Monday, February 2, 2009

Integration of Special Education students

Recently a survey was published in response to special education policy on Ontario: "A quarter century of inclusive education for children with intellectual disabilities in Ontario: Public perceptions." The full paper is available here.

As is the government way, they create policies, pass legislation to make it so, and then institute policies across the board, if you'll excuse the pun. The first sentence of the abstract reads, "Understanding the views of the public is an important factor in developing and evaluating policy on inclusive education." I must disagree. The first factor is determining the need for such policies, evaluating its research-based evidence, and in an Action Research* program determine it validity.

In a sadly inadequate survey of satisfaction of special education integration practices, Philip Burge surveyed opinions of those outside the city, between the GTA and Ottawa. All of these centres (GTA, OCDSB) have exemplary integration strategies. But there is a difference between practices in major city centres, and smaller districts. It is a matter of public opinion -the study found, that outside these city centres, that 52% believed that some degree of inclusive education in regular schools was best and 42% believed that education in special schools was best.

Imagine not surveying the stakeholders in special education? This renders the validity of the study quite invalid. I am tired of opinions and man-in-the-street interviews!

The questions to ask:
  • Who is learning?
  • How are they learning?
  • Are they learning best in a fully integrated or partially integrated setting?
  • Are the teachers well equipped?
  • Principals trained in supporting them?
  • Are the EAs fully trained in pedagogical processes, since they are the main teacher in usual practices?

For the most part the parents demanded integration in the early 80s.

The background information, research enquiry cited studies that determined that "inclusive education, when adequately funded and supported by educators, enables all students to be treated with dignity..." Fair enough, but is it the best place for intellectual development for all concerned? Apparently so, since those with intellectual ability can be positive role models. It helps all of us understand each other, a huge skill in the job market. Emotional intelligence is an important aspect to success in the workplace.

The teachers fought it since they had little training working with sp.ed. kids.
Parents of non-identified children fought it since it took time away from their 'regular' kids.
Principals just did as parents asked, according to their rights. But fought with the Board and parents to get more Ed. Assistant (EA) time, and Bill 82, in 19080, and in cutbacks of the 1999s- and Harris' reforms, special needs students lost out.

Many more teachers are earning their sp.ed. specialist certificates, rightly so. But many are burdened with sp. ed. kids. They have no idea how to modify curriculum, and integrate students, especially in smaller schools, with fewer human and physical resources. The paper alludes to this finding of opinion, and I have found it so in the many classrooms of which I have had knoweldge. Many teachers are unaware of the special needs of special students. Many have personal biases that confound their abilities to teach those less intellectually abled.

Unions have lobbied for weighted loading of classrooms, with limited class sizes for integrated special needs students. This makes sense. It has not necessarily been so, however, as reduced public school populations have resulted in cutbacks.

There needs to be a balance: with withdrawal part of the time, and EA support during integration time.

In one class I had 25 kids: 6 L.D., 1 autistic, 1 with neurofibromatosis, Marfan's Syndrome, 1 gifted student, etc. My EA was there 1/2 time, but the students were withdrawn for half the day in a small class setting.
It changes the way you teach and the way kids learn.

This study, perhaps a waste of taxpayer dollars as we seek public opinion on a policy that has been proven to support disabled students.


If anything is certain, it is that change is certain. The world we are planning for today will not exist in this form tomorrow.

--Philip Crosby, Reflections on Quality


*Action Research is one method of allowing teachers to take control of their professional practice. It cannot be mandated and it needs to be facilitated (Fullan, 1993). This paper demonstrates the need for all stakeholders to empower front line workers to create collaborative communities and to integrate best teaching practices into their teaching portfolio (Hargreaves & Fullan, 1992).

1 comment:

Frank J. said...

as your page is dealing with diversity/ability-topics, we would love to inform you about or contest on the topic of inclusion.
We are trying to build an international database and discussion plattform for the various definitions of inclusion/inclusive education.
You can find more information at:
We would be pleased if you would link on your web site, either by writing a post or using one of our banners:

Best regards and thank you for your support
Frank J. for the team of

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