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Principals Say They Need Help to Support Students With Disabilities

Most secondary school principals—especially those in schools that serve primarily black and Latino students—think their schools can do a better job of serving students with disabilities, a new nationally representative survey of school leaders finds.

Taken from a web-based survey of the RAND Corporation's American School Leader Panel, the findings reveal that student racial demographics are a significant predictor of principals' access to materials and tools to support students with disabilities.

As part of the survey, 1,679 secondary school principals were asked to rate their access to support that could improve education in their schools. In middle and high schools with the largest share of black and Latino students, principals self-reported significantly less access to each type of support: materials and tools, such as curricula and technology; training and information, including professional development; access to staff with specific expertise for serving students with disabilities, and guidance from district-level administrators.

"Funding and resource discrepancies have been well documented for districts and schools serving high percentages of students of color," the report reads. "Furthermore, schools with a higher percentage of students of color have difficulty attracting and retaining quality principals, which could be driving turnover and new principals' reported needs for more support."

Overall, only about 25 percent of principals rated their support as "completely sufficient." The RAND Corporation report, with its broad definitions of support, did not ask about specific needs or supports for specific types of disabilities, the authors noted.

To better understand what school leaders need to support students with disabilities and what lies at the root of the discrepancies in the levels of support reported by the principals of schools that serve primarily black and Latino students, the report concludes that more research needs to be done.

The report results parallel findings from a 2019 survey, from the National Center for Learning Disabilities and Understood.org, that found many teachers consider themselves unprepared to meet the needs of millions of children with disabilities in the nation's public schools.

Related Reading

Help for Principals Who Want to Support Special Education Teachers and Students

The Important Role Principals Play in Special Education

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