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Special education and the process of change: victim or master of educational reform?

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. It is critical that educational reform and change be viewed as an open-ended journey. The nature of the journey will depend on our inquisitiveness and our resolve to inquire and act.

The mission of the Division of Innovation and Development (DID) in the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) is in keeping with this imperative. Its purpose is to initiate and support the "hard thinking" called for by Cuban (1990) about educational reform and its implementation. By supporting the creation, exchange, and use of new knowledge, as well as by encouraging its linkage with tried and true knowledge, DID supports educators' continuing inquiry and efforts to strengthen current practice.

What does it mean to be a master of educational reform and change? A master is one with authority or with power to control outcomes. A master is also skillful at a craft, knowing all there is to know about it. In our view, to be a master of reform and change, special education researchers, policymakers, and practitioners must continue to examine and improve their craft. They must also be clear about their goals. Improved knowledge, then, should result in better services to students and adults with disabilites. Better services shold bring about enhanced educational and occupational opportunities. The context of educational reform represents an opportunity to strengthen professional knowledge and educational outcomes.

In this article, we heed Cuban's (1990) call for reconsidering the metaphors for thinking about educational reform, and for "gathering data on particular reforms" in classrooms, schools, and districts. More that 5 years ago, DID initiated a program of research designed to examine a range of administrative, organizational, and instructional issues and strategies related to the integration of students with disabilites into the general school setting. Here, we provide an overview of this program of research and cite it as exemplary of the process of change initiated by DID to create, examine, and disseminate new innovations and applications. First, however, we wish to explore several issues related to the process of change in special education.





Educational reform and change require consistent investment in research and development, as well as experimentation in program management, delivery, and evaluation. This investment provides improved choices to practitioners, administrators, and policymakers for doing things better. Knowledge production provides the necessary building blocks, empirically and pedagogically, for change. However, the issue of what change to make is often less of a chalenge than actually changing (Chance, 1986> Kanter,1983). Too often, change comes about only in response to external forces and is either opportunistic or reactive (Cuban, 1990> Dill, 1990> Good, 1990). In either instance, research and development and grassroots experimentation provide the variations or possibilities from which change is constructed.

Knowledge Production: Potential and


Designs for educational change are created out of experience that comes in part from experimentation. Experimental varaitions of current practice provide one source to which organizations look when considering implementable changes. Quinn (1988) has suggested that strategy emerges from action. Weiss (1980) described the same phenomenon as "knowledge creep and decision accretion." The often slow, but visible, emergence of new knowledge and its market value is not always either clear or obvious to parctitioners, policymakers, and researchers. New knowledge, when first produced or discovered in its formative stages, does not have a pre-established market value.

Knowledge production can be compared to prospecting and mining for valuable minerals. The search for knowledge, like prospecting, is frequently grounded on mere hunches, or at least incomplete information. As in prospecting, the value of new discoveries in education, cognitive or developmental psychology, and pedagogy is often not known without considerable investment. While the ore is potentially useful, it is not usable as ore.

An agricultural metaphor is often considered when discussing the usability of knowledge-production activities to improve professional practice. Research projects and products, like carrots, broccoli, and potatoes, are viewed as harvests which are readily bought and sold in a well-developed marketplace of knowledgeable product exchanges and consumers. This metaphor presumes that the findings of individual research projects are not only useful but immediately usable. From this perspective, it is presumed that a consumable product exists, and the lack of adoption and use are a result of ineffective packaging and dissemination. The agricultural metaphor, however, often leads to disappointment, disillusion, and the perception that research does not affect practice. Because, as Cuban has noted, the language of educational reform and change is important, we believe that a mining metaphor more adequately fits the nature and practice of inquiry in education--research that results in products useful to consumers, though not necessarily immediately consumable.

A different orientation derived from the mining metaphor is that the market that makes knowledge usable and accessible is not adequately developed. This orientation calls for less emphasis on individual projects and greater emphasis on the importance of creating a well-developed marketplace of knowledge managers, exchangers, and users.

DID regognizes the importance of providing researchers with opportunities and tools for transforming useful research findings (i.e., data) into usable information for practitioners and policy-makers. The transformation of useful data into usable information should provide educators with a richer and clearer set of instructional, organizational, and administrative choices. For example, in 1988, DID established the Center for Educating Students with Handicaps in Regular Education Setting (CESHIRES) for the purpose of identifying, organizing, and accurately describing the prevailing approaches and models for educating students with disabilities in general education settings. The project's goal, described more completely later, is to transform useful information into usable information.

