General Education and Special Education Associations

Christine Mason, Maria O'Connell, Mary Thormann, and June Behrmann [2]

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Overview | Rationale | Identification of Priorities | Views on Changes in Education and Priorities of General and Special Education Membership Associations | Changes in Education | Ranking of Priorities by General Education and Special Education Associations | Relationship between Association Priorities and Focus in Journals | Discussion | References| Footnotes | Citation

Overview

"General Education and Special Education Associations: A Comparison of Priority Issues and Key Terminology" is a two-part project that examined (a) the priorities of key special and general education associations and (b) the extent to which these priorities were mentioned in journal articles published by the associations. Twenty-five priorities were identified through an environmental scan of websites, press releases, education reports, and print publications. These 25 priorities were then rated by a senior staff person at 15 of the largest general and special education membership organizations. Results indicated that for the associations, "shortage of qualified personnel" was the top priority and "student self-advocacy" the lowest rated priority. Significant differences were found in priority ratings by special education associations, in comparison to general education associations, on several of the priority items. For the second part of the project, drawing on the Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) database, a key word search was conducted in 29 journals published by the 15 associations using terms related to each of the top six priorities identified by the associations. An additional search was conducted for "school technology," a term that was frequently identified in the environmental scan, but rated among the lowest priorities by the associations. Results indicated that of the seven priorities, "school technology" was afforded the highest coverage in both special and general education journals. Further, special education associations published a greater percentage of articles on "aligning curriculum" and "improving teaching," than did the general education associations. Implications for accessing the general curriculum and general and special education collaboration are discussed in light of these findings.

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Rationale

In a recent report by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the U.S. Department of Education, access, participation, and progress were identified as priorities for curricula serving children with disabilities (OSEP, 2001). Because the majority of children with disabilities attend public schools, however, the priorities for special education may not be closely aligned with general education agendas. The goals of general education largely focus on providing high quality education to the majority of children attending public schools, while special education priorities focus on improving outcomes for individual students with disabilities (Evans, 1993; Fusarelli & Cooper, 1999; Kozleski, Mainzer, & Deschler, 2000; McLaughlin & The Center for Policy Research, 1997; Whitaker & Turner, 2000). These different agendas may serve to impede collaboration and the advancement of the respective general education and special education priorities (Bauwens & Hourcade, 1997; Gersten, Darch, Davis, & George, 1991; Hargreaves, 1994; Voltz, Elliot, & Harris, 1995; Wade, Welch, & Jensen, 1994; Walter-Thomas, 1997; West & Idol, 1990).

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Identification of Priorities

To better understand the priorities of general and special education associations, the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) conducted an environmental scan of over 70 major education reports, press releases, stories in the popular press, print publications of eight national education associations, and Web sites of selected associations and organizations. Twenty-five priorities were identified through this scan (see Table 1).

Table 1: Environmental Scan: Twenty-Five Priorities of General and Special Education Associations
  • Aligning curriculum, assessment, and performance standards
  • Classroom management, school safety, and discipline
  • Student diversity/bilingual and multicultural education
  • Teacher diversity and cross-cultural competence of teachers
  • School technology needs and practices
  • Shortage of teachers
  • Improving teaching
  • Parent involvement, families
  • Adapting or modifying materials
  • Under-prepared teachers, teacher quality, preparation, standards, induction
  • Differentiated classrooms/instruction; helping students with greatest needs
  • Student self advocacy
  • Inclusive education
  • Collaboration
  • Standards-based reform and high stakes assessment
  • IDEA and Section 504
  • High expectations for students and teachers
  • Techniques for instructing reading, writing, math, science, social studies
  • Literacy
  • Leadership in schools
  • Staff development and training
  • Transition from school to work, career education
  • School reform/restructuring
  • Time to teach/teaching conditions
  • Class size


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Views on Changes in Education and Priorities of General and Special Education Membership Associations

A survey containing items that corresponded to the priorities identified in the environmental scan and additional questions about changes in education were sent to senior staff at general education and special education membership associations. Directors and senior associates from 15 of the largest general education and special education membership associations (10 general education and five special education) completed the survey. All of the respondents were very experienced educators, ranging from at least 10 years of experience to more than 25 years in education.

