The Coexistence of High Standards and Inclusion

Whole-school approaches can satisfy requirements of IDEA and ‘No Child’ act by DOROTHY KERZNER LIPSKY
School administrators find themselves facing what appear to be conflicting mandates from the federal and state governments, including the demands for academic standards and the requirement of inclusive special education.

Evidence suggests, however, that school districts can achieve high academic outcomes while including all students in meeting the requirements of both the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the No Child Left Behind Act.

IDEA and NCLB address the common issue of educational benefits for all students. The federal laws offer a framework that:

* emphasizes high standards for all students. While NCLB focuses on reading and math, IDEA addresses all subjects;

* requires testing of students with needed modifications so that few are excluded. The results are to be made public as part of the school district’s report to parents and community;

* includes provisions to ensure overall data do not mask the particular. NCLB requires disaggregation of test results by various subgroups, including students with disabilities. IDEA requires disaggregation per treatment (referrals, certification, placement and discipline) by gender, language and race;

* emphasizes the importance of personnel. IDEA imposes requirements on states for a comprehensive personnel system. NCLB requires all teachers, including those in special education, be highly qualified by the end of the 2005-2006 school year;

* requires best practices. IDEA requires states and local districts to acquire and disseminate the results of educational research and adopt promising educational practices. NCLB requires reading and math programs be research-based; and

* encourages flexibility in the use of funds to promote a whole-school approach. IDEA authorizes the use of special education funds for services to nondisabled students and professional development activities with general education teachers who serve students with disabilities. NCLB allows school districts to transfer funds between various federal programs, excluding IDEA.

A Unified System
The basic redesign of special education is as a service, not a place or program to which students are sent. The systemic goal is to transform the whole district into a unified educational system.

While the federal law does not require the placement of all students with disabilities in a general education environment, it presumes inclusion. Each student’s individual education plan must incorporate specific justification of a decision for a student not to participate with nondisabled peers in academic, extracurricular and nonacademic activities. This justification must be particular, subject by subject, and cover the spectrum of school-based programs, the entire academic curriculum, clubs, sports, afterschool activities and student transportation.

District leadership is essential. The leader must: 1) work with all stakeholder groups to develop a shared vision of a unified system; 2) support a planning process to re-examine past practices; 3) secure resources for the needed changes; and 4) monitor initiatives to ensure progress, to make midcourse corrections and to sustain momentum.

Successful outcomes for all students will require fundamental changes in district organization and budgeting, school organization and staffing, and classroom practices. An effective continuum of services for students with disabilities is best achieved by changing programs, procedures and services in general education.

The practices described here are drawn from the experience of the National Center on Educational Restructuring and Inclusion in its research, training and technical assistance work with urban, suburban and rural school districts.

District Organization
Launched by the superintendent, a building-level planning process prepares the district for implementing inclusive education to promote high-level educational outcomes for students in general and special education. A whole-school approach to the educational restructuring is essential. The planning process is not a special education exercise.

The district planning process involves five steps:
* Establish a diverse school planning group. Because the consequences will have an impact on all adults and children in the school, the planning group should include the full range of school stakeholders--general and special educators, classroom and support personnel, administrators and parents.

* Conduct a school self-assessment. Identify the reasons students have been referred for special education services to determine additional or alternative services in general education to support students and enable them to succeed in the regular classroom. Examine the current design and staffing of special education programs to identify resources for (re)deployment to provide support to students with disabilities in general education classrooms. Look for current district and school practices that inhibit inclusive practices. Identify students with disabilities served in separate classrooms to determine the supports required in a general education classroom. And determine the professional development required in the school redesign, recognizing the staff members themselves are an important professional development resource.

*Develop the school plan. The plan should be specific and should identify students in special education to be served in general education classes. It should address the supports needed, the models and the staffing patterns to be used, organizational and scheduling changes, professional development activities, processes and methods to evaluate student and program outcomes and a timetable for implementation.

*Implement the school plan.The schedule of implementation should be substantial enough to establish momentum toward full system implementation.

* Evaluate outcomes and revise the program accordingly. Address outcomes for general and special education students and system capacity to educate all students by increasing the range of teacher skills and the appropriateness of the curriculum and by establishing a pro-learning and safe environment.

The superintendent of Community School District 22 in Brooklyn, N.Y., took a flexible approach in allocating financial and personnel resources and infused traditional special education services such as counseling and behavior modification programs into the regular education program for all students who could benefit from the service. The district included standardized test scores of special education students in its public reports on school accountability, addressing what would become a major component of No Child Left Behind.

In San Francisco, the superintendent initiated, supported and monitored a comprehensive planning process, hosting monthly meetings of principals to review their plans and progress. These sessions served to monitor progress (and develop some healthy competition) and to allow for an exchange of ideas as to what worked and what did not. With the superintendent an active participant and in attendance for the entire time, the priority given to this activity was made clear.

As part of a statewide initiative in New Mexico, superintendents emphasized that students with disabilities would attend general education programs in their home school, the one attended by their nondisabled siblings and neighborhood friends. The initiative was developed with the collaboration of parent and advocacy groups. Most special education students were served in general education classes full time with needed supports. Alternative options were available in the district or the school for other special education students with more significant needs.

