Teachers Are Not Prepared For Students With Special Needs

Students in Montclair State University’s dual-certification program (Jackie Mader / Hechinger Report)

Strong progress has been made to integrate students with disabilities into general-education classrooms. Educator instruction hasn’t kept up. When Mary Fair became a teacher in 2012, her classes often contained a mix of special-education students and general-education students. Placing children with and without disabilities in the same classroom, instead of segregating them, was a growing national trend, spurred by lawsuits by special-education advocates.

But in those early days, Fair had no idea how to handle her students with disabilities, whose educational challenges ranged from learning deficits to behavioral disturbance disorders. Calling out a child with a behavioral disability in front of the class usually backfired and made the situation worse. They saw it as “an attack and a disrespect issue,” Fair said.

Over time, Fair figured out how to navigate these situations and talk students “down from the ledge.” She also learned how to keep students with disabilities on task and break down lessons into smaller, easier bits of information for those who were struggling.

No one taught her these strategies. Although she earned a bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate in math instruction for both elementary and middle school, she never had to take a class about students with disabilities. She was left to figure it out on the job.

Many teacher-education programs offer just one class about students with disabilities to their general-education teachers, “Special Ed 101,” as it’s called at one New Jersey college. It’s not enough to equip teachers for a roomful of children who can range from the gifted to students who read far below grade level due to a learning disability.

A study in 2007 found that general-education teachers in a teacher-preparation program reported taking an average of 1.5 courses focusing on inclusion or special education, compared to about 11 courses for special-education teachers. Educators say little has changed since then.

A 2009 study concluded that no one explicitly shows teachers how to teach to “different needs.” Because of time constraints, the many academic standards that must be taught, and a lack of support, “teachers are not only hesitant to implement individualized instruction, but they do not even know how to do so,” the report stated.

Fair says teacher-preparation programs should be doing more. At the very least, “You should have a special-education class and an English language learner class,” she said. “You’re going to have those students.”

Between 1989 and 2013, the percentage of students with disabilities who were in a general education class for 80 percent or more of the school day increased from about 32 percent to nearly 62 percent. Special-education advocates have been pushing for the change—especially for students who have mild to moderate disabilities like a speech impairment—in some cases by suing school districts.

Some research shows as many as 85 percent of students with disabilities can master general-education content if they receive educational supports. Supports can include access to a special-education teacher, having test questions read aloud, or being allowed to sit in a certain part of the classroom.

Students with disabilities who are placed in general-education classrooms get more instructional time, have fewer absences, and have better post-secondary outcomes. Studies also show there is no negative impact on the academic achievement of non-disabled students in an inclusion classroom; those students benefit socially by forming positive relationships and learning how to be more at ease with a variety of people.

Alla Vayda-Manzo, the principal of Bloomfield Middle School about 30 miles outside of New York City, said she’s seen the benefit of inclusion for students. The school serves about 930 students, nearly 20 percent of whom have a disability, according to state data. When students with disabilities are included in classrooms with their peers, Vayda-Manzo said the high expectations and instructional strategies “lend themselves to those students being more successful than they would be had they been in a separate, self-contained environment.”“It’s not just getting a child included … that is only a small portion of the battle.”

But as more districts move to make classrooms inclusive, they’ve been caught flat footed when it comes to finding teachers prepared to make the shift. Academic outcomes for students with disabilities have remained stagnant for years, even as more students with special needs are integrated into general-education classrooms. Students with disabilities are less likely to graduate and more likely to earn an alternate diploma that is not equivalent to a general diploma in the eyes of many colleges and employers. And year after year, they score far lower than their peers on standardized exams.

Experts say the problem is that it takes much more than just placing students with disabilities next to their general-education peers: Teachers must have the time, support, and training to provide a high-quality education based on a student’s needs.

Mike Flom, a parent and co-founder of the advocacy group New Jersey Parents and Teachers for Appropriate Education, said many factors impact inclusion’s effectiveness. His twin sons, now in seventh grade, were placed in an inclusion classroom beginning in fifth grade. Initially, Flom said his sons had “mixed reviews” on whether inclusion was beneficial.