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Changes in Education

The senior staff members were asked to describe some of the most important changes in teaching and student learning that have occurred in the past 5 years. They were also asked to comment on how the changes identified in the previous question have affected what (a) teachers are doing, and (b) teachers are not doing. The responses from each staff person were coded by two independent raters.

Most important changes in teaching and student learning in the last five years. When asked to describe the most important changes over the past five years, most of the senior association staff (both general and special educators) made comments referring to "standards- based reform and high stakes assessment and accountability." Respondents were also particularly concerned with how to help students achieve to higher levels, given the challenge of recruiting and retaining qualified teachers.

In general, the respondents indicated that teachers need assistance in determining how to:

  • Instruct to standards and individualize instruction
  • Meet IEP goals
  • Spend adequate time in collaborative planning.

The comments of two general educators captured the sentiment of the respondents:

"The classroom focus is now on preparing students to do well on tests that provide the basis
for both teacher and principal accountability."

"Teachers are facing a greater pressure to teach to the local or state standards and their work
is more scrutinized and more scripted."

Several general education respondents also addressed changes related to increased collaboration. These educators indicated that collaboration has changed the "teaching landscape" by:

  • Teachers no longer working in isolation
  • An increase in co-teaching and collaborative planning
  • Teachers actively involving students in planning their learning experiences and telecommunicating with students in other schools.

Moreover, they indicated that such collaboration and lower teacher-student ratios result in an increase in overall student performance. One general education respondent made a point that goes beyond collaboration, per se, but is illustrative:

"In the best of situations, teachers now are doing more ongoing diagnosing of student understanding, engaging with colleagues in examining student work, and using data to inform their instructional decision-making."

Impact of changes on what teachers are doing and not doing. Respondents stated that the changes in teaching and learning have had the following impact:

  • Teachers need more professional development to update skills.
  • Teachers have less time to address diverse and individual needs or to use alternative approaches to teaching.
  • Teachers are teaching to the tests and not finding time to teach other areas of the curriculum that may be important but are not included on the tests.
  • Teachers are finding that greater accountability contributes to better teaching.
  • Teachers have reduced time to individual instruction, provide behavioral supports, or to be innovative.

Additional issues. General and special educators described problems related to—

  • Uncertified teachers and teacher retirements
  • The relationship between professional development and instructional capacity in the classroom
  • The universal recognition of the need for staff development for teachers and administrators, especially for principals

Special education respondents pointed out that many teachers, both certified and uncertified, do not have sufficient knowledge and training to teach students with disabilities in the general education curriculum. Special educator respondents also noted that "general educators (are) assuming more responsibility for students with disabilities" and that, while some teachers have implemented the collaborative model with regard to the design and delivery of curriculum, "other teachers are not receptive to the collaborative model." Some special educator respondents were concerned because less time is available for individualized instruction due to preparation of students on test taking strategies and content included in high stakes assessments.

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Ranking of Priorities by General Education and Special Education Associations

Each staff respondent was provided with a list of the 25 priorities identified in the environmental scan. Respondents were asked to rate the importance of each item to their organization on a 5-point Likert scale from 1 (lowest priority) to 5 (highest priority).

"Shortage of teachers" was rated as the highest priority item. "Self-advocacy" was rated as the lowest priority item. The top six priorities are presented in below.

Combined General and Special Education Associations: Top 6 Issues Bar graph: Combined General and Special Education Associations: Top 6 Issues
Image description:
This bar graph is entitled "Combined General and Special Education Associations: Top 6 Issues" and is made up of six blue bars representing percentages of influence of six named issues. The vertical axis on the left is labeled with a series of percentages, ranging from 3.90 to 4.80 in .10 increments. The horizontal axis is labeled with six issues.
The first bar is labeled "Shortage of qualified personnel" and goes to just under the line for 4.70%. The second bar is labeled "Improving teaching" and goes to just over the line for 4.70%. The third bar is labeled "Under-prepared teachers, teacher quality" and goes to just under the line for 4.50%. The fourth bar is labeled "High expectations for students and teachers" and goes to just over the line for 4.20%. The fifth bar is labeled "Staff development and training" and goes to just over the line for 4.20%. The sixth bar is labeled "Aligning curriculum, assessment, standards" and goes to a point half-way between the lines for 4.10% and 4.20%.

