This article is an excerpt that originally appeared in the AACTE Journal of Teacher Education (JTE) and is co-authored by Marleen C. Pugach, Ananya M. Matewos, and Joyce Gomez-Najarro. AACTE members have free access to the articles in the JTE online archives—log in with your AACTE profile to read the full article.
Preparing teachers for social justice has long been a driving force within teacher education, reflecting a commitment to educating students from multiple social identity groups who are marginalized and oppressed in schools. Given any particular decade, specific social identity markers may take center stage in this work—with new markers gaining visibility as previously neglected identity groups begin to receive vital, much needed attention.
Alongside social justice concerns for equity regarding race, class, ethnicity, gender, language, socioeconomic status and, more recently, sexual orientation and religion, stands the question of disability. As part of the overall vision for social justice, disability is generally viewed as a key social marker of identity. Yet students with disabilities continue to be marginalized and have persistently lower academic outcomes, such as graduation rates, compared to their mainstream peers (U.S. Department of Education, 2015). The connection between social justice and disability was amplified with the emergence of the disability studies in education (DSE) movement in the 1990s, which views disability as a socially constructed phenomenon, shifting its historical definition away from an immutable individual characteristic (Baglieri et al., 2011). Furthermore, the inclusion of students with disabilities itself has long been viewed as a social justice issue (Artiles et al., 2006).
The following article is an excerpt of a transcribed podcast interview on the GoReact blog with AACTE board member Marquita Grenot-Scheyer, who serves as the assistant vice chancellor of Educator Preparation and Public School Programs for California State University (CSU). Grenot-Scheyer also sits on the board of directors for the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. In this episode, she discusses her experience in special education as well as CSU’s exciting initiatives and research.
When did you realize that you wanted to dedicate your career to teaching students with disabilities?
Grenot-Scheyer: I don’t think I realized it until I was a freshman in college, but my mother always reminded me that I talked about wanting to be a teacher from a very young age, and I just have no recollection of that. But my freshman year in college, at California State University, Los Angeles, I had an incredible field experience with some really complex and endearing young people. And that just set the path forward for what I wanted to do.
How Special Education Has Changed Over Time
So, as you mentioned, you began working with students with disabilities in the 1970s. What was it like to do special education at that time, and how has it changed since then?
Grenot-Scheyer: So when I began my career as a special educator, students with disabilities were predominantly served in isolated, segregated schools and classrooms. So that is, all students with disabilities in one facility. And so my first clinical experience was in a segregated school in a small community in Los Angeles, where students with the most challenging behavioral and physical and developmental abilities were all clustered together. And at the time, the feeling and the research said that was the best way to provide services to kids with disabilities. We now know, decades later, based upon research, based upon federal and state laws, that in fact, the best place to educate students with disabilities is in regular schools, alongside typically-developing peers. So the service delivery models have changed dramatically in some schools and in some communities, but in other schools and communities, students with disabilities are still being served in segregated settings. But we now know that’s not the best way to do it.
This article originally appeared in the University of Virginia’s UVAToday online news magazine and is reprinted with permission.
Two University of Virginia professors who played a significant role in this week’s Flint, Michigan, water crisis lawsuit settlement are being applauded around the country.
Gail Lovette and Bill Therrien, professors in UVA’s Curry School of Education and Human Development, worked pro bono on the case for nearly four years, analyzing how increased exposure to lead in Flint’s municipal water supply affected children’s learning.
On Thursday, they saw their work pay off in the form of a $600 million settlement with the State of Michigan and other defendants that includes at least $9 million in new funding for special education programs in Flint Community Schools and surrounding school districts that educate special education students who were on the Flint water lines.
Lovette and Therrien called the result a “testament to the people of Flint.”
“Parents and teachers—some at potential great risk because they were still employed by the schools—stood up for their community’s children and students,” Therrien said.
The two professors were part of the litigation efforts of the ACLU of Michigan, the Education Law Center and the New York-based global law firm White and Case. They spent time in Flint, speaking with educators and families and reviewing documents associated with the schools and districts.
Inclusive leadership is better for schools, teachers, and all students. Every student deserves to attend a school led by a principal with the skills, knowledge, and training to promote equity for all students, including students with disabilities. Yet, general education teachers and school principals report being underprepared to effectively serve students with disabilities. Only 12 percent of a nationally representative sample of school principals and only 17 percent of general education teachers report feeling well prepared to serve and teach students with disabilities.
Support for Preparing Inclusive School Leaders During COVID-19
While the COVID-19 crisis has disrupted education for all students, students with disabilities face unique challenges in transitioning to remote learning and in their eventual transition back to the classroom. Like the pandemic and the systemic racism plaguing our nation, inequitable access to effective school leadership is more prevalent for underserved populations, including students with disabilities. A recently released brief from CCSSO, the CEEDAR Center, and the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders highlights key recommendations, examples, and resources to support educator preparation programs (EPPs) and Deans of Education in addressing the pressing challenges for school leaders posed by the COVID-19 crises.
This article by Nathan Jones, associate professor of special education at Boston University, is Part 1 of a two-part series.
