Attitudes and Knowledge of Professionals and Parents about Inclusion
Doctor of Education - Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment
Prospectus: Attitudes and Knowledge of Professionals and Parents about Inclusion
Description of the Local Problem
The term inclusion is used to describe services that place students with disabilities in general education classrooms with support services. These students may receive instruction from a general education teacher as well as a special education teacher. Historically, children with disabilities of any kind were regarded to be inferior or invalid and not being thought to be able to benefit from education (Ayala, 2010). Current practices and belief systems regarding inclusion for students with disabilities may be influenced by our country’s historical practices regarding individuals with disabilities.
Williamsville Central School District (WCSD) has 10,200 K-12 students enrolled in the 2014-2015 school year among its 13 schools. The district boasts a 93% graduation rate with 60% of those students earning a Regents diploma in 2014. Eighty percent of the students are white, 3% Black or African American, 3% Hispanic or Latino, 10% Asian, 3 % Multiracial, and 2% are limited English proficient,. Eleven percent of the student body receives free or reduced lunches. Williamsville high schools offer 20 different Advanced Placement course opportunities, allowing motivated and capable students to do college level work while still in high school. WCSD is consistently ranked as one of the top school districts in Western New York by independent sources that evaluate student performance data annually. In fact WCSD has been ranked by Business First as the #1 school district in WNY for 11 consecutive years (through 2013-14). The Budget for the district this school year (2014-2015) is $173.9 million.
As the largest suburban school district in Western New York, Williamsville Central encompasses 40 square miles including portions of the towns of Amherst, Clarence and Cheektowaga.
The local problem for limited opportunities for inclusion for students with different abilities is widespread across all of WNY. There is 1048 square miles in Erie County. Within these square miles there are ten schools exclusively for students with different abilities. These schools are private schools that house students from surrounding districts. The district the child lives in is financially responsible to cover all academic and therapeutic costs for the student. At Williamsville Central School District (WCSD), 10% of the students identified as needing to receive special education have been placed in some of these separate schools. Another 40% of students with special needs are in the general education program for 40% or less of the day. Looking at these statistics and the fact that WCSD has boasting rights to being ranked number one and possessing a healthy budget, it raises the question of what are the beliefs of the parents, administration, and teachers within the district of what is priority. Are the students classified as having disabilities believed to be welcomed in the general population? Do the parents and educators in WCSD believe that increased inclusion opportunities offer social, emotional, and intellectual benefits to all students? Perhaps the underlying belief system within the district is that separate is more beneficial. These are great questions, but what about the other side of the story? Do parents of students that are not included and are in special education settings feel their child is receiving the best education for them. Is it one size fits all?
Eredics (2014) found that there are increased social interactions and relationships between students. A greater understanding of diversity develops, in addition to improved communication skills as students learn and respond to one another’s differences. Students begin to feel more integrated into the school community and a greater sense of belonging develops. Self-confidence grows naturally from positive support of peers and teachers. All students should have equal access to the curriculum despite ability level. Accommodation and modifications can be made to the students needs. Students become more actively engaged in learning.
Rationale of the Local Problem and Purpose of the Study
The students attending the “special” schools have no opportunity to participate in general education and be included with their non-special education peers. WCSD historically has one class in one of their three high schools they call the PRIDE class. This class is housed in the Williamsville South High School. There are 30 students enrolled in the PRIDE class. This class is considered to be the class of inclusion. However, the students enrolled in this class receive all instruction for all subject areas in this one classroom. This is considered a self-contained classroom, the antitheis to inclusion. They do not change classes for each period of the day as their non special education peers. Their classroom is down a hall with no other classrooms in it. The room is off the cafeteria. If it is in the student’s IEP to participate in “specials” that student will be able to participate in art, gym, or music with their non disabled peers. It is reported that none of the students enrolled in this class participate in the specials with their peers. Although WCSD is listed in the top five districts in New York State in regards to standardized test scores for the past ten years, they fail to supply acceptable and appropriate inclusion opportunities for many of the students of different abilities.
