What Should Early Childhood Inclusion Look Like?
That was the question posed to participants in a session held this week as part of the National Early Childhood Conference, sponsored by NECTAC -- the federally funded National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center.
You can also offer your thoughts on the issue here, on the Web site of the National Professional Development Center on Inclusion, based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The researchers there have created a draft document and a survey to gather responses, and the goal is to get responses from as many stakeholders as possible.
Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which deals with school-aged children, gets the lion's share of attention (and most of the federal funding for special education). But there's another part of the law, Part C, which relates to early intervention programs for infants and toddlers. And yet another section of the special education law, Section 619, provides grants for preschool programs for children with disabilities aged 3 to 5. This week's conference brings together coordinators of these various programs, parents, and other people involved in early childhood education.
According to the professional development center, the number of children ages 3 to 5 with disabilities in regular classrooms is increasing. Early intervention is key to keeping these children from slipping far behind their peers. Professional development for early childhood educators, however, has not kept up. According to the inclusion center:
... while early intervention and special education is part of the mission of many programs, coursework and training often fall short. The majority of early childhood personnel are not adequately prepared to modify teaching methods and curriculum to ensure full participation of children with disabilities.
There is a national need for an integrated, cross-sector system of professional development to define what is meant by highly qualified personnel in inclusive settings.
Early childhood educators can find a lot of information on the Web site of the early childhood inclusion center, including multimedia presentations, handouts and research summaries.