Current Issues and Trends in Special Education: Research, Technology, and Teacher Preparation: Volume 20

Cover of Current Issues and Trends in Special Education: Research, Technology, and Teacher Preparation

Table of contents

(17 chapters)

Current Issues and Trends in Special Education is divided into two volumes, namely, Volume 19: Identification, Assessment and Instruction and Volume 20: Research, Technology, and Teacher Preparation. The field of special education constantly changes as a result of legislation, new instructional formats and current research investigations. It can be difficult for general and special educators, school counselors and psychologists, administrators, and practicing clinicians to keep up with these changes and be current in all areas relating to special education. The special education literature knowledge base should reflect these changes; however, there is no current resource that effectively and comprehensively does this. The purpose of Current Issues and Trends in Special Education is to fulfill this void.

Quantitative research is based on epistemic beliefs that can be traced back to David Hume. Hume and others who followed in his wake suggested that we can never directly observe cause and effect. Rather we perceive what is called “constant conjunction” or the regularities of relationships among events. Through observing these regularities, we can develop generalizable laws that, once established, describe predictable patterns that can be replicated with reliability. This form of reasoning involves studying groups of individuals and is often called nomothetic and is contrasted with idiographic research that focuses on the uniqueness of the individual. It is clear that large-scale experiments with random assignment to treatment are based on nomothetic models, as are quasi-experimental studies where intact groups of people (e.g., students in a particular classroom) are assigned to treatments.

Research begins with a question that begs to be answered. The research question must be well articulated and specific. Once the research question is established, the methodology is chosen. Thus, it is the research question that determines the methodology. In the field of special education, many methodologies have been used to answer research questions. For example, Stoner et al. (2006c) used a single subject design to determine the effectiveness of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) for adults with intellectual disabilities. Quasi-experimental methodology may be the appropriate methodology for determining the effectiveness of intervention with a group of students. The effectiveness of two math curricula for students at risk was conducted by Woodward and Brown (2006) using quasi-experimental research. If the research question centers on attitudes or opinions of a large group of individuals, then quantitative research may be used. Brown, Welsh, Haegle Hill, and Cipko (2008) reported on preservice teacher attitudes about teaching students with learning disabilities (LD). However, if one wants to broaden and enhance understanding and to fully and deeply comprehend the perspectives of individuals, then qualitative methodology would be used. For example, through the use of qualitative methodology, two studies (Bailey, Parette, Stoner, Angell, & Carroll, 2006a; Bailey, Stoner, Parette, & Angell, 2006b) described the perspectives of members of individual education plan (IEP) teams and perspectives of family members regarding augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) use in public schools. The findings of these studies (a) offered in-depth understanding of the process of obtaining AAC devices, (b) identified barriers and facilitators to AAC device use, and (c) provided strategies for effective use of AAC devices.

The changing U.S. demographics, characterized by the rapid growth in immigration (Suarez-Orozco, 2003; U.S. Census Bureau, 2000), and the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation are good reasons to prompt all educational stakeholders to seriously examine the practices of educating learners at risk of educational failure. Among at-risk learners, a significant portion is made up of English language learners (ELLs), especially those who are newcomers (i.e., ELLs who are fairly new to the school community in the United States with little or no English proficiency). The last census revealed that immigration accounts for more than “70% of the growth of the American population,” and that “the foreign born-population reached 30 million” (Portes & Hao, 2004, p. 1). Of this group, Hispanic students comprise the fastest growing group, and among Hispanics born outside the United States, 44.2% drop out from the educational system between the ages of 16 and 24 years (National Center for Education Statistics, 2001). For this reason, discussions and debates on the best way to educate ELLs for effective English language acquisition leading to academic achievement in U.S. schools remain at the forefront of educational debates. At the core of this discussion, the question of whether or not to provide bilingual education services to learners for whom English is not their dominant or native language remains as one of the, if not the, greatest long-standing political, ideological, educational battles in the United States.