Questions of health and safety of students and school personnel have dominated summer debates about how to open schools this fall. The collective focus on safety is certainly appropriate, considering concerns voiced by parents and educators. In most all cases, states have asked school districts to prepare for multiple possible scenarios, ranging from fully in-person to fully virtual. To plan well for any of these scenarios would take a tremendous amount of collective will and resources. To plan for all options simultaneously means that schools have simply not had the opportunity to wrestle with the deep teaching and learning challenges in front of them. If we were to wave a magic wand, and all schools were able to operate fully in person with no threat to students or staff this fall, schools would still face an uphill battle to address the learning losses that have been disproportionately felt by critical student sub-populations. Nowhere is this issue clearer than in the education of students with disabilities.
Although formal data are not yet available, we should anticipate that many students with disabilities have regressed considerably since the transition to distance learning. Data from NAEP assessments show that, for the past several years, students with disabilities have lagged behind their peers in reading, writing, and math. These gaps have likely widened further during distance learning, where students with disabilities have likely not received the additional instructional time they need to make progress. In a May 2020 survey conducted by Parents Together, 40% of parents of students with disabilities reported receiving no services at all since the transition to remote learning, and only 20% reported receiving the services they were entitled to.
In Part 2 of this Q&A feature, AACTE consultant Jane West, a former teacher with a doctorate in special education and 30 years of policy experience in the nation’s capital, and Holmes Program Alumna Ashley L. White, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin and 2019-20 Joseph P. Kennedy Fellow, share their mentoring/mentee relationship and how it has evolved over time to address race. (Read Part 1.)
Q: Describe a good white ally.
White: This is not an all-encompassing definition and I am not the monolithic expert—I am speaking from my experiences in dealing with White people all my life, some who get it and many who do not. Allies of any kind have to accept the reality of system and practices that have put them in a position of privilege while disenfranchising others (e.g., the notion of heterosexuality or “able-bodies” as superior forms of existence). Allies must value the whole over the self. Allies must recognize that if one suffers, all suffer, even if not immediately. Allies must embrace their ignorance and lack of understanding in order to counteract these.
As it pertains to the subject of racism in society, racism in education, White allies have to accept the reality of racism in every system and they also have to accept that no matter the topic, particularly as it relates to education, issues of race cement long-standing inequities that cannot be resolved without centering the issues of race. In other words, White allies don’t avoid our country’s foundation, which is built upon individual and systematic racism for the gain of the dominant class. White allies must learn to be quiet when Black and Brown folks are speaking about their experiences and perspectives. White allies must learn not to interrupt and to question themselves, especially when they feel defensive, undermined, or fearful. White allies have to stop hiding behind rhetoric of equity and understanding when their actions demonstrate the very opposite. White allies have to be willing to ask questions, not to prove they are right, but because they know they are wrong.
In Part 1 of this Q&A feature, AACTE consultant Jane West, a former teacher with a doctorate in special education and 30 years of policy experience in the nation’s capital, and Holmes Program Alumna Ashley L. White, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin and 2019-20 Joseph P. Kennedy Fellow, share their mentoring/mentee relationship and how it has evolved over time to address race.
Q: What is the nature of your mentoring relationship?
White: Through my doctoral work, I became very interested in disability policy. It was through this interest that I met Jane. Anyone who knows about SPED/disability policy knows Dr. Jane West. What I didn’t know before interacting with Jane is that, while she was an advocate for the interests of special education and students with disabilities, she was aware of the structural and ideological inconsistencies that float right beneath the surface of the equity rhetoric that dominates disability advocacy.
West: I had the good fortune to meet Ashley as a doctoral student through her work with The Higher Education Consortium for Special Education—an organization with which I consult. Ashley was keenly interested in advocacy and policy—my areas of focus—so we formed a natural alliance. I was, and am, pleased to mentor her in those areas as she navigated her doctoral work and her career.
This blog post is written by AACTE consultant Jane West and is intended to provide updated information. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.
Action Expected in July on Next COVID Relief Bill: Education in the Crosshairs
Beginning next week, we expect to see the Senate take up the next COVID relief bill. The House has passed their version of the bill and Senate Democrats have introduced their version of the bill, so the next move is up Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). His bill may be unveiled next week.
Education has become a high profile and contentious matter for this bill, as the president has determined that the economy cannot move forward unless schools are fully open in person so that parents and college employees (and workers in related businesses) can return to work in person. Multiple agendas are woven through this debate, which will become even more prominent as decisions are made about whether to apply conditions to any further COVID relief funding for education.
To support school leaders, teachers, students, and their families in coping with the changes brought by COVID-19, the Educating All Learners Alliance have worked with national experts and their 50-plus alliance partners, including AACTE, to develop a design process around nine critical questions to consider in reopening and recovery planning for fall 2020.
The equityatthecore.org microsite shares resources from partner organizations, hosts a discussion forum and outlines a design process to ensure that students with disabilities are not only a paragraph in the planning process but are at the center of the discussion about educating all learners to prioritize equity and inclusion.
AACTE members are encouraged to visit the site and explore this resource for administrators, teachers, and school communities. AACTE is proud to be a part of this uncommon alliance of organizations working with each other to support the recovery and reopening process.
The undersigned members of the COVID-19 Education Coalition offer the following statement on the Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act (CCCERA) and FY21 federal education appropriations:
As states and districts continue preparing for the upcoming school year, national data reveal the critical need to support educators’ capacity to deliver effective and equitable online learning experiences. For example, a recent survey revealed discrepancies in the quality of instruction available to students from higher-income versus low-income families. Although the CARES Act provided some federal dollars to support educator professional development, experts agree that the current education stabilization funds are inadequate to fully support schools, students, educators, and families through the COVID-19 global pandemic.