According to Wagner (2014) this type of “special” education is sometimes felt to be inadequate and inferior, as well as separate and not necessarily equal to the regular education programs in the other regular classrooms. Current federal law (IDEA) mandates that all children receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) –and it is up to the each child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team to determine what constitutes FAPE and LRE for that particular child. LRE refers to the educational placement required by the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) in 2004. The idea of LRE is grounded in the precept that a student who has a disability should be educated with peers without disabilities in the greatest extent possible. LRE will look differently for different students based on what is appropriate for each respectively. This study will be looking at the beliefs and attitudes of educators and parents for the students that are identified as having developmental disabilities. This may or may not include delays or disabilities involving cognition, physical needs, medical needs, learning differences, and communication needs. Students identified with severe mental health issues such as childhood psychosis, oppositional defiant disorder, disruptive behavior disorders, or schizophrenia are not being considered for the purpose of this study.
The purpose of the study is to inquire and review the beliefs and attitudes of teachers, administrators, and parents regarding inclusion opportunities for students identified as requiring special education. What are the beliefs and attitudes of educational professionals and parents regarding inclusion for students with special needs? What placement decisions have been made for students by parents? Answering these questions may give us some insight into why so many students are placed in separate buildings. If the underlying belief system is that the students benefit more from separation from their peers that could lead us to looking further into research why Least Restrictive Environment does not work for all students. If the underlying belief system is that students with disabilities take away from the learning of the non disabled population, then we can look further into educating parents and educators of how inclusion is beneficial to all students.
Review of Literature Addressing the Problem
The theoretical framework of this study will be based on the belief that people will have a positive attitude toward inclusion if they have a full understanding of what inclusion looks like and how it will be carried out in the school and classroom setting. Teachers may have a positive attitude about inclusion, however, be apprehensive if they are unsure or unaware of supports in place. General Education teachers may portray a more negative attitude regarding inclusion if they feel ill prepared and have little to no support. Parents may display a more positive attitude towards inclusion if they feel that their child will be safe in the environment.
Another conceptual framework for this study will be based on the notion of belief and change. In order to make positive change regarding inclusion practices, parents and educators need to look within and assess why there may be resistance to increase inclusion opportunities. Pajares (1992) explains that there is resistance to change because there is an emotional component that makes it challenging for people to change their beliefs behind a given topic. . “People grow comfortable with their beliefs, and these beliefs become their ‘self’ so that individuals come to be identified and understood by the very nature of the beliefs and the habits that they own” (Pajares, 1992, p. 317).
If there is resistance to change, Pajares (1992) explains that it is most likely because of the habitual quality of relying on known beliefs. This habitual quality is mainly due to the fact that beliefs are highly entwined with other central beliefs. How deeply rooted the central beliefs control the level of resistance toward change. The more intense and deeply rooted the central belief the more difficult it will be to change beliefs and practice toward inclusion.
Woods (1996) portrays a concept of deconstruction of beliefs that will help understand the movement toward change. Some beliefs, such as exceptional children should be separate and not included in general education, need to be disproven so that another set of beliefs can be formed (inclusion is possible and essential).
Review of Literature
American history shows that individuals with disabilities were viewed as feeble, undesirable, and “less than” their counterparts. Eugenics is a term first used in 1883 by Sir Francis Galton. According to dictionary.com (2014) the definition of Eugenics is “the concept of selective breeding in humans to achieve improved genetic qualities that will strengthen and improve the gene pool.” Ayala (2010) further explains that Americans embraced the eugenics movement by passing laws to prevent people with disabilities from moving to the U.S., marrying or having children. Eugenics laws led to the institutionalization and forced sterilization of disabled adults and children. On the heels of Eugenics a pamphlet was released in 1912: The Threat of the Feeble Minded (Winzer & O’Connor, 1982). This created a sense of panic and let to the allowance of substantial abuses of human rights for people with disabilities (Ayala, 2010). It wasn’t until the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) was founded to help improve the education for individuals with disabilities. The CEC is still a force today advocating, educating, and informing parents, teachers, administrators, and the public about policies, practices, and professional standards for the education of people with disabilities.