A whole school plan will require resources for implementing inclusive education. Given the high cost of operating a separate special education system, the development of a unified system does not require extensive additional resources once the one-time conversion costs are discounted. Districts have found inclusive education offers opportunities to save funds in areas such as transportation, while eliminating duplicative administrative structures.

Prevention activities in general education offer important savings opportunities, both in the costs of unnecessary evaluations and the costs of expensive special education services. Flexibility in the use of resources has programmatic benefits and potential cost savings.

In the New York City Public Schools, 43 separate funding streams were combined into a single pool at the building level. While allowing for the required record keeping at the district level of the state and federal funding sources, the flexibility at the building level made the use of these funds seamless between special and general education.

School Organization
A whole-school approach captures the philosophy and practices required in IDEA as essential to achieving effective outcomes for students with disabilities. School practices, often established years ago, frequently inhibit the development of a unitary whole school system.

To identify procedures and practices that inhibit restructuring, school districts have reviewed the differences between general and special education programs. Several areas were identified by school leadership including student registration procedures, methods of establishing student rosters, procedures for ordering texts and other materials, assignment of supervisors and rating officers, establishing teacher schedules, lunchroom practices, bus schedules, length and timing of the school day, practices regarding extracurricular activities (both requirements for participation and the supports provided) and opportunities for parents to play leadership roles in school organizations. Program or procedural differences led to a more extensive examination of the practice to determine its continuation in a unitary system.

A whole-school approach requires all staff in the school to share responsibility for meeting the needs of both general and special education students. To meet the requirements of individual education plans, school districts can use several models or variations of teacher collaboration and school staffing. As general education teachers gain familiarity with a wider range of adaptations and supports for all students and special education teachers learn new content-area skills, approaches to inclusive education shift to meet the realities of individual schools.

Teachers in inclusive schools report collaboration is a powerful means of personal and professional development. The benefits of collaboration for teachers include reducing the isolation of being a solo practitioner; sharing the responsibility for the teaching of a diverse group of students; learning new skills and approaches; reflecting upon practice with non-supervisory colleagues; and adding enjoyment to teaching.

The most common models of inclusion include the following.
* Co-teaching/full-time places a special educator and general education teacher are in the same classroom, jointly sharing responsibility for the entire class.

* Co-teaching/part-time has a special education teacher divides her or his time between two general education classrooms. When the special education teacher is in the classroom, the teachers address the major academic subjects. In some districts, a paraprofessional is assigned to the general education classroom when the special education is working with the other general education class.

* Indirect support involves the special education teacher providing consultative support to the general education teacher in whose class students with disabilities are included.

* The methods and resources model has the special education teacher taking primary responsibility for adapting materials and developing alternative instructional strategies for several students often in different classrooms.

* In the team model, a special education teacher is included in the team of teachers, which serves a cohort of students. The team model is most frequently used in middle schools.

* In a schoolwide model the entire staff as a group takes on responsibility for all students, teaching in a variety of configurations, from lecturing to a large group to tutoring individual or small groups of students.

Issues of discipline manifest themselves in many ways. Federal and state data indicate that special education students are placed too often in restrictive settings, due to discipline issues. General education teachers report their greatest concern regarding the return of special education students to their classrooms involves discipline issues. Inclusive schools recognize that discipline must be approached on a schoolwide basis, where they have implemented positive behavior support programs to serve as a preventive measure and to address acts of inappropriate behavior.

The common elements of positive behavior support programs incorporate unified attitudes that recognize effective instruction as a tool to improve behavior; unified expectations as to acceptable behavior; and unified consequences, enforced in a consistent manner when rules are broken.

Classroom Practice
The traditional practice of an individual teacher in a classroom shifts to colleagues working together to address the needs of all students. Teachers share their knowledge, step out of their old roles, learn from fellow professionals and become interdependent.

The inclusive classroom is differentiated. The needs, intelligences and learning styles of students differ; curricular materials, instructional strategies and assessment must be different as well. Especially as to assessment, tension exists between the requirements of IDEA and inclusive education and the regulations promulgated for the implementation of NCLB. No doubt, some clarity will come with the reauthorization of IDEA and as districts and professional organizations weigh in on the strictures of NCLB. For students with disabilities, IDEA’s provision for supplementary aids and services provide the means for teachers to respond to the wider range and greater diversity of students.

Best classroom practices of inclusive education include cooperative learning; curricular adaptations and classroom differentiation; students supporting others in cross-age and peer tutoring; paraprofessionals or classroom aides who serve the class, not only individual students; and instructional technology embedded in curriculum and classroom activities.

Congruent Strategies
The complexity of special education and the extensive demands upon superintendents and other district leaders have led to special education being assigned to the special educators rather than district leadership. The outcome has been the continuation of two separate systems, one a general education mainstream system and the other a lesser quality and more expensive separate system.

The strategies and approaches necessary for the achievement of inclusive schooling are congruent with overall school improvement measures. Across the country, school districts have achieved the inclusion of special education into general education along with the achievement of high standards for all students.

Dorothy Lipsky is director of the National Center on Educational Restructuring and Inclusion, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York, 365 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10016. E-mail: dlipsky@gc.cuny.edu. A former superintendent, she is co-author of Inclusion: A Service, Not a Place. A Whole School Approach and Inclusion and School Reform: Transforming America’s Classrooms.