Current Perspectives in Special Education Administration: Volume 17

Cover of Current Perspectives in Special Education Administration

Table of contents

(14 chapters)

Special education administration in the 21st century is a challenging endeavor due to the roles and responsibilities that special education administrators face in today's world. Part of the challenge comes from federal legislation such as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 and the Individuals with Disabilities Improvement Act (IDEIA) of 2004. These acts require more program accountability and innovative leadership by special education administrators. Challenges also arise from the changing demographics in American schools. For instance, special education administrators need to develop and administer programs to a growing diverse school population. Leadership is needed in this area to alter the disturbing disproportionate number of multicultural students that are placed in special education programs. Proactive leadership in preventing the misassessment, miscategorization, misidentification, and misplacement of multicultural students is critical.

The standards movement, while new in the current NCLB iteration, has been a part of education for almost the last half century (Popham, 2001; Sirotnik, 2004). According to several researchers (e.g., DiPaola & Walther-Thomas, 2003; Fullan, 2001; Lashley & Boscardin, 2003; Marsh, 2000; Villa & Thousand, 2000), there have been significant changes in the roles that school leaders must fulfill to implement a standards-based educational accountability system. The requirements of NCLB will not be a “passing fad” and so will affect the manner in which special education administrators conduct their work (Hochschild, 2003). As it stands, districts and schools are viewed as an amalgam of complex relationships (Harry, Sturges, & Klinger, 2005) that come together as learning communities to meet accountability targets for all students. The requirements for building a learning community involve the skills of collaboration and empowerment of others. Apparently, developing productive partnerships will exceed the previously defined narrow interpretation of collaboration with families and other professionals (Crockett, 2002). Standards-based accountability practices which disaggregate data based on specific subgroups, one of which is students with disabilities, are a result of the concern that exclusion of students from testing distorts the efficacy of educational reform efforts (Heubert & Hauser, 1999; McDonnell, McLaughlin, & Morison, 1997; Schulte & Villwock, 2004). However, concerns have also been raised regarding the validity of conclusions drawn from large-scale accountability data (Schulte & Villwock, 2004; Ysseldyke & Bielinski, 2002). Hargreaves (2003) concluded that “the rightful pursuit of higher standards has generated into a counter productive obsession with soulless standardization” (p. 82).

Critical theory integrates the value of social justice into the practice of research and focuses on the manner in which injustice and subjugation shape peoples’ experience and understanding of the world (Endres, 1997). A critical theory perspective is specifically concerned with issues of power and justice and the ways that the economy, race, class, gender, ideologies, discourses, education, religion, disability, and other social institutions interact to construct a social system (Kellner, 2003). Thus, critical inquiry must be connected to attempts to confront injustices of society. Clearly, an effective history of special education law can better illuminate some of the injustices commonly experienced by students with disabilities. However, the majority of school administrators and directors of student services and special education have viewed special education regulations through a positivist lens. Skrtic (1995) contended that although positivism has been discredited, it is still the theory of knowledge used in modern professionalism (including education, special education, and other social sciences). Professional knowledge in this positivist framework is received and perceived by students as objective truth because the scientific process remains the mechanism for discovering and applying new knowledge. Society affords professionals autonomy on the assumption that professionals, by virtue of their access to specialized knowledge, know what is best for their clients. In a type of moebius loop construction, only the professionals can judge what is best for their clients because they are the only ones with access to the specialized knowledge. This knowledge, frequently based on “traditional” histories, becomes the pervasive, professional knowledge employed in practice. Thus, it is essential to understand the assumptions inherent in this knowledge base.

In schools across the nation, several strategies have proven to yield positive outcomes for multicultural students, especially those with special needs. For example, the responsiveness to intervention program (RTI) was implemented to aid English language learners in California (Boswell, 2005). The RTI program was fueled by the notion that even after implementing the best practices in schools a lot still deserved to be done. Students needed more intervention. Hence, in addition to existing interventions, fourth- and fifth-grade students still struggling spent an extra 45min of instruction with a speech and language pathologist or resource specialist over a nine-week period. As a result of this intervention, these students gained more than a year's growth in reading (Boswell, 2005). Furthermore, after the first year of the program, only 4 of the 63 participating students were referred for special education services. According to Boswell, in 2005, this program received the Golden Bell Award by the California School Board Association. In addition to programs like RTI, another intervention is administering effective mentoring and tutoring programs. Mentor programs have proven to be very successful in decreasing absenteeism and increasing academic achievement in students. Gensemer (2000) noted that peer mentor programs in elementary schools can increase the use of critical thinking skills, improve interpersonal skills, and increase the use of conflict resolution skills. Students learning from each other have proved to be very successful. Barone and Taylor (1996) contended that cross-cultural tutoring enhances students’ self-esteem, academic learning time, and sense of responsibility.