“I think the teachers were really motivated to be helpful,” Flom said. “I don’t know the extent to which they were permitted to do the things, or had enough training to do the things, that were required to be more effective.”“It’s not just getting a child included … that is only a small portion of the battle,” he added.

These days, Mary Fair navigates her classrooms with ease. She has learned through experience how to teach students with a variety of disabilities and works with a veteran special-education teacher to modify lesson plans and tests.

On a recent morning in a seventh-grade math-inclusion classroom at Bloomfield Middle School, Fair and her co-teacher, the special-education teacher Christina Rodriguez, started a lesson on the order of operations.

Fair stepped up to the front of the classroom as Rodriguez circulated to make sure students were on task.“We’re starting order of operations,” Fair said. “It’s something you did in sixth grade, but today we are doing it differently.”“Ms. Fair, I want to see if they remember,” Rodriguez said to Fair, who smiled and nodded.“Put your hand up if you remember what the order of operations is,” Rodriguez said.More than half of the students raised their hands

“Who remembers ‘PEMDAS’?” Rodriguez asked, referring to the mnemonic device used to remember order of operations (Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication and Division, Addition and Subtraction). More students eagerly shot their hands in the air.

Fair cut in and explained that although they learned PEMDAS in sixth grade, they were going to learn a new rule about the order of operations today. “Take your yellow paper and fold it horizontally,” Fair said, referring to a yellow sheet of paper that sat on each student’s desk.“Like this,” Rodriguez said, holding up a piece of paper and demonstrating how to fold it horizontally.“Like a hamburger,” Fair added.

To an outsider, it’s impossible to tell who is the general-education teacher and who is the special-education teacher. Both Fair and Rodriguez have desks at the front of the room. They switch off during lessons, effortlessly picking up where the other has left off. They both give directions and explain content. They are careful not to fall into what educators say is a common trap: seeing general-education students as the responsibility of one teacher, and special-education students as the responsibility of the other.

That’s how a good inclusion class should be, Rodriguez said, but it takes practice and time. Like Fair, Rodriguez didn’t receive any training in special education before she entered the classroom. She became a teacher through an alternate program. When she got a job teaching special education six years ago, she relied on strategies she learned while working as an aide in a class for students with autism. In 2014, she received her master’s degree in teaching students with disabilities from New Jersey City University; she now teaches a class for Montclair State University’s dual-certification teacher-preparation program.

Although most traditional teacher-preparation programs nationwide do include some training on students with disabilities, usually in the form of one course over the entirety of the program, educators say this course is often generic and perfunctory. Aspiring teachers also may be given assignments in other classes that require them to adapt a lesson for a hypothetical special-education student.

Fair said she had some assignments like those, but “we didn’t really know what we were talking about, because we weren’t taught it.” Her colleague, the science teacher Jessica Herrera, said she was only offered one class in special education—called “Special Education 101”—when she went through a traditional teacher-preparation program in New Jersey.

“A lot of my training was for that ‘middle of the road’ kind of kid,” Herrera said. “I was prepared for the regular ed student.” In her 13 years as a teacher, Herrera has taught some inclusion classes; she said she picked up strategies from working with “good special-education teachers.” When she earned her master’s degree from Montclair State, she was finally taught how to teach a “range of learners,” she said.

Fair and her co-teacher Rodriguez say there are certain things they wish were included in all teacher-education programs, like an explanation of the different kinds of disabilities and ways to address the various struggles students may encounter. They also say teacher preparation should include more classroom management and “subtle ways” to keep students focused and on task.

Mimi Corcoran, the president of the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), said teacher preparation should better address topics in special education. “We do a disservice to the teachers we’re sending [to schools] in the way we’re training, and we’re doing a disservice to kids,” Corcoran said. “We’ve got to step up to the plate and think differently and act differently, and that’s hard because everybody gets comfortable and systems are hard to change.”