Knowledge Management: Current and

Desired Status

The management of new information is similar to the refining process of transforming ore or crude oil into marketable products. The refining process results in products with a base of raw materials whose properties have been so transformed that their original properties are unrecognizable. Knowledge management, as it transforms research findings into useful information for advancing practice, may for some uses require equally radical transformations. In knowledge management, as in mining, the magnitude of transformation required depends on the desired product or outcome.

DID's role in managing knowledge is to enable information producers, exchangers, and users (such as educational researchers, administrators, and practitioners) to participate more effectively in the open marketplace of ideas and products that support the advancement of professional practice. Knowledge management activities may include taking inventory of what is known by ordering a specific knowledge base, so that is pedagogical or empirical status can be determined. Such inventory taking, or knowledge mapping, has traditionally been characterized by research syntheses that examine the relations in a given knowledge base. Knowledge mapping helps integrate a knowledge base to determine what works and what requires further study (see Prawat's [1989] research synthesis on strategy acquisition and transfer). Knowledge management activities also include the more radical transformation of research findings into informational products designed to facilitate the consideration of strategies aligned with schools' values and instructional objectives.

The serendipity of new research discoveries, as well as the unpredictability of their dissemination contributes to the difficulty of knowledge exchangers (researchers, administrators, policy-makers) and users (consumers and practitioners) to implement improvements and innovations. To achieve greater use of what is known, the marketplace must be made more predictable and orderly and less fragmented. What is often required is to create and establish a new marketplace, which is in contrast to merely selling or marketing existing educational products, approaches, and models in the existing marketplace.

The program of research we describe in the next section represents a longstanding commitment by DID to support the growth and development of a viable marketplace for usable research-based improvements and innovative applications.



An important mission of DID is to support research programs designed to investigate the relative effectiveness of instructional, organizational, and administrative interventions and models that enhance the capacity of teachers and schools to more effectively meet the diverse learning needs of all children, especially those with disabilities.

Because educational change is a multidimensional, multicontextual process, formulating a federal program of research that targets every educational context and identifies every conceivable way of measuring educational change is neither possible nor prudent. As Monsenthal (1984) pointed out, "fully specified" definitions of a research problem are rarely possible. Instead, programs of research in reality provide only " partial specifications" of a problem by reducing the number of contexts they examine. This same point was also made by Stephen Hawking in his inaugural lecture as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge: "However, it is too difficult to think up a complete theory of everything all at one go.... What we do instead is to look for partial theories that will describe situations in which certain interactions can be ignored or approximated in a simple manner" (Boslough, 1985, p. 135).

In 1985 DID initiated a 5-year federal program of research. It was designed to systematically investigate instructional, organizational, and administrative issues related to educating children with disabilities in the general classroom environment. Research competitions were conducted in each of the last 5 years and have resulted in forty-one 2-to 4-year projects. These were grouped into eight research priorities, which differ in: (a) general focus or theme, (b) research design and methodology, and (c) number of research projects they encompass.

Priority I (1985): Enhancing Instructional

Program Options

The first priority consisted of 10 projects designed to investigate prereferral program options for providing instructional and evaluative services in general education settings. Specifically, these projects examined prereferral strategies devised to identify and address academic and social problems in the regular classroom before referral to special education became necessary. Examples of these research projects included the development of (a) identification systems for children considered at risk of school failure during the first grade, (b) a "collaborative consultation" model that would allow special and regular educators to communicate and coordinate development of solutions to instructional problems, and (c) a social skills program to enhance the school-social adjustment of at-risk adolescents in the mainstream.

The articles in this issue by Cooper and Speece and by Fuchs and Fuchs describe projects funded under this priority.