Urban schools serve a diverse student population that includes African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and “poor” European Americans. The school size and location and the composition of student population play a major part in determining learning outcomes of a particular school (Mukuria, 2002). The Carnegie Report (1988) described many urban schools as having a large, diverse population and located in “poor” neighborhoods. The report indicated that many schools lack purpose, coherence, and unifying culture and that they have neglected buildings that give them a negative appearance. In addition, these schools lack meaningful instructional programs and regular routines as well as a strong sense of community. As a result, they demonstrate the instability to establish a consensus on a unifying culture, which to a large extent, leads to disciplinary problems.

Recent changes in legislation have generated discussions among educators throughout the United States. The NCLB Act and IDEIA added new requirements for schools, and raised some questions regarding the intersection of the two laws as they impact special education. Following are discussions of these laws and what they mean to rural school systems.

Public schools can be environments in which students exhibit either tremendous achievement and growth or complete stagnation and decay. Public school districts, schools, administrators, and teachers continue to struggle to address the needs of children in dire conditions, within a climate of high-stakes accountability. Many of these children experience risk factors, such as single-family households, low incomes, and crime-ridden environments. However, these risk factors do not mean that they cannot experience school success. There are enough data to show that at-risk learners can be reached.

Every successful program needs someone to champion its cause. This also applies to programs for students with disabilities. It is upon this person's shoulders that responsibility falls for initiating the steps to bring disability programs to fruition at an institution. Support services are typically coordinated by this full-time staff member who is responsible for providing students with disabilities a variety of “academic adjustments” that are mandated under Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act. Again, this law requires that post-secondary institutions make modifications to their academic requirements and ensure that they do not discriminate against a qualified student with a disability (Frank & Wade, 1993; Simon, 2001). These modifications may include appropriate academic adjustments such as the provision of course substitutions, adaptation of instruction methods, alternate exam formats, and modifications in the length of time for the completion of requirements; or the provision of auxiliary aids, such as taped texts, sign language interpreters, guide dogs, use of tape recorders, readers or writers, and access to adaptive technology (see Pavone & Rotatori, 1994). The individual who provides these core supports is often instrumental in linking students with disabilities with other support services on campus (e.g., writing laboratory, math tutorial, and academic development center) (Smith, 2004).

Although less than 1% of violent student deaths take place in schools, incidents such as the shootings that took place at Columbine High School in 1999 have fueled a general impression that schools are unsafe (Hall & Marsh, 2003; Osher & Quinn, 2003). Media reports about bomb threats, bullying episodes, and disruptive classroom behaviors have further contributed to a widespread belief that schools are not as safe as they should be (Osher & Quinn, 2003; Chicago Tribune Online Edition, 2006).

School disciplinary actions have numerous goals, including teaching social skills, promoting peer mediation, and increasing community involvement (Garnes & Menlove, 2003). Many school disciplinary actions are based upon behavior management principles, with consequences administered for behavior that is dangerous, disruptive, socially inappropriate, or incompatible with good academic deportment. Discipline often takes the form of punishment and is intended to quickly reduce undesirable behavior. Contingency management methods include detention, suspension, and expulsion (Turnbull, Wilcox, & Stowe, 2002).

Individuals with disabilities may not be aware of their communicative, academic, social, and/or vocational needs. Over the last 20 years, self-advocacy has been referred to as a goal for education, a civil rights movement, and a component of self-determination (Test, Fowler, Wood, Brewer, & Eddy, 2005). As a measurable skill, self-advocacy can be specifically defined as a skill that helps “individuals communicate their needs and stand up for their own interests and rights” (Yuan, 1994, p. 305). Individuals diagnosed with a variety of disabilities (learning disabilities, cognitive impairments, language disorders, etc.) experience difficulty in achieving success in situations where they are required to communicate their needs and stand up for their rights. Test et al. (2005) documented 25 definitions of self-advocacy that were published between 1977 and 2002. The most recent definition focused on self-advocacy in the realm of social change and civil rights; the enablement of individuals with disabilities to make decisions, speak for themselves, and stand up for their rights.

Just as the technology has made its way into daily life, invited or not, technology has made its way into the school. School administrators and educators may, or may not, enthusiastically embrace an additional set of expectations and expertise. However, a prudent administrator needs to know about the technology knowledge and skills required to be competent in the digital age. Professional organizations publish the standards that reflect best practice.

Cover of Current Perspectives in Special Education Administration
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Advances in Special Education
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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