Some teacher-preparation programs are trying to better prepare graduates to teach students with disabilities, especially in inclusion classrooms. At Syracuse University, George Theoharis, a professor and the chair of Teaching and Leadership, said the school’s elementary special-education program has been one of the leaders nationwide in training educators for inclusive education.

Every teacher who graduates from Syracuse’s Early Childhood or Elementary Education program is dual-certified in special education and spends time in inclusion classrooms. Theoharis says it’s an approach that more preparation programs should take. “All of our programs need to be inclusive,” Theoharis said, referring to teacher preparation. “Regardless of what job teachers get, people need to be prepared to work with all children and see all children as their responsibility.”

At Montclair State, students can receive a dual certification in special education and a subject-level or grade-level range. The school also offers a unique concentration in “inclusive iSTeM,” which specifically prepares science, technology, engineering, and math teachers for inclusion classrooms. Students in the program receive a Master of Arts in Teaching, a certification in math or science, and are endorsed by the state as a teacher of students with disabilities.

Jennifer Goeke, a Montclair State professor and the program coordinator, said the dual-certification program prepares teachers to be hired as either a general- education or special-education teacher. “They know how to perform both roles easily and effectively,” Goeke said.

On a recent afternoon, Goeke was holding class in the Bloomfield Middle School media center. She asked her 17 students to first discuss issues they were having in their “fieldwork classrooms,” where they are currently observing and working with general- and special-education teachers. She listened to a few descriptions of struggles and then reminded her students that part of their job is to be an example for other teachers.

“I’m not trying to minimize or trivialize what you might be learning in your content area,” Goeke said. “It’s very important that you have a strong grounding in the methodology and the philosophy of your discipline … and know how to teach your content.” But, Goeke added, “You have to remember that most people do not have any diverse learners in mind. Their training did not teach them to take those students into account.”

In Montclair’s program, students work with two mentor teachers for a year in an inclusion classroom and in small-group settings. They receive extensive training in how to work with students with disabilities as well as how to effectively teach content, like math and science, or grade levels, like early education or elementary education.

Bloomfield chose to partner with the iSTeM program in 2012, and has hired two graduates of the program, and offered teaching positions to several more, who eventually chose jobs in other districts. The Bloomfield Principal, Vayda-Manzo, says the graduates of the program are “like unicorns in the field,” as it’s rare to find teachers who are dual-certified in general and special education.

Current teachers at Bloomfield have also benefited from iSTeM, Vayda-Manzo said. The program provides professional development for inclusion teachers at the school who agree to be mentor teachers for iSTeM students, and those teachers also observe each other and work with professors from Montclair State. Vayda-Manzo said the school makes sure co-teachers have the same planning periods so they have time to plan lessons together each day.

Herrera, who mentors iSTeM teachers, said the professional development provided through the program has improved her ability to teach students with disabilities. “I feel like I got a lot of additional strategies through that,” Herrera said.

On-the-job training is essential to ensure teachers have the skills needed to teach all students in their classroom, especially those teachers who may have attended teacher preparation years ago or missed out on training about disabilities, according to Mimi Corcoran of NCLD. “We have to be fair for the educator,” Corcoran said. For “many that are already in field, the concepts of special education and how to include kids has shifted, and [teachers] need the supports.”

Vayda-Manzo said it has been an easy choice to continue the program.“I saw the impact that it made in our inclusion classes,” Vayda-Manzo said. “We saw tremendous gains.”

By Jackie Mader

Source: Teachers Are Not Prepared for Students With Special Needs – The Atlantic

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Steven Alvey’s   https://jvz2.com/c/202927/351754
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At Least 6 U.S. Teachers Have Died From Covid-19 Since Schools Reopened

At least six educators in five states have died after contracting the coronavirus since schools began reopening in early August. Here’s a list, which Forbes will regularly update, of all the teacher Covid-19 fatalities to date.Demetria “Demi” Bannister, 28, a third-grade teacher in Columbia, South Carolina, died this week from Covid-19 complications after returning to school on August 28 for a week of teacher workdays (she only interacted with students remotely).