Students with disabilities during the 60’s and 70’s were segregated and placed in separate schools away from general education students. In 1975 The Education of All Handicapped Children Act (PL 94-142) required free, appropriate public Education (FAPE) in the least restrictive (LRE) setting. This Act was later renamed The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Although the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) states the assurance that students with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education and the right to be educated with their non-disabled peers (LRE), we still find students with disabilities segregated and placed in separate schools with no opportunities for inclusion. There is a need for better understanding of the beliefs and knowledge of teachers, administrators, and parents have about inclusion for students with special needs. If we have an increased understanding of the thought process behind inclusion, perhaps we can better understand the gap of inclusion opportunities throughout the country. Teachers are perceived to be integral to the implementation of inclusive education (Haskell, 2000). Cant (1994) states that teachers are the key to successful inclusion practices. Other studies acknowledge that inclusive education can only be successful if teachers and parents believe in the benefits of inclusion and are the driving force in the process (Home, 1983; Malone, Gallagher, & Long, 2001).
McCray and McHatten (2011) examined the perception of elementary and secondary education majors and toward the inclusion of students with disabilities and if their perceptions changed after taking a course on integrating exceptional students. The authors found that although the teachers may have made positive statements regarding inclusion of students with different abilities, many of them expressed hesitance. The authors coined the term “othering” as to describe the underlying belief that students with disabilities (SWDs) are set apart, different, and most importantly having deficits. Using terms such as “them”, “students like them”, “can those kind of students be taught in a normal classroom, and “how can I teach them”. McCray and McHatten (2011) poignantly explain; “If teachers say they are willing to include SWDs, but they still view them from a deficit perspective, how much better off will students be in their classrooms?” The responses suggest a belief system that they as teachers will comply with inclusion but really do not accept the strengths or perhaps even the rights of students of different abilities.
McHatten and Parker (2013) did a longitudinal study that explored elementary and special education pre-service teachers’ perceptions of inclusion. The authors felt encouraged that the teachers expressed altruistic attitudes toward inclusion as a whole. Teachers expressed general belief that inclusion is a favorable educational practice. However, the participants also expressed beliefs that inclusion denies students with different abilities the needed individualized instruction and may even be detrimental to their self-concept. This suggests that the same policies designed to address issues of equity and access may result in negative unintended consequences for students with different abilities.
Amado et al. (2013) summarized the status of research about community participation and social inclusion. This study looked at how we can move past community activities and having a true sense of belonging for the individual with disabilities. Keeping vulnerable individuals safe seems to be a theme across many of the research studies addressing beliefs and practices of inclusion.
Hamaidi et al. (2012) explored early childhood educators’ perceptions of inclusion internationally. They found that the general attitudes regarding social and emotional aspects of inclusion were positive. There was a disparity between their belief regarding inclusion and the actual practices of inclusion influenced by economic and budgeting factors.
Socuoglu et al. (2013) investigated the knowledge and attitudes of preschool teachers regarding inclusive practices and to determine the relationship between knowledge and attitudes of the teachers about inclusion. The results showed that attitudes towards inclusion were not positive or negative and there was no evidence of a significant relationship between level of knowledge and attitudes of the teachers. The authors further discussed the need for improved pre service and in service training for teachers for inclusion practices to be successful.
Ball and Green (2014) examined the attitudes and perceptions of school leaders relative to inclusion of students with disabilities. This study revealed that school leaders were limited in their training and experience regarding special education and practices related to inclusion. Not only did the school leaders have limited training and experience, their attitudes toward inclusion were negative. The school leaders felt that the degree of the disability should determine the level of inclusion or to the degree how a student is to be included with general education peers, if at all. The authors emphasized the need for pre service as well as ongoing training for school leaders in order to see a positive change in inclusion practices.
Melelhoglu (2013) examined the impact of a project developed to promote interaction between teacher candidates and students with special needs. The project aimed to have teacher candidates develop an increased awareness and positive attitude toward inclusion. . This study looked at the impact of a project specifically designed to promote interaction of teacher candidates with students with special needs and on the scope of special education. Results showed that prior to the project, the candidates had negative thoughts towards students with different abilities. According to the study, the teacher candidates said their perspective towards students with special needs changed in a positive way. According to Melelhoglu (2012) “this change positively reflected to their behaviors, and they realized the importance of special education and inclusion.”