For special educators, the highest rated items were: "differentiated classroom/instruction; helping students with greatest needs," "shortage of teachers," "improving teaching," "under-prepared teachers (including teacher quality, preparation, standards, induction)" and "IDEA and Section 504." The lowest rated items were: "school technology needs and practices," "high stakes assessment," "collaboration," and "teacher diversity and cross-cultural competence of teachers."

Highest and Lowest Priority Topics for Special Educators Bar graph: Highest and Lowest Priority Topics for Special Educators
Image description:
This bar graph is entitled "Highest and Lowest Priority Topics for Special Educators" and is made up of nine light blue bars representing percentages of priority of nine named topics. The vertical axis on the left is labeled with a series of percentages, ranging from 0 to 6 by ones. The horizontal axis is labeled with nine topics. The first five bars on the left are labeled "High Priority Topics." The remaining four bars on the right are labeled "Low Priority Topics."
The first bar is labeled "Differentiated classroom" and goes to the line for 5%. The second bar is labeled "Shortage of Teachers" and goes to slightly under the line for 4%. The third bar is labeled "Improving Teaching" and goes to slightly under the line for 4%. The fourth bar is labeled "Underpaid teachers" and goes to slightly under the line for 4%. The fifth bar is labeled "IDEA/Sec 504" and goes to slightly under the line for 4%.
The sixth bar is labeled "School Technology" and goes to slightly over the line for 3%. The seventh bar is labeled "High Stakes Assessment" and goes to a point almost half-way between the lines for 3% and 4%. The eighth bar is labeled "Collaboration" and goes to a point just slightly over half-way between the lines for 3% and 4%. The ninth bar is labeled "Teacher Diversity" and goes to a point just slightly over half-way between the lines for 3% and 4%.
For general educators, the highest rated items were: "shortage of teachers," "improving teaching," "under-prepared teachers (including teacher quality, preparation, standards, and induction)," and "aligning curriculum, assessment, and performance standards." The lowest rated items for general educators were: "student self-advocacy," "transition from school to work," "career education," "adapting or modifying materials," and "parent involvement, families."
Highest and Lowest Priority Topics for General Educators Bar graph: Highest and Lowest Priority Topics for General Educators
Image description:
This bar graph is entitled "Highest and Lowest Priority Topics for General Educators" and is made up of eight light blue bars representing percentages of priority of eight named topics. The vertical axis on the left is labeled with a series of percentages, ranging from 0 to 6 by ones. The horizontal axis is labeled with eight topics. The first four bars on the left are labeled "Higher Priority Topics." The remaining four bars on the right are labeled "Lower Priority Topics."
The first bar is labeled "Shortage of Teachers" and goes to slightly under the line for 5%. The second bar is labeled "Improving Teaching" and goes to a point two-thirds of the way between the lines for 4% and 5%. The third bar is labeled "Underpaid Teachers" and goes to a point one-third of the way between the lines for 4% and 5%. The fourth bar is labeled "Aligning Curriculum" and goes to a point one-third of the way between the lines for 4% and 5%.
The fifth bar is labeled "Student Self-Advocacy" and goes to a point half-way between the lines for 2% and 3%. The sixth bar is labeled "School-Work Transition" and goes to a point almost half-way between the lines for 2% and 3%. The seventh bar is labeled "Adapting Materials" and goes to a point slightly under the line for 3%. The eighth bar is labeled "Parent Involvement" and goes to a point just over the line for 3%.

