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Disability Studies in Education and Inclusive Education  

Susan Baglieri and Jessica Bacon

Disability studies (DS) is a transdisciplinary field of scholarly inquiry whose members seek to understand disability and disablement as cultural phenomena. Scholars who adopt disability studies in education (DSE) perspectives aim to understand how disability is conceptually configured in the research and practice that shape learning, education, and schooling. The DSE field strives to discern and theorize medical and social models of disability in order to promote critical examination of the cultural conditions in which educational practices are performed. The commitments and understandings that arise within DSE lead proponents to conceptualize inclusive education reform as a radical project, and call for the development of policy, teaching, and teacher education practices that acknowledge and resist ableism.

Article

Bringing a Humanistic Approach to Special Education Curriculum  

Michelle Parker-Katz and Joseph Passi

Special education curriculum is often viewed as an effort to provide ways for students with disabilities to meet specific academic and socio-/behavioral goals and is also heavily influenced by compliance with multiple legislative policies. Critical paths forward are needed to reshape a special education curriculum by using a humanizing approach in which students’ lived experiences and relatedness to self and others is at the core of study. Intentional study of how students and their families draw upon, develop, and help shape local supports and services that are provided through schools, along with community and governmental agencies and organizations, would become a major part of the new curricular narrative. However, the field of special education has been in large part derived from an epistemology rooted in science, positivism, and the medical model. The dominance of these coalescing epistemologies in educational systems has produced a myriad of structures and processes that implicitly dictate the ways special educators instruct, gather data, and practice. Core among those is a view that disability is synonymous with deficit and abnormality. What emerges is an entrenched and often implicit view that the person with disabilities must be fixed. In adopting a humanistic approach in which we value relationships, the funds of knowledge families have helped develop in their children and the identities individuals shape, and the linkages of persons with multiple community networks, the groundwork could be laid for a new curricular narrative to form. In so doing, the field could get closer to the grounding principle of helping all students with disabilities to thrive. For it is in communities that people can thrive and choose to participate in numerous life opportunities. In such a way curriculum is integral to lived experience, to the fullness and richness of lived experiences—lived experiences that include the study of academic subject matter along with the development of social and emotional learning.

Article

International Policies on Inclusion  

Bronagh Byrne

The education of children and young people with disabilities and the appropriate form this should take is an issue with which countries across the world are grappling. This challenge has not been assisted by the diverse interpretations of “inclusion” within and between States. The international community, in the form of the United Nations (UN), its associated treaty bodies, and its related agencies have taken on an increasingly critical role in working with countries to develop some kind of global consensus on how inclusion should be defined, its core features, and what it should look like in practice. The conclusions of discussions on these issues have emerged in the form of declarations, treaties, general comments, and guidelines, which countries across the world are expected to adhere to, to varying extents. Together, these constitute a set of international policies and benchmarks on inclusion in an educational context, informing and shaping contemporary national policy and practice. At its core is the underlying principle that children and young people with disabilities have a fundamental right to education without discrimination. Examination of international discourse on inclusion indicates that its meaning, form, and content has become more refined, with increasing emphasis being placed on the quality of inclusive practice as opposed to merely questioning its merits.

Article

School Choice and Inclusive Education  

Curt Dudley-Marling

The reform of public education through the application of principles of free-market capitalism, particularly notions of competition and choice, has long enjoyed bipartisan support in the United States, reflecting trends in other industrialized countries. The basic assumption is that the competitive pressures of the market, instantiated through various forms of school choice and high-stakes accountability, will necessarily lead to more efficient and effective schools while honoring parents’ right to determine what is best for their children. Concurrently, another group of educational reformers, advocating for the rights of students with disabilities, have pushed for the transformation of schools, with the goal of creating spaces congenial to the range of human differences, including disability. The problem is that the basic assumptions that underpin free-market reforms and the principles of inclusion are incompatible. One of the requirements of school choice, for example, is the production and marketing of data based on standardized assessment practices and standardized curricula. This tendency toward standardization in market-oriented schools, saturated with the ideology of normality, is antithetical to the conception of diversity that informs the desire for inclusive schools.

Article

The Matter of ‘Evidence’ in the Inclusive Education Debate  

Christopher Boyle, George Koutsouris, Anna Salla Mateu, and Joanna Anderson

Understanding how best to support all learners to achieve their goals is a key aspect of education. Ensuring that educators are able to be provided with the best programs and knowledge to do this is perfectly respectable. But what is “evidence” in education, and at what point is it useful and informative in inclusive education? The need exists for a better understanding of what should constitute evidence-based inclusive education. Research with a focus on evidence-based practices in special and inclusive education has been increasing in recent years. Education intervention, by its very definition, should be tailored to suit individuals or groups of learners. However, immediately this is at odds with the gold standard of research intervention, that of randomized control trials; however, there are many advocates for evidence-based practice confirming to the highest form of research methodology. This seems laudable, and who could argue with wanting the best approaches to inform programs and teaching in all facets of education? Nevertheless, the requirements for research rigor mean that it is not practically possible to measure interventions in inclusive education so that they are generalizable across the many students who need support, because the interventions must be specific to individual need and therefore are not generalizable, nor are they intended to be. A narrow approach to what is evidence-based practice in education is unhelpful and does not take into consideration the nuances of inclusive education. Evidence of appropriate practice in inclusive education entails much more than robust scientific methodologies can measure, and this should be remembered. “Good” education is inclusive education that may or may not be recognized as evidence-based practice.

