Key Influences on the Initiation and Implementation of Inclusive Preschool Programs

By Lieber, Joan; Hanson, Marci J. et al. | Exceptional Children, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

Key Influences on the Initiation and Implementation of Inclusive Preschool Programs


Lieber, Joan, Hanson, Marci J., Beckman, Paula J., Odom, Samuel L., Sandall, Susand R., Schwartz, Ilene S., Horn, Eva, Wolery, Ruth, Exceptional Children


An extensive literature documents the efforts of schools to adopt innovations that lead to systemic change (see Fullan, 1991; Hargreaves, 1997; Huberman & Miles, 1984). McLaughlin (1990) reviewed findings of the Rand Corporation study of four federally funded programs that promoted school district change. Although federal policies were important to "prompt" school districts to undertake change, those efforts were not uniformly successful. Successful change occurred in districts that had active commitment of their leadership from the beginning and who implemented change incrementally rather than across the whole system at once. McLaughlin also listed strategies that benefited teachers who were attempting change in their classrooms. These included teacher participation in project decisions, opportunity to observe other teachers implementing similar projects, classroom assistance, and individualized, extended training.

Fullan (1991) identified similar factors facilitating the initiation and implementation of educational change, specifically the impetus for change emanating from a new policy, and the importance of advocacy from the district administration. Fullan identified other facilitative factors during the initial stages of innovation. One factor was external change agents who were valuable in helping districts to develop initial plans, conduct initial training, and provide ongoing support and evaluation. Community support was also important, as was access to information. In districts where central office personnel had personal contacts and the opportunity to attend conferences or workshops, they learned about the latest innovations and brought that information back to their district.

One of the more recent educational innovations that have been inspired by changes in public policy is inclusion, leading to increased access of children with disabilities to public school classrooms (Cuban, 1996). Inclusion as a systemic change had its roots in the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975, and was reaffirmed in 1997 with the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). For preschoolers with disabilities, the principle that their education should take place with their typically developing peers is particularly difficult to implement. Although service for preschool children with disabilities is required by public law, many public school systems do not have classes of 3- to 5-year-old typically developing children into which children with disabilities may be included.

Programs have met this challenge by serving young children with disabilities in a variety of settings (Odom et al., 1999). In a study of 16 programs in four regions of the country, Odom et al. found that preschoolers attended inclusive programs in a variety of organizational contexts. Some attended state-funded prekindergarten programs, or public school programs that were combined with Head Start or with child care. Still others attended community-based child care programs or Head Start, unaffiliated with public schools.

Systems' efforts to provide inclusive programs for preschoolers are reflected in the increase in numbers of children with disabilities served in these programs in the past 10 years. For example, Wolery et al. (1993) reported that from 1985 to 1990 the numbers of programs that enrolled at least one child with a disability almost doubled (from 38% of the 483 programs surveyed to 74%). Like Odom et al. (1999), Wolery et al. found that preschoolers were served in Head Start, prekindergarten, and community programs. Although numbers of children served in inclusive programs are increasing, inclusion is an educational innovation that is not universal at the preschool level (McDonnell, Brownell, & Wolery, 1997).

Peck and his colleagues conducted a series of studies to identify factors that led some systems to adopt inclusion for preschoolers (Peck, Furman, & Helmstetter, 1993; Peck, Hayden, Wandschneider, Peterson, & Richarz, 1989; Peck, Richarz et al. …

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