AshLee DeMarinis, 34, who taught special education at a middle school in Potosi, Missouri, died Sunday after three weeks on a ventilator; she had expressed fear about in-person teaching amid the pandemic, according to her sister, and contracted Covid-19 after returning to John Evans Middle School to begin preparing for the fall semester (she had not begun teaching students in-person).

Tom Slade, 53, a history teacher at a high school in Vancleave, Mississippi, also died on Sunday due to complications from the virus, which he tested positive for on August 24 after attending a gathering outside of class hours, according to the Biloxi Sun Herald; teachers at Vancleave High School had returned to the classroom August 3, with students following closely after.

An unnamed long-time special education teacher with Des Moines Public Schools died last week from coronavirus complications after an out-of-state trip, the school district announced September 2. 

Teresa Horn, 62, a special education teacher in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, died on August 28 from a heart attack after testing positive for the virus, prompting Tahlequah Public Schools to send their students home for virtual classes (the district has since reported at least eight infections). 

Nacoma James, 42, a football coach in Oxford, Mississippi, died during the first week of August as students and teachers returned to Lafayette Middle School; James, who had been coaching students “all summer,” did not join the first week back at school, instead self-quarantining with Covid-19 symptoms before passing away.  

Americans have been divided on sending students and teachers back to school as the virus continues to spread and the death toll nears 200,000 nationwide. Many school districts have opted for a “hybrid” mix of online and in-person learning, with heightened precautions in the classroom (plexiglass barriers, mandated mask usage, strict capacity limits). Each of New York City’s 1,606 public schools are offering a “blended learning” mix of online and offline teaching, with students returning from September 21. The majority of the nation’s other largest school districts have opted to begin the academic year online only. 

Further Reading

“‘Reckless’ And ‘Reprehensible’ Frat Party Linked To Coronavirus Outbreak At UNH: Here Are The Latest College Coronavirus Updates” (Forbes)

“U.S. Needs 193 Million Tests Per Month In Schools And Nursing Homes To Contain Covid-19, Report Finds” (Forbes)

“New York State Launches Covid-19 Report Card For Schools” (Forbes)

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Jemima McEvoy

Jemima McEvoy

I’m a British-born reporter covering breaking news for Forbes.

Helping Students, Teachers, and Parents Make Sense of the Screen Time Debate – Ian O’Byrne

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Nearly a cliché after two decades of development, it is clear that the internet has profoundly changed the ways in which we read, write, communicate, and learn. Given these sweeping changes, one significant conversation centers on the use of internet-enabled devices as they relate to school policy, teaching practices, and the well-being of children.

Current conversations about screen time often reduce the discussion to a simplistic debate: How much time should youth spend on devices? Although many scholars argue that web-based inquiry, multimodal creation, and communication of ideas in web-based environments support the development of fundamental skills of digital literacy, conversations about screen time in education, medicine, and mass media focus predominantly on the time youth spend on devices. These discussions overlook fundamentally important questions about what youth are learning by using digital devices, with whom, and for what purposes.

Although research over the last two decades has shown that reading and writing in digital spaces requires complex skills, literacy development is often not addressed in conversations about screen time. Instead, articles focus on the damage that screens may cause to developing brains.

For example, in a Psychology Today article, Victoria Dunckley opens with the claim, “Addiction aside, a much broader concern that begs awareness is the risk that screen time is creating subtle damage even in children with ‘regular’ exposure, considering that the average child clocks in more than seven hours a day.” This article cites information from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2010 report.

Although all the data she presents are from studies of internet- and video game-addicted youth, she encourages parents to “arm yourself with the truth about the potential damage screen time is capable of imparting—particularly in a young, still-developing brain.”

Making sense of the debate

To address these concerns, a nonprofit organization, Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development helped prepare a special report for the Pediatrics journal. The supplement is the result of a collaboration of more than 130 recognized experts in the field from a diverse background of disciplines, institutions and perspectives organized into 22 workgroups. Research spanning the fields of psychiatry, psychology, neuroscience, pediatrics, sociology, anthropology, communications, education, law, public health, and public policy informed this work. You can read more about the key findings and takeaways, as well as frequently asked questions here.

