Special Education Reform?

I remember 20 plus years ago when I was getting my graduate degree in Special Education and a buddy of mine getting his degree in elementary education told me that his father, a school principal, said that I probably shouldn’t waste my time getting a masters in Special Education. He said that Special Education would be eventually fading out of public education. I was almost done with my masters at this point so I figured I would have to take my chances with it, besides what other choice did I have anyways at that point?

I got a Special Education job and taught for about 10 year. There were a lot of ups and downs over those 10 years, and eventually I decided that I wanted a change so I got certified and switched over to high school history. At this point in my career I remembered what my friend had said a decade ago and wondered if I was ahead of the curve on schools no longer needing special education teachers, even though it was 10 years later. I wondered if my job was now safe in my new-found home in the history department.

Well, I loved teaching history, but life has its own funny ways that aren’t aligned to us and what we want, so after a decade of teaching history I personally got a first class education on budget cuts and my job was eliminated. Thankfully, I landed on my feet back in Special Education, believe it or not.

It had been more than two decades since my old graduate school buddy told me that the need for special education teachers was disappearing. During the previous two decades my friend had gone from graduate school to elementary school teacher to assistant principal to principal, just like his father had done. I had gone from graduate school to special education teacher to history teacher to back to special education teacher, like nobody else that I know had done. And believe it or not there was still a bunch of special education jobs available when I landed there for a second time. As a matter of fact, there was actually plenty of jobs there because there is a shortage of special education teachers in 49 out of our 50 states. Imagine that… Two decades after I was told that Special Education was going away, and I find that they still can’t seem to get enough special education teachers.

Fast-forward a few more years to today and there is a new and interesting twist affecting Special Education called full inclusion. Now inclusion isn’t a new thing to our schools. As a matter of fact inclusion has a long interesting history in our schools.

Six decades ago there was the Supreme Court Case of Brown v. Board of Education. In 1954 the new law of the land became integrated schools for all races. Four decades ago the ground-breaking law of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) began to take effect and help ensure that more than six million students with disabilities have the right to a free and appropriate education, which means they too get to be included in with the general education population.

To help this happen schools create a Planning and Placement Team (PPT) that meet and discuss a student’s Individual Education Program (IEP) and then place the student in the appropriate educational setting based on the student’s needs and the law. The placement also needs to be the least restrictive environment (LRE). I can still remember my college professor describing the least restrictive environment in a short story that one would not bring a machine gun to take care of a fly. Rather, one would just bring a fly-swatter to take care of a fly. In other words, if a kid’s disability can be dealt with in the neighborhood school, then the kid doesn’t have to be sent across town or even to another town’s special school.

Today, many schools are trying to improve on this inclusion model and least restrictive environment by going from a partial to a full-inclusion model. Schools in the Los Angeles School District have moved a vast majority of their students out of their special education centers within the last three years and into neighborhood schools where they are fully integrated into elective classes like physical education, gardening and cooking. They are also integrated into regular main stream academic classes as well, but it’s usually not to the same degree as electives.

Michigan schools say that want to break down the walls between general education and Special Education creating a system in which students will get more help when they need it, and that support doesn’t need to be in a separate special education classroom.

Some school districts in Portland, Oregon are a little further along than the Los Angeles schools that are just bringing special education students back from special schools and Michigan schools that are just beginning to try full integration of its students and eliminating most of the special education classrooms.

Being a little further along in the process Portland makes an interesting case study. Many of the parents who initially supported the idea of integrating special education students into regular education classrooms in Portland are now worried about how the Portland Public School System is doing it. Portland is aiming for full-inclusion by the year 2020. However, some of the teachers in Portland are saying, “Obviously the special education students are going to fail and they are going to act out because we are not meeting their needs… If there’s not the right support there, that’s not acceptable, not only for the child, but for the general education teacher as well.”

