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General Ed Teachers, Special Ed Students


The No Child Left Behind Act has to offer a way for general education teachers to receive professional development so they can teach students with special needs effectively, said three researchers that I interviewed as part of a story on a study by the National Council on Disability, "The No Child Left Behind Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: A Progress Report."

Considering all the information that the presidential advisory council compiled for its report, I found it interesting that this issue came up repeatedly.

"When it comes down to the school level, that's the challenge. They're the ones who have to make it happen," said Watson Scott Swail, the president of the Eductional Policy Institute in Virginia Beach, Va. His organization, along with the American Youth Policy Forum, conducted the study for the council.

Betsy Brand, the director of AYPF, said this becomes more important as larger numbers of students with disabilities are included in general education classes. Special education teachers get specific training on how to present instruction in a variety of ways, but the general education teachers need those skills too. "I don't think that most of our general education training comes from that perspective," she told me.

Martin Gould, the director of research and technology for the council, believes the issue may have been obscured in some of the early conversations about reauthorizing NCLB. Elementary teachers seem to fare a little better in their ability to present information to different types of learners, but all teachers need to have the skill, he said.

What do teachers think? Do general education teachers feel prepared to meet the needs of all the different types of students they may see in their classrooms? Is there a way to incorporate this kind of professional development into NCLB? Check out the report, especially the parts that focus on "capacity building," and let me know what you think.


Christina: I think that this is an interesting point, and one that is made frequently. As a parent, I have been hearing it for over a decade to defend the segregation of students with disabilities in "resource rooms," (which is just a vocabulary change from "special ed room" in too many cases).

My ongoing question is that if we have seen this as a need for this long, why hasn't it happened? I realize that reforming schools of education would take some time--and using that route to change the field even longer. But in my district teachers have maximum permission to determine their own professional development. Any needs determined by the district must be provided in addition to the individual needs that teachers determine for themselves. Wouldn't it seem that somehow in this decade plus the conditions would have changed for the better?

But what I have also observed during this time is an unwillingness of regular ed teachers to see themselves as responsible for "special ed kids," and for principals to expect them to be. As one principal told me--if they wanted to work with that population they would have gone to school for special ed.

This doesn't keep them from having opinions--and lots of them--about what's "really wrong" with some of the kids down the hall (no discipline at home, mom is in denial, parents don't want to medicate, etc, etc). The poor art and phys ed teachers have to sit through lots of IEP meetings because they count as "regular ed" and can meet the requirement (actually, the art teachers are usually so glad to be included ANYWHERE that they actually are a help--training or no).

In short--I agree that there is a need for greater training (even among the certified special ed staff--who may not have specific information that they need about a specific child--and in fact are less likely to be certified than the regular ed staff). But I think we have to really get up close and personal about the barriers to accessing the training. As an able-bodied and "normal" regular person, I can tell you, I was wholly unprepared for the level of rejection, prejudice and bias I have encountered as the parent of a "special ed student."

I am an alternative route certified teacher. I didn't have any education classes related to special education so I feel this an area of weakness for me. I am in favor for more professional learning credits for regular education teachers to assist in making accomodations/modifications for special need students.

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