Innovations in Inclusive Education: Two Teacher Preparation Programs at the San Francisco State University

Article excerpt

Introduction

There is a national movement in the United States to educate children with disabilities in inclusive settings. The movement began in 1975 with the passage of Public Law 94-142 (reauthorized as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act--IDEA, 1997), which states that students with disabilities have the right to be educated alongside students without disabilities to the maximum extent appropriate within the least restrictive environment. Although inclusive placements and practices are determined according to a student's individualized education plan (IEP) on a case-by-case basis, data suggest that over the past two decades increasing numbers of students identified with disabilities from diverse backgrounds are spending a significant portion of their school day in general education (ED-DATA, 2006). California schools are among those most impacted in light of increases in the proportion of included students with high incidence disabilities (e.g., specific learning disabilities) and autism spectrum disorders (California Department of Education, 2009; U.S. Department of Education, 2009). As these rates continue to rise, the number of fully qualified general and special educators to serve diverse students with disabilities in inclusive settings is not keeping up (Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, 2004; McLesky, Tyler, & Flippin, 2004). In an effort to address this need, this article introduces two new innovative teacher preparation programs that emphasize educational reform and teacher training for inclusive education at San Francisco State University.

Combined Elementary and Special Education Program

The purpose of the Combined Elementary and Special Education program is to provide specialized cross training for special education and general education teachers who work in highly diverse inclusive public school settings. The training allows teachers to earn credentials in (a) elementary education, (b) special education, and (c) bilingual education. By combining and redesigning three existing programs at SFSU, the students now earn credentials in each of these three areas faster, while benefiting from the strengths of these multiple disciplines.

Need for Program focused on Social Justice and Inclusion

In 1998-99, the U.S. reported that 47 percent of students with disabilities spent 80 percent or more of the day in a general education classroom. In 1988-89, only 31 percent of such students did so. According to a recent report by the Pew Foundation, in 2004, 80 percent of students with disabilities spent the majority of their time in regular classrooms (Olson, 2004). The increase in the percentage of students with disabilities included in general classrooms is noteworthy because the number of such students has been growing faster than total school enrollments. The ratio of special education students to total K-12 enrollment in 1988-89 was 112 per 1,000 students; in 1998-99, it was 130 per 1,000 students. Since the turn of the century, the numbers have remain constant; around 13% of the US population of children are being served under IDEA although the populations are changing (National Center for Education Statistics, 2006-2007)

Not only did the percentage of students with disabilities placed in regular classrooms increase between 1988-89 and 1998-99, the size of increase varied by type of disability (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002). The largest increase occurred among students with high incidence disabilities, for example specific learning disabilities rose from 20 to 45 percent. By 2004, 48% of the students with disabilities had specific learning disabilities. The smallest increases occurred among students with multiple disabilities (from 7 to 11 percent) and those who are both deaf and blind (from 12 to 14 percent). Overall, the percentage of students with disabilities educated in separate facilities declined for students of all disability types except for those with visual impairments (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002). …