The value of social justice must be spread everywhere. There will always be issues related to social justice, especially at schools. We are not supposed to surrender speaking out to strive against discrimination, including the discrimination against special education students. Often times we feel satisfied with the idea of the inclusion, but we seldom evaluate if what we did has given satisfaction to our student with disabilities. The testimony video from Youtube by Emily Hawkins has shown us that there is some work to do in term of the special education problem at schools. As a principal, we need to always improve our service to all students, including to the students with disabilities. In this paper, I discuss some ideas of how we can improve the quality of services for special education students.
Student with Disabilities
Pullen & Hallahan (2011) in Cooper (2013) identified 11 categories of special education: 1. Intellectual and developmental disabilities; 2. Learning disabilities; 3. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder; 4. Emotional/behavioral disorders; 5. Communication disorders; 6. Deaf and hard-of-hearing students; 7. Blindness and low vision; 8. Traumatic brain injury; 9. Autism spectrum disorders; 10. Multiple and severe disabilities; and 11. Special gifts and talents (p. 17). The effort to strive to put the students with disabilities into the heterogeneous class was started in 1970. In 1970, only 20% of students with disabilities were educated in America’s public school and there were over three million students with disabilities that did not receive an education that was appropriate to their needs (Yell, Katsiyannis, & Bradley, 2011 in Cooper, 2013). Yet, we need to still work hard to give a better education for special education students, even though we have a better system right now.
Some Approaches to the Betterment of Special Education
The short video clip from Youtube by Emily Hawkins showed us that there are some problems she encountered when she received special education at schools: the horrible placement test, the feeling of being babied, and the lack of accommodation. She compared college to the public school systems. When she was in middle and high school, she always received a test to measure her specialness; however, she was put in uncomfortable circumstances. She also felt overprotected by the school as well as she did not feel like she belonged in the school. Even though there are some educational settings that served her well, such as great teachers who could teach her well, we need to still improve the quality for special ed students. There are some approaches to better serve the students with disabilities which I adopted fromm Theoharis’ (2009) idea of modern inclusion: 1. Collaborative teams; 2. Increasing positive climate and instructional practices; and 3. Increasing accountability system.
- Collaborative Teams
Lashley (2007) contended that if we want to improve our services to the students with disability, we need to increase the number of personnel to serve them. This is aimed to give more services with high quality to the students. In line with this, Theoharis (2009) suggested that students with disabilities should get the collaborative teams of professionals within the general education classroom. The concept is that each specialist is paired with a smaller, manageable number of general education teachers. Therefore, a school principal should initiate a sustainable professional development plan for general teachers in order to be able to work, make a curriculum and lecture with the specialist teacher. The collaborative teaming is very effective to a bit eliminate a segregated and pullout model. By having a collaborative teaming in the inclusive program, one can avoid the negative perspective of students with disabilities as felt by Emily Hawkins in the short video.
- Increasing positive climate and instructional practices
Emily Hawkins in her video shared to us that she felt se did not belong in her school. She felt that her high school teachers were babying her. Thus, she felt uncomfortable doing tests. This means that the school where Miss Hawkins attended was having a negative school climate. To eliminate the feeling of not belonging in the school of the special ed students, the school principal should increase the positive climate and instructional practices. Increasing awareness of the people in the building, such as teacher, administrator, and students to more welcoming to those who are with disabilities, will give a positive impression to the special education students. Also, supportive facilities for the handicap students should be evaluated and increased all the time.
Increasing academic rigor and access to opportunities are also required to improve the service to the special education students. Theoharis (2009) wrote school principals should be brave to offer courses to students, especially courses for students with disabilities, that they need to get into college. He added that every school principal should be ready to have more academic rigor infused in the curriculum. Giving more opportunities, rigorous curriculum, and some courses that are not exclusively for general students will increase the amount of belonging special ed students have for the school. The special education students deserve these better kinds of instructions. The final goal of this stage is that special education students will increase their sense of belonging to their schools.
- Increasing Accountability Systems
How would we know that schools were successful in educating children if they did not collect data to hold the teaching and learning accountable? There are still a lot of schools that discriminate an individual with disability without being held accountable. The reason why we should hold the school accountable, especially for special education students, are: 1. The educational outcomes of students with disabilities have not improved as much as expected; 2. Children with disabilities are part of, not separated from, the general population; 3. An emphasis on compliance-over-results fails to acknowledge States with successful special education programs; 4. State early-intervention needs to expand the quality and extent of data required outcomes to improve programming; 5. The IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) accountability system should measure how well state and local educational agencies are educating children with disabilities (Clark, 2012). Theoharis (2009) asserted the importance of collecting and analyzing the data to understand the academic performance of every student. Using data driven decision-making can be very valuable to avoid making a policy based on the assumption. Increasing accountability at school is also aimed to understand where inequities in quality, programs, and achievement exist. In line with this, Lashley (2007) stressed that NCLB (No Children Left Behind) has forced the principal’s hands by requiring public accountability. We are hoping not to hear a negative comments by a student like Emily Hawkins in the future, when we have already increased our accountably, especially for students with disabilities.
All in all, as mentioned by Theoharis (2009) that schools are expected to eliminate social injustice including to the issue of special education. We understand that all we have done will not always satisfied the need of the students, but it does not mean that we can give up in dealing with the problems. In term of improving the services to the students with disabilities, we can use these three ideas: 1. Collaborative teams; 2. Increasing positive climate and instructional practices; and 3. Increasing accountability system. All people in the building as well as parents and local government need to work together to achieve the education for all. By working collaboratively in doing these three approaches, discrimination for students with disabilities can be reduced.
Clarke, C. D. (2012). Outcome to drive special ed accountability. Retrieved from: http://www.asha.org/Publications/leader/2012/120918/Outcomes-to-Drive-Special-Ed-Accountability.htm
Cooper, Kristy. (2013). Students receiving special education services (Chapter B). A class presentation. Michigan: Michigan State University.
Lashley, C. (2007). Principal leadership for special education: An ethical framework. Exceptionality, 15(13), 177-187.
Theoharis, g. (2009). The school leaders our children deserve: Seven keys to equity, social justice, and school reform. New York: Teachers College Press. Chapter 3: “There is no social justice without inclusion: Advancing inclusion, access, and opportunity for all.