A Portland parent said, “I would rather have my child feel successful than for them to be ‘college-ready’.” She further states, “I want my children to be good, well-rounded human beings that make the world a better place. I don’t think they necessarily need to go to college to do that. I think that children are individuals, and when we stop treating them as individuals, there’s a problem.” Sadly, many parents and teachers have left the Portland School District, and many more are fantasizing about it because they feel the full-inclusion model isn’t working there how they pictured it would.

How much should schools integrate the special education students is the burning question of the hour. In my personal experience some integration is not only possible, but it’s a must. With some support many of the special education students can be in the regular education classrooms.

A few years ago I even had a non-speaking paraplegic boy in a wheel chair who was on a breathing respirator sitting in my regular education social studies class. Every day his para professional and his nurse rolled him into and sat with him. He always smiled at the tales I told of Alexander the Great marching across 11,000 miles of territory and conquering much of the known world at that time. By the way, Alexander the Great also practiced his own model of inclusion by encouraging kindness to the conquered and encouraging his soldiers to marry the captured territory’s women in order to create a lasting peace.

Other important factors to consider in special education inclusion is the much needed socialization and the saving of money integration offers. Kids learn from other kids and money not spent on Special Education could be spent on general education, right? Hmm…

If you noticed, I said a little bit earlier that many special education students could be integrated, but I did not say all or even most should be integrated. There are just some students that are going to take away too much of the teacher’s time and attention from other students, such as, in the case of students with severe behavior problems. When we put severe behavior problems in regular education classes it’s just outright unfair to all of the other children in there. Similar cases could be made for other severe disabilities too that demand too much of the main stream teacher’s individual time and attention.

Hey, I’m not saying to never try out a kid with a severe disability in a general education setting. But what I am saying is that schools need to have a better system of monitoring these placements and be able to quickly remove students that aren’t working out, and are taking precious learning time away from other students. Furthermore, schools need to do this without shaming the teacher because the teacher complained that the student wasn’t a good fit and was disrupting the educational learning process of the other students. Leaving a kid in an inappropriate placement isn’t good for any of the parties involved. Period.

Over the last two decades I have worked with more special education students than I can remember as a special education teacher and a regular education teacher teaching inclusion classes. I have learned to become extremely flexible and patient and thus have had some of the toughest and most needy kids placed in my classes. I have worked miracles with these kids over the years and I know that I am not the only teacher out there doing this. There are many more out there just like me. But, what I worry about is that because teachers are so dedicated and pulling off daily miracles in the classroom, districts, community leaders, and politician may be pushing too hard for the full-inclusion model thinking that the teachers will just have to figure it out. Setting up teachers and students for failure is never a good idea.

Furthermore, I hope it’s just not the money that they are trying to save while pushing this full-inclusion model forward because what we should really be trying to save is our children. As Fredrick Douglas said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Regardless of how the financial educational pie is sliced, the bottom line is that the pie is just too small and our special education teachers and our special education students shouldn’t be made to pay for this.

In addition, I have been a teacher for too long to not be at least a little skeptical when I hear the bosses say that the reason they are pushing for the full-inclusion model is because socialization is so important. I know it’s important. But, I also know that too many people are hanging their hats on that socialization excuse rather than education our special needs students and providing them what they really need. I have seen special education students whose abilities only let them draw pictures sitting in honors classes. There is no real socialization taking place here. It just doesn’t make sense.

Well, finally coming full circle. It will be interesting to see where this full inclusion thing goes. The wise ones won’t let their special education teachers go, or get rid of their classrooms. And for the school districts that do, I imagine that it won’t take long before they realize the mistake they made and start hiring special education teachers back. To my friend and his now ex-principal father from all those years ago who thought special education was going away, well, we’re not there yet, and to tell you the truth, I don’t think we ever will be.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Special Education Reform?

Challenges and Opportunities in the Context of Internationalization of Higher Education

The World Bank’s 1991 ‘World Development Report’ has made a very interesting observation that the scientific and technological progress and enhanced productivity in any nation have a close link with investment in human capital as well as the quality of the economic environment. Scientific and technological capabilities are, however, unevenly distributed in the world and are linked with the education system in a nation.

