriculum development for the preparation of pre-service and in-service teachers training to teach in inclusive settings. In addition, one open ended question was used to obtain the respondents overall views of inclusion.

A purposeful sample was used to select the respondents; all who were employed as full time faculty within the College of Education at large state run University, located in the North East region of the country. A total of seventy-two surveys were distributed to all full time faculties within only the College of Education, over a two month period. The results of this distribution yielded a 19% response rate. Seventy-one percent of the
respondents indicated being female, while 19% indicated being male. Of the respondents seventy-nine percent of the surveyed faculty, indicated teaching within the Department of Curriculum and Teaching, 29% indicate teaching in the Department of Human Ecology, 14% indicated teaching in the Department of Educational Foundations, and 7% indicated teaching in the Department of Early Childhood Education. Fifty-seven percent of the respondents indicated having ten years or more of instruction at the post-secondary level. Twenty-two percent indicated having between five to ten years teaching experience at the post-secondary level, while 21% indicated having less than five years teaching experience. Seventy-nine percent of the respondents indicated having earned tenure, while 21% of those surveyed remained untenured.

The results of the surveyed were organized into three categories in order to explore the attitudes and actions of faculty who prepared teachers on issues pertaining to inclusive education. As mentioned in the above the categories were: 1) general attitudes toward inclusive education; 2) issues related to professional development; and 3) pedagogy and curriculum development as related to teacher preparation for inclusive
settings. Each category within the survey will be discussed separately. Because of the sampling methods and the small sample size, the validity of the following descriptive statistical analysis is questionable and may contain bias. No anecdotal information was obtained, but may prove in the future to add further enlightenment to the exploration of teacher preparation for inclusive settings.

General Attitudes on Inclusive Education. Five items within the survey dealt with the respondent’s perceptions of inclusive education. The majority of the respondents reported that they felt inclusive would education lead to positive changes in the educational system, as well as indicating that inclusive education was a good idea. Interestingly, the majority of the respondents reported that they understood how curriculum and instruction could be modified for students with disabilities within the general education settings, but did not hold a basic understanding of the educational needs of students with disabilities. Most profound of the results was the respondents negatively reporting that they felt students with disabilities would receive a better educational within a traditional special education classroom (see table 1).

Areas related to Professional Development and Inclusive Education. Five items on the survey dealt specifically with activities of professional development pertaining to inclusive education. Interestingly the majority of the respondents indicated that while they attended workshops on inclusive education, they lacked the ability to train and teach pre-service teachers to implement inclusive education. The majority of those surveyed agreed they would like to integrate more into their future courses, but would like and require more information on inclusive education. Interestingly, the majority of the respondents desire such feeling of a lack of knowledge base about inclusive education indicated that they felt comfortable reporting and discussing issues of inclusion within the University community (see table 2).

Areas related to Curriculum and Pedagogy of Inclusive Education. The remaining ten items on the survey dealt specifically with the exploration of the respondent’s perceptions and attitudes about curriculum and pedagogy relating to inclusive education. This section of the survey proved to be the most interesting. The majority of the respondents indicated in a positive fashion that covering inclusive educational issues in their courses did not take time away from the existing curriculum, and that discussion of inclusion benefited the pre-service as well as in-service students that they instruct. The majority of the respondents also reported that they were able to meet the needs of students in their own class at the post-secondary level if they were disabled, and reported feeling comfortable discussing issues of inclusion at the College wide meetings. However, despite the fact that earlier they reported feeling that inclusion did not hamper covering other material in existing courses, overwhelmingly the same respondent indicated that the felt they did not have time to discuss inclusion in depth. In addition, forty-three percent of the respondents felt that they did not have adequate skills to teach and promote inclusion in their existing courses. Forty-two percent indicated that the demands of the existing curriculum made it difficult to add inclusion into their courses, and 57% felt that they did not have the skills to help pre-service and in-service teachers differentiate instruction within an inclusive classroom. Perhaps this was due to the fact that 87% of the respondents had little involvement themselves in the process of inclusion when they worked within schools. The majority of the respondents (51%) felt that the incorporation of inclusion in their existing courses did not encourage them to experiment
with showing their pre-service and in-service teachers new teaching methodologies. But what was most telling of those surveyed, was that seventy-two percent of the respondents, all full time faculty within the College of Education, at the large public Northeastern University, felt that the College of Education was not doing a good job preparing pre-service and in-service teachers to teach in inclusive setting upon earning a
degree and certification.

Discussion of results and overall reflection and conclusions. As reflections of society, our nation’s schools have been challenged to various societal changes and mandates. With the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), Congress required our nation’s educational system to include students with disabilities into the general education population. Within the last 20 years, demographic shifts, economic
conditions, and changes in the structure of families have challenged schools to meet the needs of a diverse group of students. The movement of inclusion was essentially developed to meet these educational mandates and challenges. However, there is a considerable gap between theory and practice. The results of this study potentially show how such a gap has occurred- in the inadequate preparation of pre-service and in-service
teachers who will teach within inclusive settings. As stated above and overwhelming 72% of the full time faculty who participated in the study agree that they were not adequately training both pre-service and in-service teachers at the University level, who will graduate become certified and teach within inclusive settings. The study points out that we as teach educators at the post-secondary level are simply ill-equipped to fill such a gap. The significance of this study indicates a wake-up call so to speak is needed for those at the post-secondary level who prepare teachers with teacher training programs. We as teacher educators need to educate ourselves so that we are able to translate current research and best-practices of inclusion into effective and reflective teacher training programs that address and expand the current realities of today’s classrooms.

The results of the study point to a key principle in preparing pre-service and inservice teachers to teach in inclusive settings: effective inclusion of students with disabling conditions requires reflective teacher educators to modify their attitudes, teaching and classroom management practices, and curricula to accommodate such diversity that is evident in inclusive schools. This study points out that success in training pre-service and in-service teachers hinges on the faculty of universities possessing the ability to become more effective and reflective practitioners who are able to think critically about their beliefs, values and practices of inclusion. The results point out that university faculty who has the responsibility of teacher preparation must
continually engage in self-improvement by reflecting upon and evaluating the impact of their own actions pertaining to the students they train. By refining their own teaching practices, knowledge base as well as and curricula regarding inclusive education, university faculty will in turn facilitate the learning of their own pre-service and in service teachers.

Several recommendations have resulted from the study. First, it is essential that University faculty as a whole examines and analyzes not only what but how they as educators are preparing future teachers for today’s diverse classrooms. Such a reexamination into both curricula and pedagogy may perhaps serve as a catalyst for changing how teachers in general are prepared. The second recommendation is the University faculty continues to engage in professional development and workshops to hone their skills and knowledge base regarding inclusive educational practices. Such workshops may want to focus not only on providing university faculty a basic understanding of exceptionalities, but more importantly how such students with
disabilities’ unique characteristics create special curriculum and pedagogical needs with today’s classroom. Potential discussions need to include areas such differentiating instruction, an overview of issues in instruction for children with disabilities, relevant legislation, instructional implications regarding disabilities, instructional principles for improving learning, principles for planning and curricular modifications as well as adaptations. Other professional development activities may include film series as well as forums at the University level to enable teacher educators a forum to discuss concerns and questions relating to inclusion. The thrust of such professional development activities will not only re-enforce and provide university faculty the important opportunity to discuss what needs to be done at the post-secondary level to ensure that schools and teachers that are trained by the university continue to successfully educate all students. The above recommendations are aimed at highlighting to progress of our nation’s schools in a providing a supportive and quality education to the increasingly diverse student population.

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