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Introduction to special issue.

In recent years, we have seen a shift in educational programming for students with learning disabilities in an effort to involve them more fully in the general education classroom. This shift has been in response to an increasing belief in the merits of inclusion as well as federal law requiring that students with disabilities participate in the general education curriculum with their general education peers as much as possible. As a result, nearly 90% of students with learning disabilities now spend the majority of their day in the general education classroom (U.S. Department of Education, 2000). Most professionals would agree that an inclusive approach to educating students with learning disabilities has positive academic and social benefits. However, we must consider whether schools and teachers are equipped to ensure such success. This special issue presents six opportunities to ponder the question, "How can our teacher education programs and professional development efforts best help teachers meet the needs of students with learning disabilities in the general education environment?" Specifically, we examine pre-and inservice education efforts to prepare teachers to work with students with learning disabilities and related learning difficulties in the general education environment.

In the past, classroom teachers were not very optimistic about opportunities for students with learning disabilities to be successful in the general education environment. For example, in the 1980s, numerous studies reported negative teacher perceptions and action toward students with learning disabilities (e.g., Bender & Golden, 1988; Center & Wascom, 1986). Also, a series of studies conducted by Vaughn and her colleagues in the 1990s demonstrated that general education teachers were not always willing or able to make appropriate accommodations for students with learning disabilities (e.g., Schumm & Vaughn, 1995a, 1995b). In 1997, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) reauthorization included strong language about providing access for students with disabilities to the general education environment and curriculum. Various researchers have been working since then to develop methods to successfully involve students with learning disabilities in the general education classroom. Some of these researchers are represented in this special issue. We have also included authors who are grappling with the practical, nuts-and-bolts aspects of preparing teachers to support general education learning for students with learning difficulties. These authors are working through the vehicles of teacher preparation.

Three articles report outcomes from inservice professional development efforts representing elementary and secondary perspectives. Klingner, Arguelles, Hughes, and Vaughn conducted a followup study several years after an extensive professional development effort to restructure special education and implement research-based instructional practices in two elementary schools. The researchers had been involved in extensive collaboration with school-based personnel to design and implement the professional development. These authors looked at the long-term sustainability of practices learned in professional development as well as the "spread" of practices to teachers beyond their original cohort. The fact that every teacher had tried at least one of the practices is evidence that there is an urgent need among teachers for strategies that will help students with learning disabilities learn in the general education environment. It may also speak to the importance of collaboration in bringing about widespread implementation. These authors provide insight into why teachers chose to use and spread instructional strategies.

Haager and Windmueller offer an elementary perspective from an urban school with an English language learner (ELL) population. These authors provided extensive professional development to primary-grade classroom teachers to assist them in identifying students at risk of being identified as having reading-related learning disabilities and then providing appropriate reading intervention. The focus of the professional development was on preventing unnecessary or disproportionate referral of ELL students to special education. Through general and special education collaboration, teachers received assistance in providing small-group intensive intervention in early reading skills. Student and teacher outcomes are reported and issues related to providing reading intervention to students who are just learning the English language are discussed.

Diane Bryant and colleagues (Sylvia Linan-Thompson, Nicole Ugel, and Allison Hamff) report on the results of a professional development program in reading for middle school general and special education teachers. Teachers participated in intensive and extensive professional development (after-school support, in-class support, materials, formal professional development) as a means to enhance the extent to which they taught and improved word identification, fluency, and reading comprehension instruction through their content area curricula. Middle school teachers recognized that they had many students with and without disabilities who had significant reading problems that interfered with their learning. These teachers were eager to learn instructional practices that would improve students' reading and access to content area instruction. This study demonstrates that many middle school teachers recognize that they are the last chance for students to learn to read. The study also includes explanations for barriers and successes in teaching reading strategies to middle school students.

Mastropieri and Scruggs address the particular difficulties of providing appropriate academic interventions in the secondary general education classroom through a thoughtful synthesis of research aimed at improving the academic functioning of students with learning disabilities. As these authors point out, the academic demands intensify for students with learning disabilities as they move through the secondary grades. Subject matter classes, including social studies and science, place high demands on students' ability to digest complex concepts and learn high-level vocabulary. Students are expected to demonstrate increased independence as they move through the grades. The secondary setting poses particular challenges as secondary teachers tend to be less positive about inclusion than elementary teachers. The authors emphasize the importance of "educational inclusion" and ensuring student learning, and offer helpful guiding principles for effective secondary inclusion as well as an overview of promising instructional interventions for students with learning disabilities.

The last two articles focus on preservice-level efforts to improve teacher education so that graduates will be better prepared to work with students with special needs. In the first, Ford, Pugach, and Otis-Wilborn describe their Collaborative Teacher Education Program for Urban Communities, which was redesigned to better prepare general educators to work effectively and responsibly with students with disabilities. Several program features connect teacher preparation in general and special education. That is, preservice teachers are placed in urban classrooms where they observe some level of collaborative teaching on a regular basis and have direct experience working with students with disabilities. During their final semester, many general education students are placed in inclusive classrooms where they co-teach with a special education teacher on a daily basis. The authors describe the challenges they have faced with the program, and discuss implications.

Finally, Voltz examines the role of special education teachers in the professional development school (PDS) setting as catalysts for the professional growth of inservice and preservice teachers with respect to meeting the needs of students with disabilities. She examines the perceptions of special educators regarding their contributions to the preparation of preservice general educators, as well as their perceptions of how the PDS relationship has enhanced their own professional growth. This study took place at nine public schools that were involved in PDS relationships with a metropolitan university. Voltz noted three overarching themes: (a) special educators played an integral role in preservice teacher preparation at these schools, (b) special education experiences were very important for preservice teachers, and (c) special education teachers held the collaborative partnership with the university in high regard. Voltz discusses implications for other teacher education programs.

This special issue highlights the importance of teacher preparation in promoting successful inclusion of students with learning disabilities in the general education setting. Professional development and preservice teacher preparation are the primary vehicles for impacting teachers' instruction practices. Collaboration is a theme that runs through these articles and the authors discuss its importance in designing and implementing professional development. We are certain the reader will find the array of practical strategies, lessons learned and thought-provoking discussion of important issues helpful in further teacher preparation efforts on behalf of students with learning disabilities. We would like to thank the authors and the reviewers for their insight and reflections on an important topic in the learning disabilities field.

REFERENCES

Bender, W. N., & Golden, L. B. (1988). Adaptive behavior of learning disabled and nonlearning disabled children. Learning Disability Quarterly, 11, 55-61.

Center, D. B., & Wascom, A. M. (1986). Teacher perceptions of social behavior in learning disabled and socially normal children and youth. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 19, 420-425.

Schumm, J. S., & Vaughn, S. (1995a). Getting ready for inclusion: Is the stage set? Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 10, 169-179.

Schumm, J. S., & Vaughn, S. (1995b). Meaningful professional development in accommodating students with disabilities. Remedial and Special Education, 16, 344-353.

U.S. Department of Education. (2000). 22nd Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: Author.
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Article Details
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Author:Vaughn, Sharon
Publication:Learning Disability Quarterly
Date:Sep 22, 2001
Words:1448
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