As part of this supplement, I worked with Kristen Turner, Tessa Jolls, Michelle Hagerman, Troy Hicks, Bobbie Eisenstock, and Kristine Pytash on a piece titled “Developing Digital and Media Literacies in Children and Adolescents.” In our article, we talk about the tension that exists as digital and media literacy are essential to participation in society. We make recommendations for research and policy priorities as we ask questions about the ability of individuals to have access to information at their fingertips at all times.

Specifically, we ask, What specific competencies must young citizens acquirein this global culture and economy? We examine how these competencies might influence pedagogy. Additionally, we consider how student knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors may have changed. Finally, we present guidance on the best ways to assess students’ digital and media literacy.

We believe these questions underscore what parents, educators, health professionals, and community leaders need to know to ensure that youth become digitally and media literate. Experimental and pilot programs in the digital and media literacy fields are yielding insights, but gaps in understanding and lack of support for research and development continue to impede growth in these areas.

Learning environments no longer depend on seat time in factory-like school settings. Learning happens anywhere, anytime, and productivity in the workplace depends on digital and media literacy. To create the human capital necessary for success and sustainability in a technology-driven world, we must invest in the literacy practices of our youth.

Problematizing our own practices

Soon after our article was released in the Pediatrics supplement, many of the authors began to examine our own relationships and practices as they relate to the topic of screen time. We examined this from our roles as educator, as researcher, as parent, as friend, and as neighbor. Those who are parents considered the role of screen time in our relationships with our children.

We considered the times we were asked by family members questions about how much screen time is safe for children. We considered the times we questioned whether or not time spent coding online counted as screen time, and whether it more “valuable” than simply watching YouTube videos. We considered the times we were asked by family and friends about the appropriate age for children to own their first mobile device. Across all the questions, in all of these contexts, we were left dumbfounded. As the “experts” in these spaces, we knew what the research suggested, but many times it looked different in our own practices and relationships.

These questions and inconsistencies led a group of scholars to begin reaching out to other educators, researchers, developers, and parents to see if they also had many of the same questions and concerns that we did. They promptly indicated that they too had the same struggles and recognized that there was little to no comprehensive research on the topic.

There seemed to be a lot of hysteria from various news and media sources as parents and educators were left afraid about the overall impact of screens on youth. Finally, there was little to no discussion happening across different spaces to allow people to ask questions, have discussions with experts in the field, and inform their practices.

Make your voice heard

Together with Kristin Turner, I have started a research project, titled “Beyond the ‘Screentime’ Debate: Developing Digital and Media Literacies with Youth and Teens,” This project builds on work done by the Digital and Media Literacies workgroup of the Children and Screens Institute to address these challenges and create a discussion space to unite the varied perspectives that are impacted by these questions.

This research project seeks to explore and redefine the definition of screen time, to connect it with digital literacy skills and dispositions, and to explore complex, dynamic, creative digital learning as antidote to the atrophy we all fear.

Our main focus in this research project is to create dialogue across spaces to help examine and unpack the questions in this debate. We want to know you define screen time and what it looks like in your lives. We want to know more about some of the challenges and opportunities you face with the use of screens.

Finally, we would like to know about any tips, tricks, or habits you utilize in relation to screens in your role as an educator, parent, employee, or human being. This research project refocuses the screen time debate by asking: What digital and media competencies must young citizens acquire? How do these competencies affect school policy and pedagogy? How are students’ knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors transformed by engaging with various forms of media?

Anyone can get involved in this research project by joining the open public forums on our website. We’re using FlipGrid for this open research project, and you can go directly to the topics at flipgrid.com/screentime. The password to get in and get involved is “Screentime.” The topics and questions on FlipGrid are the same ones that are on our website. Our goal is to provide a space for all individuals to discuss the future of our youth, and the role of screen time in those futures. We look forward to having you join this screen time discussion.

 

 

 

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