The 21st century has seen quite massive changes in higher education systems both in terms of complexity of the systems and also in terms of its utility for converting education into an effective tool for social and economic changes. A very interesting relationship is emerging among education, knowledge, conversion of knowledge into suitable entities from trade point of view, wealth and economy.

Internationalization of education includes the policies and practices undertaken by academic systems and institutions-and even individuals-to cope with the global academic environment. The motivations for internationalization include commercial advantage, knowledge and language acquisition, enhancing the curriculum with international content, and many others. Specific initiatives such as branch campuses, cross-border collaborative arrangements, programs for international students, establishing English-medium programs and degrees, and others have been put into place as part of internationalization. Efforts to monitor international initiatives and ensure quality are integral to the international higher education environment.

The higher education system across the world has witnessed two more interesting revolutions. The first is connected with the advent and use of computers in teaching and learning as well as research and the second is linked with communication revolution. Today, education transcends across the geographical boundaries. Besides, the structure and context of academic work also has undergone a tremendous change. Student diversity and the administrative and pedagogical demands of new modes of curricula delivery characterize the academic’s everyday working environment.

The accomplishment of any educational change is linked with the readiness of teachers to implement new methods and innovative practices. The present paper is an attempt to understand the role of teachers in internationalization of higher education in India. The focus of the present paper is to be acquainted with the challenges and opportunities for faculty in the context of internationalization of higher education and their inclination to adapt the change.

Review of literature:

A growing number of papers and studies document the many ways in which the university experience of students, academic and administrative staff has been radically transformed [Chandler & Clark 2001, Deem 2001]. Student diversity and the administrative and pedagogical demands of new modes of curricula delivery characterize the academic’s everyday working environment. Identities as academics are under constant challenge as academic staff take on multiple and often conflicting roles as consultants, researchers, teachers, counselors and international marketers. Support for academics involved in international activities is scarce and the central strategic control of resources with its demands for flexibility compromises the quality of academic life.

A qualitative study examines the role of international experience in the transformative learning of female educators as it relates to professional development in a higher education context. It also investigates how the learning productions of these experiences were transferred to the participants’ home country. Nine American female faculty and administrators who worked at universities in Arab countries in the Gulf region participated in this study. The results suggest that the transformative learning of the female educators was reflected in three themes: changes in personal and professional attitudes, experiencing a new classroom environment that included different students’ learning style and unfamiliar classroom behavior, and broadening of participants’ global perspectives. Another study sought to assess how and why some higher education institutions have responded to aspects of globalization and, in particular how organizational culture influences universities’ responses to globalization. Using a predominantly qualitative, mixed-methods approach, empirical research was used to explore the impact of globalization at four Canadian universities. A multiple, case-study approach was used to achieve a depth of understanding to establish the universities’ culture, institutional strategies, and practices in response to globalization.

Context of the study:

Political & educational context

Everyone recognizes that India has a serious higher education problem. Although India’s higher education system, with more than 13 million students, is the world’s third largest, it only educates around 12 per cent of the age group, well under China’s 27 per cent and half or more in middle-income countries. Thus, it is a challenge of providing access to India’s expanding population of young people and rapidly growing middle class. India also faces a serious quality problem – given that only a tiny proportion of the higher education sector can meet international standards. The justly famous Indian Institutes of Technology and the Institutes of Management, a few specialized schools such as the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research constitute tiny elite, as do one or two private institutions such as the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, and perhaps 100 top-rated undergraduate colleges. Almost all of India’s 480 public universities and more than 25,000 undergraduate colleges are, by international standards, mediocre at best. India has complex legal arrangements for reserving places in higher education to members of various disadvantaged population groups. Often setting aside up to half of the seats for such groups, places further stress on the system.

