Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Dividing Practices: Preservice Teacher Quality Assessment and the (Re)production of Relations between General and Special Education

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Dividing Practices: Preservice Teacher Quality Assessment and the (Re)production of Relations between General and Special Education

Article excerpt

Promoting the education of children with disabilities in general education classrooms has been a clear and consistent goal of federal education policy since the enactment of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) over forty years ago. However, among the many challenges to achieving this goal, one of the most persistent has been the ambiguous, uneasy, and oftentimes conflictual quality of working relationships between special and general educators (Lilly, 1988; Meredith & Underwood, 1995; Young, 2011). One way to interpret the ongoing tensions between the fields of general and special education is to understand them as manifestations of cultural conflict between different ways of knowing and doing things (Cochran-Smith & Dudley-Marling, 2012). Ironically, separate cultures of professional practice, each operating within the affordances and constraints of its own conceptual and material tools, also function as processes of induction into the profession, thus reproducing the tensions between professional cultures and communities of practice that have been so problematic in achieving the goals of IDEA.

In this article, we draw on ideas from several streams of sociocultural learning theory (Engestrom, 2001; Lave, 1993; Wenger, 1998) to examine some of the concrete ways in which contemporary--and even "cutting-edge"--practical tools used to evaluate preservice teacher quality may unintentionally contribute to the reproduction of cultural tensions between general and special education. Our underlying assumption is that policy, practice, and professional identity mutually construct one another (Holland, Lachiocotte, Skinner, & Cain, 1998)--such that divisions in preparation for practice, whether explicitly or implicitly, become reified as essential and may then be enacted as conflict between members of the general and special education communities. It is important to note that these sociocultural dynamics can operate across licensure options, that is, whether students are seeking stand-alone licensure in general or special education or one of the varied types of dual-licensure options (Blanton & Pugach, 2011) that exist. Young (2011), for example, demonstrated how deeply the divisions between the fields remained entrenched, even in a credential program explicitly designed to integrate general and special education teacher preparation.

To provide a concrete example of the ways cultural tensions between special education and general education may be unintentionally reflected and (re)produced in current preservice teacher education policy and practice, we analyzed several of the specific requirements of the increasingly visible national teacher education performance assessment, the edTPA (Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity, 2013). Specifically, we conducted a comparative analysis of the language, performance expectations, and underlying assumptions about learning in the edTPA Assessment Handbookfor Elementary Literacy and the edTPA Assessment Handbookfor Special Education from the state of Washington. This analysis is significant in illustrating how deeply and unconsciously the division between general and special education may be embedded in even the most contemporary tools used to prepare and assess new teachers. We argue that constructing and maintaining separate communities of practice, which occurs through the use of these cultural tools, can function as an obstacle to fostering teachers' capacities to work across general and special education. In so doing, they also function as a barrier to serving today's students, who bring complex and intersecting learning needs and cultural identities to the general education classroom (Artiles, 2003). Our analysis provides an example of the ways the separation of special education and general education may remain rooted in divided preservice practices--even as the policy pressures for inclusion expand.

Context

The context for this study is rooted in three important considerations. …

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