Swain et al. (2012) examined the change in pre-service teachers’ beliefs and attitudes about inclusive practices following an introductory special education course combined with a practicum. Results imply that “a special education course coupled with field experience can significantly influence pre service teachers’ beliefs and attitudes about inclusion and inclusion practices” (Swain, et al., 2012)
Ross-Hill (2009) looked at the need for a better understanding of teacher attitude towards inclusion and how inclusive environment can be improved. Results of this study indicated that most teachers support the practice of inclusion. Teachers expressed that they feel more confident in their ability to have students with special needs in their class as long as they have adequate training and support to meet their needs.
Brandes and Crowson (2009) looked at relationships between pre service teachers’ discomfort with disability and perceived negative attitudes toward student with disabilities and opposition to inclusion. They found that pre-service teachers with a higher level of discomfort toward disabilities are more likely to oppose inclusion and to hold negative attitudes toward students with disabilities.
Hsien, Brown, and Bortoli (2009) investigated potential associations between teacher attitudes and beliefs toward inclusion, their education levels, and teacher training. They found that teachers with higher educational qualifications in special education were more positive about inclusion.
Baker-Ericzen and Garnand-Mueggenborg (2009) examined a comprehensive inclusion training program and its affect on child care providers’ attitudes and perceived competence toward inclusion. They found that all of the providers significantly changed their attitudes and perceived competence toward inclusion after completion of the training program.
Rodriguez et.al (2012) specifically looked at teachers’ attitudes toward teaching students with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). The study showed a positive view of teachers’ expectations regarding student’s education in an inclusive setting. They also found that the highest needs expressed by teachers were the need for information and social support in order for them to remain positive.
Hwang and Evans (2011) looked at 33 general education primary school teachers and their attitudes towards inclusion and their willingness to accommodate the needs of a student with a disability. More than half of the teachers were unwilling to accommodate the student’s needs and had negative attitudes toward inclusion. They also found if if the teachers had positive attitudes toward inclusion, they were reluctant to teach them in their general education classroom.
This project is unique because it addresses inclusion practices and the beliefs and attitudes of the decision makers of school placement for students with different abilities. . The results of this study will hopefully provide insights into the thoughts and beliefs of teachers and parents regarding inclusion and to how we can better understand inclusion practices within a district. Education is a source of social change and by addressing the inequities of opportunities of inclusion for students with disabilities can help us bring about societal changes in how we view, think about, and treat individuals with disabilities in society. Inclusion of students with disabilities in the academic setting can assist with the transition to inclusion within society.
RQ1-Qualitative: What do educators (teachers and administrators) and parents believe and know about inclusion of exceptional students?
RQ2 –Qualitative: What placement decision have parents made for their exceptional child? And why? This would be where you answer my previous questions
Nature of the Study
The nature of this study will be qualitative. This study will be phenomenological in nature. Creswell (1998) states, “a phenomenological study describes the meaning of the lived experience for several individuals about a concept or phenomenon” (p. 51). Keeping the focus on attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge of inclusion for exceptional students will help get a better understanding of the central beliefs of educators and parents.
Possible Types and Sources of Information or Data
Semi-structured interviews with teachers, administrators, and parents will be implemented throughout the study. The interviews will allow participants to express their beliefs and perceptions in their own words (Best & Kahn, 1993; Coll & Chapman, 2000). Semi-structured interviews will provide flexibility to me as the researcher, and to the interviewee (Freebody, 2003; Rose & Cole, 2002).
In order to initiate the interview and get the conversation underway and progress to a natural and more in depth discussion on their belief system regarding inclusion, gateway questions will asked. Example questions for professionals may be: How is inclusion implemented in your school? Is inclusion the best academic setting for children with different abilities? Interviewing parents the questions will be designed to open up the discussion with them on their child’s current academic setting. The gateway questions used will be: Tell me about your child’s classroom setting. Does your child participate with his/her peers at any time in the general education setting? What prompted this classroom setting for your child? Asking these questions will assist in getting the conversation started to attain insight into the parent’s attitudes toward inclusion for their child.
Questionnaires may also be used to gather data for this study. One advantage of using questionnaires is that I can reach more participants and gather data in less time.
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