Article

Principals’ and School Leaders’ Roles in Inclusive Education  

Barbara Pazey and Bertina Combes

The United States and other developed countries have acknowledged and supported the rights of students with disabilities to receive an appropriate education for decades. The role of the principal and school leader in overseeing educational programs and ensuring these entitlements become a reality for students with disabilities has taken center stage. Discussions related to principals and school leaders fulfilling the roles of leader and manager on behalf of students with disabilities linked the complementary disciplines of general and special education leadership. The leadership approach they adopted led to debates surrounding the concept of inclusion and the provision of an inclusive education on behalf of students with disabilities. Current definitions of inclusive education are typically linked to concepts of equity, social justice, and recognition of the student’s civil right to be granted full membership in all aspects of the educational enterprise. The processes involved in creating an inclusive school environment require principals and school leaders to examine the values and beliefs that influence their own thinking and behaviors before they can communicate a vision of inclusion. Principals and school leaders must be willing to act in concert with others to create the type of school culture that unanimously and positively responds to difference so every student can achieve full membership and feel welcomed and valued.

Article

Influence of Medical and Social Perspectives of Disability on Models of Inclusive Education in the United States  

David Connor and Louis Olander

Ideological disputes about what human differences constitute disabilities undergird two very distinct positions that are known as medical and social models of disability. The positions significantly impact how inclusive education is envisioned and enacted, with proponents of each model holding fast to what they believe is “best” for students. Related areas of significant dissension among the two viewpoints include: (a) the concept of disability and “appropriate” placement of students deemed disabled, (b) the purpose of schools, (c) the nature of teaching and learning, (d) a teacher’s roles, (e) the notion of student success and failure, and (f) perceptions of social justice and disability. These interconnected and sometimes overlapping areas convey how medical or social models of inclusive education can vary dramatically, depending upon an educator’s general ideological disposition toward disability or difference.

Article

Inclusive and Special Education in Asia  

Maya Kalyanpur

Any analysis of inclusive and special education in Asia, past and present, must account for the immense variation in what constitutes Asia and recognize that finding patterns in the development of inclusive and special education across this vast continent is difficult. The variations relate to geographic topography, historical experiences, and cultural values, as well as to contemporary socio-economic and political conditions. For example, although both Oman and Timor Leste struggle with issues of accessibility and providing services in remote areas, Timor Leste’s mountainous terrain presents very different challenges from Oman’s desert conditions. Similarly, the different cultural influences of, say, Hinduism in Nepal, Islam in Jordan, and Buddhism in Cambodia have significant implications for attitudes towards disability, while differences in economic development between Japan and Bangladesh, for instance, have rendered the former a donor of international aid that sets the inclusive education agenda and the latter a recipient of both aid and agenda. While efforts to identify patterns in inclusive education globally have also attempted to define the nature of development in Asia, these analyses do not always account for the unique intra-continental variations. Overlooking these variations in socio-political and economic contexts becomes problematic when attempting to find solutions towards providing culturally responsive and culturally specific services appropriate to these unique circumstances. Additionally troubling is the more recent development of a geopolitical climate which assumes that inclusive and special education could and should, in fact, be the same, whether in Bangladesh or in Japan. Embodied by international aid agencies, such as the World Bank, the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), these expectations have been captured within global policies, such as the 1994 Salamanca Statement on Inclusive Education, the 2008 UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, and more recently, the 2015 Millennium Sustainable Goals, and furthered through UNICEF’s and UNESCO’s curriculum packages and professional development training on inclusive education. There is a nascent body of scholars in some Asian countries that is beginning to identify indigenous alternatives, which, if allowed to thrive, could contribute to the development of an amalgamated structure of services that would be more appropriate to the individual contexts.

Article

Effective Practices for Collaborating With Families and Caregivers of Children and Young Adults With Disabilities  

Shridevi Rao, Nadya Pancsofar, and Sarah Monaco

A rich literature on family-professional collaboration with families and caregivers of children and youth with disabilities has developed in the United States. This literature identifies key barriers that impede family-professional relationships including deficit-based perceptions of families and children with disabilities, narrow definitions of “family” that limit the participation of some members such as fathers or grandparents, and historical biases that constrain the participation of culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) families. Principles for building collaborative relationships with families include honoring the strengths of the family, presuming competence in the child and the family, valuing broad definitions of “family,” and understanding the ecology of family routines and rituals. Practices that help facilitate family-professional relationships are building reciprocal partnerships with various caregivers in the family including fathers as well as extended family members, adopting a posture of cultural reciprocity, using a variety of modes of communication with families, and involving families in all aspects of the special education process such as assessment, planning, prioritizing of skills, and identification of interventions. Pivotal moments in the family’s journey through their child’s schooling, including early intervention and transition to post-school environments, provide opportunities to build and strengthen family-professional relationships. Each of these moments has the potential to involve families in a variety of processes including assessment, planning, and articulating the goals and vision for their child/youth. A focus on strengths, collaborative partnerships, and family agency and voice is at the core of strong family-professional relationships.