Special Education and the Process of Change: Victim or Master of Educational Reform?

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Special Education and the Process of Change: Victim or Master of Educational Reform?

In the article entitled, "Reforming again, Again, and Again," Cuban (1990) examined the language and lessons of school reform. His analysis of recrudescent reform is both instructive and intriguing. It holds that practitioners, policy-makers, and researchers are unwitting sontributors to much in education today that is trendy and regrettably superficial because they lack a proper sense of history (Kameenui, in press> Slavin, 1989). In addition, according to Cuban, words used by the educational community (i.e., the metaphors and images we used to think about problems and their solutions), as much as its deeds, are to blame for the "inevitable return of scholl reforms" (p.3). Because of this, says Cuban, understanding the history and language, as well as the tools, of school reform is important to serious thinking about educational change:

The existing tools of understanding are no more than inadequate methaphors that pinch-hit for hard thinking. We can do better by gathering data on particular reforms and tracing life history in particular calssrooms, scholls, districts, and regions. More can be done by studying reforms in governance, school structures, curricula, and instruction over time to determine whether any patterns exist. (pp. 11-12)

Reforms are continuous (i.e., they claim a past and present) and reflect society's view of what is important educationally at a given time. Issues of educational reform related to governance, school structure, curricula, instruction, accountability, and equity are not closed-system engineering problems, but rather open-ended social issues (Rittel & Webber, 1973). As such, the search for a definitive solution may be illusory. What each iteration of reform hopefully achievers is advancement in the nature of resolutions which reflect the outcome of professional, political and public argumentation. Such argumentation and resolutions are based upon values, beliefs, perceived needs, experience, research, resources, and the length of the attention cycle framing a particular issue of educational reform. Thus, what is required is sustained commitment to a process of inquiry that, by necessity, must occur within an ever-changing context. Recognition of this complexity might place policymakers, researchers, and practitioners in better positions to target and attain meaningful educational innovation and application.

The current educational reform movement requires special educators to expand their historical and legislative focus of assuring a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to encompass a whole child perspective in order to achieve better educational and postschool results for children with disabilities. The FAPE requirement of Public Law 94-142 refers to only the special education and related service components of a child's educational program. However, children with disabilities are not dropping out of special education, they are dropping out of school. These children are failing more frequently in regular than special education classes. Significant numbers are being arrested in their communities and , after leaving school, are not engaged in employment, education, or other productive activites (U.S. Department of Education, 1989, 1990).

In order to be a master of educational reform and not become its victim, special education must not be complacent with the impresive and significant achievements of the past 15 years. Special education must do more than focus on issues of access and inclusion for children with disabilities during these times of reform and change. In order to achieve better results, special educators and parents must assertively seek the knowledge and innovations needed to expand the provision of effective educational experiences and support not only through special education but in regular education, at home, and in the community. …


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