An Advocate’s Guide to Transforming Special Education
Creating Schools Where All Students Can Thrive
In order for me to thrive, my school must…
The school team includes students with special needs in general education classrooms during as much of the school day as possible.
> Are students with disabilities included as much as possible in general education classrooms (per their IEPs)? Right now, what percentage of students with disabilities are fully included, partially included or in separate settings?
> Are students with disabilities included not just in general instruction classrooms, but in all aspects of school culture, e.g. school events and field trips, enrichment, sports and extracurricular activities?
> Do leaders allocate resources and provide staffing and training to effectively support inclusion?
DISTRICT / CHARTER SCHOOL NETWORK
> District/charter network leaders share a district-wide vision for inclusion of special education students as an explicit core value. This is clearly expressed in mission, vision and strategic planning documents.
> District/charter network leaders give schools flexibility to make decisions about how to best use staff and resources, and to create the schedule in a way that includes students with disabilities in general education classrooms, at every grade level.
> Special education staff are included in annual district-level or network-level conversations in which principals make decisions about their budget and staffing.
> District/charter network keeps track of the number of students who are fully included, partially included, or in separate settings and the extent to which these approaches are working for students.
> District/charter network leaders expect and support general education teachers to build their expertise in special education and for special education teachers to develop greater content expertise. This could include professional development for the entire staff that is focused on special education topics, knowledge, and skills. It could also be integrating special education topics into general trainings (e.g. a session on literacy that includes a focus on learning disabilities and specific strategies to support struggling readers with dyslexia or traumatic brain injury).
SCHOOL / CLASSROOM
> School leaders make staffing decisions that allow students who need additional intervention or small group instruction to get the time and support they need. For example, a school leader may hire more paraprofessionals, resource specialists, teacher assistants, and co-teachers according to the needs of the student population.
> The school has regular common planning time for general and special education teachers to plan instruction together. Both special education teachers and general education teachers collaborate, co-plan, co-teach, and work with small and large groups of students based on student need. Both deliver content and provide specific supports to struggling students.
> Students with disabilities are seated throughout the classroom alongside their peers without disabilities, at all grade levels. Teachers regularly call on all students, including those with disabilities and ensure all students are engaged in the lesson.
> Student groupings are flexible and change over time based on students’ needs and academic progress. Students are not working in the same groups every day based exclusively on their disability status.
> For students who can’t be fully included in the general classroom, the school team provides opportunities throughout the school day for students to build relationships and participate in important aspects of the school’s culture (e.g. extracurriculars, homework clubs, assemblies, shared lunch times and recess, etc.).
> All staff are responsible for supporting students with disabilities and these responsibilities are included in their job descriptions and performance goals. Special education teachers are included on school leadership teams, site councils, etc.
> Teachers provide individualized support that addresses the specific disabilities of students. Teachers give students with disabilities access to the same standards, curriculum and learning environments as other students.
> The school team intentionally designs its staffing plan, budget, physical layout, and schedules to meet the needs of students with disabilities. This requires strong collaboration between general education and special education teachers. This could include co-teaching in the same classroom, one-on-one support (e.g. push-in or pull-out strategies), and flexible groupings that change over the course of the day, week or year.
> The school team creates a school culture that is safe, welcoming and inclusive of students with disabilities. The school culture celebrates and explores learning differences among students. Staff educate all students about the rights of people with disabilities. They also teach students about the contributions people with disabilities have made to society, science, art, technology, literature, etc.
YOU ARE VIEWING AN EXCERPT FROM THE FULL CHAPTER IN AN ADVOCATE’S GUIDE TO TRANSFORMING SPECIAL EDUCATION.
The excerpt shows the observable actions that parent advocates should “look for” in a school, organization, or district that is truly doing what it takes to help students with disabilities succeed. Parents can use these “look fors” not only to advocate for their child, but also to push for reforms that are necessary at a broader level.
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Full report English | Spanish
Believe in me English | Spanish
Include me English | Spanish
Find me English | Spanish
Catch me when (or before) I fall English | Spanish
Meet me where I am and challenge me English | Spanish
Know me English | Spanish
Involve me and my family English | Spanish
Stick with me English | Spanish