 A series of Mann-Whitney U tests was conducted to determine if there were significant differences between general educators and special educators in terms of priority rankings of the individual items and the factors. The results of the analyses revealed that special educators had significantly higher average rankings of several of the priority topics. In terms of differentiated classrooms, special educators had an average rank of 12.50, while the general educators had an average rank of 5.75 (U = 2.50, p =.004). On adapting or modifying materials special educators had an average rank of 11.60 and general educators had an average rank of 6.20 (U = 7.00, p = .023). Special educators had an average rank of 12.40, compared to general educators' average rank of 5.80, on school to work transition (U = 3.00, p = .005). Finally, on student self-advocacy, special educators had an average rank of 11.60, compared to the average rank of 6.20 for general educators (U = 7.00, p = .021).

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Relationship between Association Priorities and Focus in Journals

 

Term

199920002001
School Technology 821703396
Staff Development 576625334
Improving Teaching 219166105
Aligning Curriculum 587928
Under-prepared Teachers 666730
High Expectations 606335
Shortage of Teachers 605542

 

To gain a better understanding of how association priorities impact publications, a review was conducted of the number of articles published on several priority topics that had been identified by stakeholders in the survey of general and special education associations. Using the Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) database, a key word search was conducted in 29 journals published by the 15 associations, using terms related to each of the top six priorities identified by the associations (Mason, Thormann, O'Connell, & Berhmann, 2003). An additional search was conducted using the term "school technology," which was frequently identified in the environmental scan, but rated among the lowest priorities by the associations.

For comparison purposes, we also calculated the percentage of articles found for the targeted terms for journals of the general education versus special education associations. Of all the terms searched, the greatest percentage of articles was found for the term "school technology," an area that was not identified as a high priority by either general or special education associations.

Percentage of Articles of Targeted Journals Dedicated to Topics Bar graph: Percentage of Articles of Targeted Journals Dedicated to Topics
Image description:
This bar graph is entitled "Percentage of Articles of Targeted Journals Dedicated to Topics" and is made up of four bars representing percentages of articles by topic. The vertical axis on the left is labeled with a series of percentages, ranging from 0 to 10 by twos. The horizontal axis is labeled with seven topics. Each topic has four bars in four different colors representing different percentages, with, from left to right, blue labeled "general education," marroon labeled "special education," pale yellow labeled "general education," and pale blue labeled "special education."

The first topic is "aligning curriculum" and, from left to right, the bars reach just under 2%, just over 7%, just under 2%, and just over 7%. The second topic is "high expectations" and, from left to right, the bars reach to about 1%, to about .5%, to about 1%, and to about .5%.  The third topic is "improving teaching" and, from left to right, the bars reach to just over 1%, over 5%, just over 1%, and over 5%.  The fourth topic is "shortage of teachers" and, from left to right, the bars reach to just barely above 0, over 2%, just barely above 0, and over 2%.

The fifth topic is "school technology" and, from left to right, the bars reach to just under 8%, just under 10%, just under 8%, and just under 10%. The sixth topic is "under-prepared teachers" and, from left to right, the bars reach to just under 1%, over 4%, just under 1%, and over 4%. The seventh topic is "staff development" and, from left to right, the bars reach to about 4%, under 3%, about 4%, and under 3%.

Correlations computed between the key priority topics and the key terminology revealed that most of the highest ranked priority topics were not significantly related to the percentage of articles that mention that topic. There were a few exceptions, however. The higher "shortage of teachers" was ranked by educators, the lower the percentage of articles that mentioned "under-prepared teachers" (r= -.83,p<.01) and the higher the percentage of articles that mentioned "aligning curriculum" (r= .60,p<.05).

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Discussion

The findings in the current study of "General Education and Special Education Associations: A Comparison of Priority Issues and Key Terminology" suggest that although senior staff at general and special associations are concerned with a sufficient supply of qualified teachers, improvement of teaching techniques, and a lack of preparedness of current teachers, neither field is publishing a significant number of research or professional articles addressing these issues—less than 1% of the general education articles and approximately 2% of the special education articles in the targeted journals for the largest education associations.

Moreover, although school technology was not considered a high priority by either general or special educators, articles addressing technology in the classroom accounted for almost 10% of the special education articles and 8% of general education articles that were identified through a search of the ERIC database. Similarly, although aligning curriculum was rated as a high priority for general educators, articles addressing this issue in the general education journals accounted for only 2% of the total articles. In contrast, aligning curriculum was a topic of 7% of the special education articles and yet the special educators in this sample did not rate this as a high priority.