Priority II (1986): Increasing

Teaching/Learning Efficiency

In the second year of the federal program, the focus of the research shifted to instructional and organizational designs developed in general education. Seven projects were funded to build explicitly on the teacher and school effectiveness literature developed over the last three decades in general education. These projects attempted to apply this research to the education of children with learning problems in mainstream settings. Issues investigated included: (a) examining effects of alternative instructional arrangements on the quality of academic engaged time, task completion, and task comprehension> (b) identifying ecologically valid instructional variables and procedures used by teachers> and (c) designing a "participatory change model," with the building principal as the primary agent of change, in which alternative service-delivery procedures for children with learning disabilities were adopted, implemented, and maintained on a school-wide basis.

The article by Nowacek and her colleagues describes a project funded under this priority.

Priority III (1987): Educating Students with

Mild Disabilities in General Education


In Year 3 of the federal program, the purpose of the research effort was to identify instructional, administrative, and organizational strategies for delivering special education services within the regular classroom. The nine research projects funded under this priority examined the extent to which a student's instructional needs, as specified in his or her individualized education program (IEP), could be delivered within the context of general education. Examples of the issues investigated by these projects included: (a) implementation of a "teacher assistance team" (TAT) model at the school level that would generate and support modifications in the instructional and management practices of general education teachers with mainstream students, (b) assessment of the "special education in the regular classroom" (SERC) model to determine whether teacher consultation allowed students with learning problems to meet individualized educational goals in the regular classroom, and (c) development of a service-delivery model that documented how students with learning disabilities are referred and accommodated within the general education environment.

The articles in this issue by Deno et al., Schulte et al., and Zigmond and Baker all describe projects funded under this priority.

Priority IV (1987): Synthesis, Validation,

and Dissemination of Research Methods for

Mainstream Settings Project

A research synthesis project was funded to gather information from researchers, policymakers, practitioners, teacher trainers, and parents on specific variables corresponding with the effective education of students with mild disabilities in general education settings. This 2-year project examined a range of factors that included: (a) state- and district-level concerns (e.g., district-level demographics, state-level policy variables), (b) out-of-school contextual variables (e.g., community and peer group, home environment, and parental support), (c) school-level variables (e.g., teacher/administrator decision making), and (d) student characteristics.

Priority V (1988): School Building Models

for Educating Students with Disabilities in

General Education Settings

These research projects represent the most ambitious priority of the federal research program. This priority required researchers to design a school building model for educating all children with disabilities in general education. In other words, proposed models were required to include all classrooms in participating school buildings. These models also were required to include, at minimum, strategies for: (a) assisting teachers in analyzing and solving instructional and behavioral problems, (b) managing classrooms to maximize academic learning time for students with and without disabilities, (c) providing appropriate instruction and learning opportunities for students with disabilities at different academic levels and with heterogeneous instructional and curricular needs, (d) consistently monitoring the progress of students and adjusting instruction based on the results of the monitoring, and (e) appropriately delivering special education and related services designed to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities within the general education setting. Six research projects were funded for 4 years.

Priority VI (1988): The Center for Synthesis,

Analysis, and Information Support for

Implementing Services for Students with

Disabilities in General Education

This priority established CESHIRES. The center's purpose is to engage in research and service activities related to the identification, description, documentation, and dissemination of information on educational approaches service children with disabilities in general education settings. The center's primary responsibility is the execution of two phases of activities: (a) description of educational approaches and models for educating students with disabilities in regular classrooms and (b) dissemination of these educational approaches and models.

Priority VII (1989-1990): Research on

General Educationa Mathematics, Science,

Social Studies, and Language Arts

The purpose of this priority was to support research projects designed to examine the general education curricula for kindergarten through Grade 8. Four research projects, one each in the areas of mathematics, science, social studies, and language arts, were funded. The projects are required to (a) analyze the design of textbooks, teacher-delivery procedures, and scope and sequence of widely adopted K-8 curricula and selected alternative curricula> (b) describe the pedagogical alignment of the curriculum features with the learning characteristics and needs of students with disabilities in general education settings> and (c) develop guidelines and field test their use by teachers, administrators, and publishers to analyze, evaluate, adopt, create, and modify general education curricula in either mathematics, science, social studies, or language arts.

Priority VIII (1989): Research on General

Education Teacher Planning and Adaptation

for Students with Disabilities

This initiative focused on general education teachers' planning and teaching behaviors. Four projects were funded to investigate the planning, adaptation, and individualization of instruction in mainstream settings containing students with disabilities. These projects are seeking to expand our current knowledge by: (a) examining how general education teachers plan and adapt instructional content and procedures> (b) identifying the knowledge, skills, and competencies of effective teacher planning and adaptation> (c) identifying the context (e.g., school environment and teacher/principal attitudes) in which effective planning and adaptation occurs> (d) designing, implementing, and evaluating teacher planning and adaptation strategies and interventions> and (e) disseminating the findings of teacher planning investigations.


