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COVID-19 Hit Students with Disabilities, Their Families, and Their Teachers Hard: Here’s How We Can Prepare Principals to Help

Teacher with students running in hallway behind her

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.

Centering Teaching and Learning in Plans to Educate Students With Disabilities This Fall

Disabled schoolboy using digital tablet

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.

Educators Disrupting Racism: One Journey

Jane West and Ashley WhiteIn 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.

Educators Disrupting Racism: One Journey

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?

Jane West and Ashley WhiteWhite:  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.

Senate Debates Funding for Re-opening Schools

Students wearing masks outside school building

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. 

Equity At the Core: 9 Challenge Questions to Explore and Ensure Inclusion of Students with Disabilities in the Reopening and Recovery Planning Process

Equity at the Core

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. 

COVID-19 Education Coalition Supports the Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act and Increases in Federal FY21 Education Appropriations

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.

AACTE Joins Educating All Learners Alliance

Educating All LearnersLearners of all ages are being impacted by COVID-19 through school closures, the transition to online learning, and the shortage of teachers and faculty across the nation. AACTE continues its long tradition of addressing the educator career continuum and supporting PK-12 learners in America’s public schools by joining the Educating All Learners Alliance (EALA), an alliance dedicated to equity for complex learners.

EALA is specifically designed to help ensure the continuity of special education services during remote instruction and to spotlight best practice approaches for schools and educators. It represents a dynamic alliance of non-partisan groups deeply committed to the success of students with disabilities.

COVID-19 Raises Multiple Education Policy Questions

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.

How Will the Senate Respond to the House Passed $3 Trillion HEROES Act?

Last week the House passed its follow up to the $2 trillion CARES Act by adopting the HEROES Act— the next COVID-19 relief bill. The Senate does not appear to be in a hurry to act and has clearly articulated different priorities from those in the HEROES Act.

Educators and their congressional allies are weighing in for a strong infusion of cash for education in the next bill.  In the House, Reps. Tlaib (D-MI), Hayes (D-CT) and Pressley (D-MA) are circulating a letter to their colleagues that requests $305 billion be targeted to K-12 education in the next COVID-19 bill.  In comparison, the HEROES Act targets $58 billion to K-12 education. Many education organizations are supporting their request, including the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, and AASA: The School Superintendents Association.

On the higher education side, almost 80 education organizations have requested that the maximum for the Pell Grant be doubled, anticipating that students will be facing unprecedented struggles when starting the new academic year and beyond.

Will Voucher Initiatives Prevail?

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.

Senate to Reconvene May 4 as House Stays Home—Mostly

Congress has been on recess for a month leaving a scant few Members in town to hold down the fort. This week both the House and Senate announced they would return full force on May 4, but only a day later, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) retracted the announcement for the House saying the Capitol physician advised against it. Members are still regrouping from the whiplash announcement and retraction—assessing the political fallout—but relieved about the health risks had they returned. 

Sen. McConnell (R-KY), Senate Majority Leader, has not backed down despite push back from several Senators, and the full Senate is scheduled to be in town May 4. They will likely be in town until May 22, recessing for Memorial Day. Many unanswered questions remain.  Will staff be required to report to work? Will social distancing be enforced? What are the cleaning procedures for office spaces and the Capitol? Will masks and gloves be worn? We shall see.

Lunch and Learn with AACTE and CEEDAR: Ed Prep Programs and Local Education Agency Partnerships

AACTE Responds to COVID-19

Lunch and Learn Sign,

AACTE members across the country are seeking novel ways to approach clinical practice, observation hours, and practicum expectations for their teacher candidates in order to address the nation’s need for an excellent teaching workforce in our PK-12 schools during COVID-19. AACTE and CEEDAR will co-host a second Lunch and Learn focused on strategies for leveraging partnerships in innovative ways to facilitate new opportunities to learn May 1, 2020, 1:00-1:30 p.m. ET.

Education leaders from Ohio, including our AACTE Board Member and associate dean of Bowling Green State University (BGSU), Mary Murray, will provide examples of educator preparation faculty and district partnerships that are adapting instructional modalities for students with the help of teacher candidates. From early childhood to secondary content areas, including special education, candidates are supporting their district partners through the development of lessons, online tutoring, supporting parents in their navigation of distance learning, and direct instruction online.

Join us to learn how you might apply these practices in your own context. Register now for Just-in-Time Strategies for Leveraging EPP-LEA Partnerships.

Teaching in a Time of Crisis Highlights the Need for New Standards

Distance learning. Cheerful little girl using laptop computer studying through online e-learning system

The morning of March 12, 2020 at the school where I had just started student teaching, teachers were directed to prepare 10 days’ worth of learning material for students in anticipation of the schools being closed for a period of two weeks due to the coronavirus. This was initially hoped to be a brief interlude—like an extended spring break—and while it was expected that students might or might not complete their learning activities at home, any minor losses in progress would surely be made up when the students returned to school in early April.

As time went on and it was clear that school could not resume as planned, decisions had to be made about remote learning—what it would look like, what expectations could be placed on students, and many other big and small decisions. In special education, these decisions have the legal considerations of students’ IEPs. Compliance with IEPs is evidenced in data collection and benchmark assessments, and the procedures to collect data and administer assessments must be consistent for validity.

When will Educators Receive COVID Relief Funding?

CARES Act

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.

Implementation of the $2 Trillion CARES Act: Where Do We Stand?

It’s hard to keep track of the swirl of information about federal efforts to address the pandemic in the education space. Here is my best shot at a high-level summary of where things stand:

  • It’s been three weeks since the $2 trillion third package of funding (COVID-3 or the CARES Act) became law
  • The bill includes the following and distribution to date is as noted:
    • $13.5 billion for elementary and secondary education
      • No announced process or timeline for distribution yet
    • $14.25 billion for higher education
      • $6.3 billion is being distributed to IHE’s for students who need emergency financial aid and have expenses related to the pandemic
    • $3 billion for a Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund
      • fund now available for distribution

Special Education Equity in the Era of COVID-19

AACTE Responds to COVID-19

Disabled pupil smiling at camera in classroom

With the onset of the coronavirus (COVID-19), school districts, institutions of higher education, and educators are finding themselves in uncharted territory. As schools across the nation are forced to shut their doors, finding ways to best serve all students equitably has never been more urgent. This is especially true for our most vulnerable students—those with disabilities.

COVID-19 hit hard and fast. And with that, so did the shift from in-school instruction to online learning. We know that special education students receive, consume, and apply information differently in face-to-face settings versus online environments. However, the rapid onset of COVID-19 did not give educators, parents, or students time to adequately prepare for the transition.

Next Step for Education Funding in Response to COVID-19 Outbreak

AACTE Responds to COVID-19

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.

Implementation of CARES Act – Third COVID Relief Package

The Administration is moving to implement the massive $2 trillion COVID response bill (known now as COVID-3) which was enacted on Friday, March 27 . For education, this means $30.75 billion for an Education Stabilization Fund that includes:

  • $13.5 billion for elementary and secondary education (can be used for any activity authorized under major education laws including ESSA, IDEA, CTE and Homeless Education)
  • $14.25 billion for higher education; At least 50% is for emergency financial aid to students and expense related to the pandemic
  • $3 billion for governors to be used for emergency grants for the most affected local education agencies, institutions of higher education and those deemed essential to providing childcare, early childhood, K-12 or higher education services

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