The discrepancies between priorities of the associations and priorities in the literature/research may be indicative of a failure of communication between research and practice. However, the discrepancies may also be reflective of the time "lag" that occurs between awareness of an issue and publications concerning that issue. For publications to be meaningful to targeted audiences, associations may wish to examine ways to publish information more quickly, perhaps through Web articles which can be updated more readily. For research to influence everyday practice, significant efforts need to be made not only to inform constituents of relevant and innovative findings and interventions, but researchers must also be more informed about the everyday concerns and issues of importance to educators. Furthermore, researchers in general and special education should considering publishing their research on top priority topics in each other's journals.

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References

Bauwens, J., & Hourcade, J. (1997). Cooperative teaching: Pictures of possibilities. Intervention in School and Clinic, 33, 81-85.

Evans, D. (1993). Restructuring special education services. Teacher Education and Special Education, 16, 137-45.

Fusarelli, & Cooper, B. (1999). Why the NEA and AFT sought to merge-and failed. School Business Affairs, 65, 4, 33-38.

Gersten, R., Darch, C., Davis, G., & George, N. (1991). Apprenticeship and intensive training of consulting teachers: A naturalistic study. Exceptional Children, 57, 226-236.

Hargreaves, A. (1994). Changing teachers, changing times: Teacher's work and culture in the postmodern age. New York: Teacher's College Press.

Kozleski, E., Mainzer, R., & Deshler, D. (2000). Bright futures for exceptional learners: An agenda to achieve quality conditions for teaching and learning. Arlington, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.

Mason, C., Thormann, M., O'Connell, M., & Behrmann, J. (2003). General education and special education associations: A comparison of priority issues as indicated by publications in their respective journals. Manuscript submitted for publication.

McLaughlin, M. & The Center for Policy Research on the Impact of General and Special Education Reform (March 1997). Reform for all? General and special education reforms in five local school districts. Washington, DC: Special Education Programs (ED/OSERS).

Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education (2001). Record of the expert strategy panel on students with disabilities' access to, participation in, and progress in the general education curriculum: The role of the panel in IDEA Part D national program planning. Washington, D.C.: Author.

Voltz, D.L., Elliot, R.N., & Harris, W. B. (1995). Promising practices in facilitating collaboration between resource room teachers and general education teachers. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 10, 129-136.

Wade, S.E., Welch, M., & Jensen, J.B. (1994). Teacher receptivity to collaboration: Levels of interest, types of concern, and school characteristics as variables contributing to successful implementation. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 5, 177-209.

Walter-Thomas, C.S. (1997). Co-teaching experiences: The benefits and problems that teachers and principals report over time. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 30, 395-407.

West, F., & Idol, L. (1990). Collaborative consultation in the education of mildly handicapped and at-risk students. Remedial Education and Special Education (RASE), 11, 22-23.

Whitaker, T., & Turner, E. (2000). What is your priority? NASSP Bulletin, 84(617), 16-21.

 

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Footnotes

1This project was conducted by CEC, as part of its role with the National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum (NCAC), in effort to develop consensus and disseminate information regarding curriculum access for students with disabilities to general education associations.

2Christine Mason, is Senior Associate for Research and Program Development at the Council for Exceptional Children, and Consensus Director for NCAC. Maria O'Connell is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Yale University School of Medicine. Mary Thormann is an educational consultant in Washington, DC. June Behrmann is an educational consultant and teacher in Fairfax, Virginia.

This content was developed pursuant to cooperative agreement #H324H990004 under CFDA 84.324H between CAST and the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. However, the opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the U.S. Department of Education or the Office of Special Education Programs and no endorsement by that office should be inferred.

Citation

Cite this paper as follows:

Mason, C., O'Connell, M., Thormann, M., & Behrmann, J. (2003). General education and special education associations. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum. Retrieved [insert date] from http://aim.cast.org/learn/historyarchive/backgroundpapers/gen_ed_comparison

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Last Updated: 10/22/2013

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