The eight research priorities include 41 individual research projects that represent a significant investment by DID in the professional knowledge base and the process of educational change in special education. Each project represents a site-based managed innovation that has the potential of expanding the capacity of schools: (a) to more effectively identify, assess, and refer children for special education> (b) to extend opportunities for the effective integration of children with disabilities in general education settings> and (c) to provide special education and related services in regular school settings.

The 5-year program of research also represents a changing marketplace of ideas, applications, and products in special and general education. By initiating a sustained program of research and development, DID has attempted to make the educational marketplace for practitioners, researchers, and policymakers more predictable and orderly. This should improve current practice and allow for a wide range of effective instructional, organizational, and administrative choices that fit the unique needs of students with disabilities in general education.

Cuban's (1990) lament about reforming again, again, and again is as much about the words of educational reform as it is about reform itself. If special educators are to become masters and not victims of educational reform, we must first recognize that reform brings about resolutions, not solutions. In the context of educational change, what passes as today's resolution may be tomorrow's problem. What is needed is not a search for solutions, but hard thinking that brings about advances in theory, application, and practice. DID is committed to clarifying problems and to seeking educational advancements that provice new visions, designs, and tools. The individual projects, only a handful of which are described in this issue, represent a significant attempt to provide educators with the knowledge and understanding to be masters, not victims, of educational reform.


Boslough, J. (1985). Stephen Hawking's universe. New York: Quill/William Morrow.

Chance, W. (1986). The best of educations: Reforming America's public schools in the 1980's. Chicago: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Cuban, L. (1990). Reforming again, again, and again. Educational Researcher, 19(1), 3-13.

Dill, D. D. (1990). Transforming schools of education into schools of teaching. In D. D. Dill and Associates (Eds.), What teachers need to know (pp. 224-239). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Good, T. L. (1990). Building the knowledge base of teaching. In D. D. Dill and Associates (Eds.), What teachers need to know (pp. 17-75). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kameenui, E. J. (in press). Guarding against the false and fashionable. In J. Baumann and D. Johnson (Eds.), Publishing professional and instructional materials in reading and language arts. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Kanter, R. M. (1983). The change masters. New York: Touchstone Book.

Mosenthal, P. (1984). The problem of partial specification in translating reading research into practice. Elementary School Journal, 85(2), 199-227.

Prawat, R. S. (1989). Promoting access to knowledge, strategy, and disposition in students: A research synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 59, 1-41.

Quinn, J. B. (1988). Strategies for change: Logical incrementalism. Homewood, IL: Richard D. Irwin.

Rittel, W., & Webber, M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences, 4, 155-169.

Slavin, R. (1989). PET and the pendulum: Faddism in education and how to stop it. Phi Delta Kappan, 90, 750-758.

U.S. Department of Education. (1989). Office of Special Education Programs, Eleventh Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of Public Law 94-142: The Education for All Handicapped Children Act. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

U.S. Department of Education. (1990). Office of Special Education Programs, Twelfth Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of Public Law 94-142: The Education for All Handicapped Children Act. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

MARTIN J. KAUFMAN (CEC Chapter #264) is a Director in the Division of Innovation and Development in the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C. EDWARD J. KAMEENUI (CEC Chapter #762) is an Associate Professor and Area Coordinator in the Special Education Department at the University of Oregon, Eugene. BEATRICE BIRMAN (CEC Chapter #264) is Chief of Research Development Projects Branch in the Division of Innovation and Development in the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. LOUIG DANIELSON is Chief of Directed Research Branch in the Division of Innovation and Development, in the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC.
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Title Annotation:Special Issue: Enhancing the Education of Difficult-to-Teach Students in the Mainstream: Federally-Sponsored Research
Author:Kaufman, Martin J.; Kameenui, Edward J.; Birman, Beatrice; Danielson, Louis
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Oct 1, 1990
Previous Article:Making educational research more important.
Next Article:Narrowing the gap between policy and practice.

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