Capacity problem

India faces severe problems of capacity in its educational system in part because of underinvestment over many decades. More than a third of Indians remain illiterate after more than a half century of independence. A new law that makes primary education free and compulsory, while admirable, it takes place in a context of scarcity of trained teachers, inadequate budgets, and shoddy supervision. The University Grants Commission and the All-India Council for Technical Education, responsible respectively for supervising the universities and the technical institutions, are being abolished and replaced with a new combined entity. But no one knows just how the new organization will work or who will staff it. India’s higher education accrediting and quality assurance organization, the National Assessment and Accreditation Council, which was well-known for its slow movement, is being shaken up. But, again, it is unclear how it might be changed.

Current plans include the establishing of new national “world-class” universities in each of India’s States, opening new IITs, and other initiatives. The fact is that academic salaries do not compare favorably with remuneration offered by India’s growing private sector and are uncompetitive by international standards. Many of India’s top academics are teaching in the United States, Britain, and elsewhere. Even Ethiopia and Eritrea recruit Indian academics.

Welcoming foreign universities:

Very recently it is announced that the government of India is preparing itself for permitting foreign universities to enter the Indian market. The foreigners are expected to provide the much needed capacity and new ideas on higher education management, curriculum, teaching methods, and research. It is hoped that they will bring investment. Top-class foreign universities are anticipated to add prestige to India’s postsecondary system. All of these assumptions are at the very least questionable. While foreign transplants elsewhere in the world have provided some additional access, they have not dramatically increased student numbers. Almost all branch campuses are small and limited in scope and field. In the Persian Gulf, Vietnam, and Malaysia, where foreign branch campuses have been active, student access has been only modestly affected by them. Branch campuses are typically fairly small and almost always specialized in fields that are inexpensive to offer and have a ready clientele such as business studies, technology, and hospitality management. Few branch campuses bring much in the way of academic innovation. Typically, they use tried and true management, curriculum, and teaching methods. The branches frequently have little autonomy from their home university and are, thus, tightly controlled from abroad.

Foreign providers will bring some investment to the higher education sector, particularly since the new law requires an investment of a minimum of $11 million – a kind of entry fee – but the total amount brought into India is unlikely to be very large. Global experience shows that the large majority of higher education institutions entering a foreign market are not prestigious universities but rather low-end institutions seeking market access and income. Top universities may well establish collaborative arrangement with Indian peer institutions or study/research centers in India, but are unlikely to build full-fledged branch campuses on their own. There may be a few exceptions, such as the Georgia Institute of Technology, which is apparently thinking of a major investment in Hyderabad.

Indian education is a joint responsibility of the Central and State governments – and many States have differing approaches to higher education generally and to foreign involvement in particular. Some, such as Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, have been quite interested. Other States such as West Bengal with its communist government may be more sceptical. And a few, such as Chhattisgarh have been known to sell access to university status to the highest bidders.

Significance of study:

The volatile situation in higher education system vis-à-vis internationalization of higher education creates many opportunities as well as challenges to the teachers of higher education. Pressures for change in the field of teacher education are escalating significantly as part of systemic education reform initiatives in a broad spectrum of economically developed and developing nations. Considering these pressures, it is surprising that relatively little theoretical or empirical analysis of learning and change processes within teacher education programs have been undertaken. The present study considers this situation and makes an endeavor to understand the challenges faced or anticipated by the teaching faculty in the context of internalization of education.

Aims of the study:

The present study is aimed to understand and analyze the position of college teachers in general and those of working undergraduate colleges.

Data collection:

Locale of the study:

Data for the present study is collected from the college teachers situated at Hyderabad. Colleges in Hyderabad are generally affiliated to Osmania University. In addition to various colleges, the city is home to three central universities, two deemed universities, and six state universities. Osmania University, established in 1917, is the seventh oldest university in India and the third oldest in South India. Indian School of Business, an international business school ranked number 12 in global MBA rankings by the Financial Times of London in 2010 is also located in Hyderabad.

