Special Education Past, Present, and Future: Perspectives from the Field: Volume 27

Table of contents

(15 chapters)
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Abstract

We present and explain several reasons that special education as a field has not been served well by the lessons of our history, but has the extraordinary opportunity, if not responsibility, to learn from history and use these lessons to guide practice. Our premises include (a) special educators may be less aware of their past than professionals in other disciplines, and thus less likely to build on this past; (b) given the relatively short history of the field as we know it today, we have access to many leaders who shaped policy and practice in special education; and (c) special education faces crossroads in many respects, and these have the potential to drastically re-shape or re-define special education. As such, we believe that contextualizing our present and future direction in an understanding of our past is critical now more than ever.

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This chapter presents the personal perspectives of the author on issues related to methodology in teaching children with learning disabilities and to the role of methodology in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Additionally, problems schools have had in implementing IDEA are highlighted and proposals offered to alleviate those difficulties.

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The Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act address factors to consider in educating students with and without disabilities together to the maximum extent appropriate. This chapter is designed to examine the origins and evolving interpretations of the LRE concept in special education policy and practice. Discussion traces the evolution of the concept as a legal principle, and reviews its application to educational strategies for students with learning and behavioral disabilities in contemporary schools. In conclusion, the future of the LRE concept is addressed in light of competing policies promoting presumptive inclusive education, and publicly funded school choice programs promoting greater involvement of parents in choosing where their children with and without disabilities should be educated.

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This chapter addresses emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) in the larger context of special education. The author suggests that EBD, like special education more generally, has been distracted by issues such as labeling, disproportionality, and inclusion rather than keeping a clear focus on instruction. Revisionist history has led to misunderstanding of what special education is and does. A more promising future for the field depends on focusing on instruction, embracing scientific research, developing checklists and manuals to guide practice that are based on scientific evidence whenever possible, working for sustained student success, and using language more carefully and precisely.

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The school-to-prison pipeline is a term used to describe the pathway traveled by students from public schools to incarceration in secure juvenile detention and correctional programs. It begins with students who are marginalized by the education system because of their academic and behavioral issues. The pipeline leads from school failure and disciplinary exclusion to involvement with the juvenile justice system. Youth who are ethnic minorities (especially those who are African-American or Hispanic) as well as those with educational disabilities (especially those with learning and behavioral disorders) are significantly overrepresented in data sets representing key points along the pipeline (e.g., students with poor academic achievement, high rates of suspension, expulsion, and dropout) as well as their high rates of incarceration. From his personal perspective and experience with the juvenile justice system, the author attempts to explicate the pipeline, and to describe efforts to impact it positively.

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There are few challenges as daunting as achieving positive outcomes for students with emotional disabilities. A major obstacle is the generally poor quality of classroom instruction. Too few general education teachers or special education teachers possess the knowledge and skills to adequately serve this population of learners. Various factors account for the inadequate level of teacher preparation, including licensure requirements that emphasize quantity over quality, the research-to-practice gap, a train-and-hope rather than a train-and-coach approach to teacher preparation, and the absence of an infrastructure to support sustained use of evidence-based practices. I discuss each of these factors and offer some recommendations for improving the quality of teacher preparation and, in turn, the potential for more positive student outcomes.

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In this chapter, we examined issues related to research design and research management as applied to scientific research conducted in applied school settings. In terms of research design, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have an important role to play in advancing a scientific agenda for school-based research. However, given their enormous cost and complexity, it is important to carefully time their implementation in the development cycle. We suggested that the use of RCTs is most appropriate in the later stages of the development cycle when the focus is on demonstrating the efficacy and/or effectiveness of an intervention and establishing its generalizability under the real world conditions of schooling. We also recommended establishing a hierarchy of evidence for an intervention that involves implementing a cost-efficient mix of single case, quasi-experimental, and true experimental designs where appropriate and feasible. In examining issues related to the management of research and the implementation of a knowledge development agenda for schools, it has become apparent that treatment integrity is a keystone variable. We discussed the importance of treatment integrity, with attention to the impact on internal and external validity. Finally, we offered practical considerations to support high-quality, respectful school-based inquiry.

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Progress monitoring and data-based intervention are unique special education developments stemming from efforts to find an effective alternative to diagnostic/prescriptive instruction. Springing from research on Curriculum-based Measurement (CBM) in the late 1970s and early 1980s at the Minnesota Institute for Research on Learning Disabilities, the approach has generated a large body of empirical research and development. While the original work demonstrated that teachers could be more effective using progress monitoring in data-based intervention, most research and development activity has focused on development and extensions of the CBM model with less attention to data-based intervention. While research on progress monitoring has occurred at a high rate, widespread implementation of progress monitoring has been spurred by both federal funding and commercial development. As might be expected, all of this activity has resulted in a large set of successes and disappointments that are described here. For better or worse, as progress monitoring and data-based intervention have been incorporated into Response to Intervention (RTI) models it seems likely that the future of progress monitoring and data-based intervention is tied to the future of RTI. The question is whether this linking will result in adding to the set of successes or to that of disappointments for this unique special education innovation.

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Developments in online learning today closely resemble the development of modern traditional education. In the latter half of the twentieth century, new judicial decisions and law guided traditional education from exclusive to inclusive, from inaccessible to accessible, and from curriculum-centered to student-centered. The authors present a brief history of these developments and compare them to current trends in online learning. Notably, online learning programs seem to be making the same mistakes present in traditional education’s development – mistakes that took decades to correct. The authors suggest theories and practices that can bridge the gap between current trends and online learning’s future promise.

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The main challenge of special education in Norway, as in other Nordic countries is to implement the inclusive school in practice. Even if there is a strong commitment to the idea of full inclusion in a one-track system, there are still several indications of segregation tendencies in the schools. The long-term goals of Norwegian school reforms to promote an inclusive school with high-quality special education and assistance do not seem to match the practical realities in the municipalities and local schools that are responsible for putting the ideals into practice. There are disagreements about how to create a good balance between the general and the specific or between adapted and special education. According to special education research, there are ideological, organizational, financial, and practical obstacles in the process of including students with special needs. One of the promising research based approaches to the inclusion of special needs students, and particularly those who are difficult to include, is the model of school-wide positive social and academic learning support and intervention. This model has been implemented and evaluated in Norwegian elementary schools with encouraging results.

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DOI
10.1108/S0735-004X201427
Publication date
2014-08-26
Book series
Advances in Learning and Behavioral Disabilities
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-78350-835-8
Book series ISSN
0735-004X