This brings us to the question of the extent of the problem and how it might be alleviated. Well, because it is widely accepted that those who live in glasshouses should not throw stones, I shall be careful with my analysis of the problems associated with mastering English. In addition to English, I speak five languages. The adjustments I make on a daily basis to retain fluency in these non-English languages are quite tedious. Nevertheless, I have learnt to use these languages for situational purposes. I suppose students desiring to master English ought to do the opposite when it comes to embracing English and mastering its component. Should they choose to do so, they stand a good chance of reaping the benefits of mastering English in the United States or globally. Statistics and documented evidence shows that US immigrants who devote time and space to mastering English stand a good chance of enhancing their education and securing employment (see Miller & Ward, 2005). This is true because the United States is not yet a bilingual nation. Furthermore, documented evidence shows teachers in most American schools are working hard at implementing new approaches and methods that will help immigrant children and students in schools to succeed (see Ramakrishan, 2002). This is a positive sign for education in the United States. English is the language of commerce and the language that is used to educate the world when literature is disseminated at major international circuits and business transactions. As such, it is important that we make its usage and mastery a pivotal part of the education immigrant students receive irrespective of ethnic background. To provide key factors for my reasons, I will reference critical points made by teachers, politicians, writers, lawmakers, and educators concerning the mastery of English and the immigrant population in the United States. Much as I am interested in explaining why and how the mastery of English will help to enhance education for non-English-speaking immigrants, I am also interested in explaining why they need to master English.

Although AT consideration has been mandated since 1997 (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997) and subsequently echoed in IDEIA 2004, there is no consensus in the field regarding how education professionals approach the task of making decisions about AT devices that can support the instructional process. Numerous models and frameworks have been proposed to provide guidance in the consideration of AT (e.g., Blackhurst, 2005; Bowser & Reed, 1995; Center for Technology in Education, Johns Hopkins University; and Technology & Media Division [TAM] of the Council for Exceptional Children, 2005; Chambers, 1997; Edyburn, 2000, 2005; Melichar & Blackhurst, 1993; Parette & VanBiervliet, 1990, 1991; Zabala, 1993). More recent clarifications of this process have been presented (Parette et al., 2007). However, at Illinois State University, we have developed an approach used in our undergraduate preparation program that has been effective in helping future teachers understand this process and more effectively make decisions about appropriate AT solutions for students with disabilities. The following sections present an overview of this process, preceded by an introduction to the role of tools in our society.

Technology, particularly for students with disabilities, is often viewed as “the great equalizer” (Wyer, 2001, p. 1). It is perceived as a means of providing access and opportunity, promoting independence, and encouraging empowerment (Edyburn, Higgins, & Boone, 2005b). Technology can greatly benefit students with disabilities and solve many of the challenges these students face. Perhaps, this was put most profusely by former Assistant Secretary of the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs Judy Heumann, “For most of us, technology makes things easier. For a person with a disability, it makes things possible” (Edyburn et al., 2005b, p. xiii). The potential of technology is enormous for students with disabilities. For example, technology can provide a voice to those students who may not otherwise have one per their disability (i.e., AAC devices), read a text to a student who struggles with reading as a result of his/her disability (i.e., text-to-speech devices, screen readers, and Reading Pens), grant access to a computer and other electronic tools (i.e., switches and speech recognition), and offer low-tech devices such as pencil grips or lined paper to aid students in writing.

Schools maintain a monocultural approach to teaching even with a growing CLD school population. Multiculturalism supports the idea that school curriculum should represent and reflect the cultural make-up of the school population. Multicultural education is democratic, and it promotes cultural differences as assets rather than liabilities.

Multiculturalism, in theory and practice, has become an important educational phenomenon in today's schools, colleges, and universities. It seeks inclusive avenues that equalize opportunities for all individuals (Sue, 2004). To a large measure, it incorporates multiple voices, including those of culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) persons and communities in solving local, national, and global problems. As it appears, CLD learners are the majority in some of the largest school districts in the United States (Grossman, 1995, 1998; Ladson-Billings, 1994; Obiakor, 2004; Obiakor & Beachum, 2005). For instance, Ladson-Billings (1994) noted that these learners “represent 30 percent of the public school population. In the twenty largest school districts, they makeup over 70 percent of total school enrollment” (p. x). This revelation is particularly important today, especially because the composition of educational professionals and service providers still does not reflect the changing cultural and linguistic compositions of children in schools (Obiakor, 2007, 2008). At some levels, rather than progressive measures of desegregation, we are seeing retrogressive measures of resegregation. While this might not be a necessarily bad idea for some urban schools, the progressive goals of the 1954 Brown versus the School Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas case have somehow failed (Obiakor & Utley, 2004).