Colleges in Hyderabad offer graduation and post graduation and post graduation programmes in science, arts, commerce, law & medicine. College of Engineering – Osmania University, Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, Indian Institute of Technology, etc. are some of the famous engineering colleges in Hyderabad. In addition to engineering colleges, various institutes known as polytechnics offer a three year course in engineering. Gandhi Medical College and Osmania Medical College are the centers of medical education in Hyderabad. Colleges and universities in Hyderabad are run by either by state government, central government or private individuals or agencies. Hyderabad Central University, Nalsar, NIPER, Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, English and Foreign Languages University, Acharya N.G. Ranga Agricultural University, are some of the other universities located in Hyderabad.

Universe and sample:

There are 146 degree colleges offering undergraduate courses [B.Sc., B.Com, and B.A] situated at Hyderabad. Teachers working in these colleges are taken as universe for the present study. Most of these colleges are having academic consultants whose tenure is limited either to one term or one academic year. Academic consultants are not eligible for faculty development programmes of the University Grants Commission. Various programmes meant for faculty development are available for aided college teachers. Hence, the present study has selected aided college teachers working at Hyderabad as a sub category of the universe. At the outset, a focused group interview is conducted in order to collect information as to the willingness to train oneself for internationalization of higher education. Out of 150 lecturers participated in this focused group interview fifty were selected as sample for the present study by using random sampling method.

Data for the present study is collected by using in-depth interview method with the help of a schedule. Information as to the socio-economic characteristics of the respondents, educational achievements, awareness of national and global career structures, research culture, working conditions, information as to the strategies adapted by the college in order to equip for internationalization is collected. Data collection is done during the months of march-may 2010.

The qualitative information on awareness and availability of national and global career structures, strategies for integrating the international dimension, professional development, needs post-doctoral research culture, refresher courses and working conditions was collected by using case study method by using in-depth interviews.

National and global career structures:

Kaulisch and Enders [2005, pp.131-32] note that faculty work is shaped by three overlapping sets of institutions: 1] the generic science system, and systems in each discipline which to a varying extent are cross-national, emphasize the autonomy and mobility of researchers, and foster competition based on scholarly merit and prestige; 2] rules about work, competition and careers, where academic work is embedded in national policy and cultural settings; and 3] the organizational operations of universities, which both reflect national and local traditions and are touched by common trends such as massification, growing expectations about social relevance and the nationally-parallel global transformations. A fourth element in the mix that might be of growing importance is the impact of internationalization and globalization on academic careers.

The present study finds that the available opportunities for the teaching faculty are based on all these four elements. Most of the respondents experienced interplay of all these elements in their work life. More than fifty per cent of the respondents felt that the massification of education is burdensome and acting as an obstacle for faculty improvement.

Faculty mobility has long been a positive professional norm though varying by nation and field [El-Khawas, 2002, pp.242-43] and also varying somewhat in motive. A small number of researchers have expertise and reputations that confer superior opportunities in many countries. However, most teaching faculty have primarily national careers and use cross-border experience to advance their position at home, traveling mostly at the doctoral and postdoctoral stages and for short visits. A third group consists of faculty with lesser opportunities at home compared to abroad, due to remuneration or conditions of work, the denial of national careers due to social or cultural closure, or an economic freeze on hiring. This group has less transformative potential than elite researchers.

Excellence in education will require improvement in infrastructure, well-crafted courses, e-learning materials, access to laboratories, computational facilities and above all well-trained and highly motivated teachers. When asked about the availability of resources and opportunities for research, 78 per cent of the respondents opined that there are many bottlenecks. In most of the colleges, e-learning, internet facilities are not available. Even their college libraries mostly will have books useful for the undergraduate students rather than useful for further research by the teaching faculty. Most of the respondents felt that they are not exposed to the pedagogical methods acceptable internationally. Hence, their awareness about the teaching methods is not much. At the same time, they were not trained in teaching-learning process relevant for internationalized educational system while doing their post-graduation or pre-doctoral/doctoral level.