The Oxford English Dictionary defines transition as “a passing or passage from one condition, action, or (rarely) place, to another; change.” This definition captures the essence of the transition as experienced by youth and young adults with disabilities as they move from school to postschool settings. Additionally, the definition also raises the issue that transition encompasses the existential experience not only of passing from one condition (of being a student/child to becoming a graduate/an adult) but also of the physical movement/passage (from school services to adult services) and the change therein. This chapter begins by providing a brief historical framing of transition both from the standpoint of legal foundations of transition and the findings from early research on the postschool outcomes experienced by graduates of special education. In addition, the impact of those findings is discussed regarding the formulation and articulation of transition as a mandated element in the educational planning for students with disabilities at the secondary level. Next, the chapter reviews the initial models of transition that were developed and/or proposed as a way for meeting the needs of secondary age students with disabilities as identified in research. The essential elements of transition expressed in the transition definition provided by Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1990 and subsequent amendments are then described. A discussion of issues related to the best and promising practices in transition concludes the chapter.

The concept of transition and preparation for adult life has been an important yet controversial governmental initiative since the early 1980s. This governmental focus prompted special educators to develop and implement curricula to better prepare students with disabilities for adult life (Price, Gerber, & Mulligan, 2007). The curricula process involves forming linkages among local educational agencies and other human service agencies, including employment and training, adult services, leisure and recreation, and health and rehabilitation. Educators and policy makers continue to encounter great challenges to building capacity and sustained implementation of the transition curricula process at both the local school and the community levels.

Despite serious debates regarding different methods for preparing special education teachers (e.g., alternative routes, distance education, and programs with traditional student teaching), most supporters of teacher education agree on the importance of professional teaching standards as an underlying framework for defining professionalism in teacher preparation programs. For example, in a national survey of special education alternative route teacher preparation programs, Rosenberg, Boyer, Sindelar, and Misra (2007) found that the majority of respondents indicated their programs were designed around professional teaching standards, particularly standards developed by the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium, and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The CEC, the leading professional organization for special educators, disseminates professional standards for beginning and advanced special educators that have been approved by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) (Council for Exceptional Children, 2004). Specific areas addressed by the CEC professional standards include (1) foundations of special education, (2) development and characteristics of learners, (3) individual learning differences, (4) instructional strategies, (5) learning environments and social interactions, (6) communication, (7) instructional planning, (8) assessment, (9) professional and ethical practice, and (10) collaboration. These standards include the core knowledge and skills essential for effective special educators and serve as guiding principles for professional programs and state licensing departments. They ensure that special educators are well prepared to enter the practice of teaching. Teacher preparation programs should be the vehicle through which professional standards are taught, understood, and translated into practice.

Traditionally, preservice teacher education has been conducted in college and university classrooms and has relied heavily on what Shulman (1992) called “the twin demons of lecture and textbook” (p. 1). This educational model neglects the importance and strength of preservice teachers’ beliefs about teaching and content (Nietfeld & Enders, 2003; Putnam & Borko, 2000) and has been termed a transmission model in which teaching is telling (McLeskey & Waldron, 2004; Russell, McPherson, & Martin, 2001). The type of knowledge conveyed is considered to be declarative (Sternberg, 1999) or formal (Lundeberg & Scheurman, 1997) and is derived from theory and comprised of facts, concepts, and rules. Whitehead (1929) and more recently Bransford, Brophy, and Williams (2000) reported that this type of knowledge tends to remain inert and is unlikely to be retrieved in the very circumstances that call for its use.

Cover of Current Issues and Trends in Special Education: Research, Technology, and Teacher Preparation
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Advances in Special Education
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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