Strategies for integrating the internal dimension:

There are many ways to describe the initiatives which are undertaken to internationalize an institution. They are often referred to as activities, components, procedures or strategies. In the process oriented approach to internationalization, emphasis is placed on the concept of enhancing and sustaining the international dimensions of research. Most of the colleges in general, autonomous colleges and colleges with potential for excellence are following the process oriented approach. Yet, the faculty is not ready to equip themselves for this internationalization. The reasons mentioned by the respondents include more work, fear of losing job, lengthy working hours, high aided-unaided teaching faculty ratio, low job satisfaction levels and lack of facilities at the institutional level.

Professional Development Needs

Faculty members, or academic staff, as they are called in many countries, constitute a critical ingredient influencing the quality and effectiveness of higher education institutions. Universities in the developing world cannot respond to external changes and pressures without the involvement of capable, committed, and knowledgeable faculty members. The challenge for many faculty members, however, is that they are being asked to fulfill tasks and assume roles for which they are not adequately prepared. Besides, there are not many training centers to well equip them. Academic staff colleges are providing refresher and orientation courses but these courses are attended by those whose promotions are linked with attending refresher courses.

Post-doctoral research culture

Unlike the advanced countries, where a large pool of post-doctoral research fellows carries out the bulk of high-quality research, there is a near total absence of a post-doctoral culture in India.79 per cent of the respondents expressed their willingness to pursue post-doctoral research but said that they are not able to do due to financial problems.

Although the number of women at post-graduate and doctoral levels in various universities is high, very few of them make sufficient advance in their careers for a variety of social reasons. Women teachers and teachers studied in vernacular medium felt that though they are interested their family responsibilities and problem of language and communication act as major challenges for them.

Conclusion:

Higher education in India has entered into a new phase with the invasion of foreign universities and increasing aspirations of Indian students. This has created a need to revive the pedagogical methods. But the question still remains, whether the teaching faculty are ready to accept these changes or not? It is found in the present study that the teachers are ready to accept the challenges of global teaching. The need of the hour is to equip Indian teachers than permitting the foreign universities to establish their campuses in India. This requires a appropriate teacher education which can address the issue of organizational learning.

Charles A. Peck, Chrysan Gallucci, Tine Sloan and Ann Lippincott [2009] illustrated some ways in which contemporary socio-cultural learning theory may be used as a lens for addressing the issues of organizational learning in teacher education. Using a theoretical framework developed by Harré [1984], they showed how processes of individual and collective learning led to changes in a teacher education program. Important innovations in program practice were generally found to have their sources in the creative work of individual faculty. However program level changes required negotiation of new ideas and practices within small groups of faculty, and with the larger collective of the program. The present study would like to conclude that the Harré model, and the socio-cultural learning theories from which it is derived, may offer a useful theoretical framework for interpreting complex social processes underlying organizational renewal, innovation, and change.

References:

El-Khawas, E. 2002 “Developing Academic Career in a Globalizing World”, in J.Enders and O. Fulton [ed.] Higher Education in a Gobalizing World: International Trends and Muual Observations, Kluwer, Dordrecht, pp.242-54

Charles A. Peck, Chrysan Gallucci, Tine Sloan and Ann Lippincott [2009] Organizational learning and program renewal in teacher education: A socio-cultural theory of learning, innovation and change, Educational Research Review Volume 4, Issue 1, 2009, Pages 16-25

Harré, R. (1984). Personal being: A theory for individual psychology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

Whether the teaching faculty are ready to accept the changes in higher education or not? Present study is an attempt to analyze the readiness, training and opportunities available to the teachers of higher education in general and undergraduate college teachers in particular. Though teachers are ready to accept the challenges of global teaching, there is hardly any training facility to train them for global teaching or intercultural communication to better equip them for this. Not only that, syllabi of

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Challenges and Opportunities in the Context of Internationalization of Higher Education