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Running head: UNEXPECTED CULTURAL NEEDS

Unexpected Cultural Needs: A Microscope on the Special Education Culture


Erica J. Berry
University of North Texas

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Abstract

In our mad rush to crunch the numbers and appease our administration, the state and even
the country, we focus on what many consider important in an effort not to leave the majority of
our students behind. This means looking at numbers and relying on statistics of our general
populations students. This often leaves out those who struggle and get stuck behind, discounted
because they are assigned an excuse as to why they are failing. It is this attitude that has led to
my fascination with our Special Education department at Lakeview Centennial High School.
This paper looks at what is being said about the problems with the latest fads in inclusion, and
what alternatives there are to what is being currently done. A possible alteration is proposed at
my particular high school in order make changes that push our special education department
forward- to become more than a disappointing and excused number on the page.
Keywords: Special Education, Problems, Inclusion

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Introduction
According to Sonia Nieto, the primary objective of multicultural education was to
address the needs of students who historically had been neglected or miseducated by the
schools Although the Civil Rights Movement made this thought prevalent in educators
minds, it is still historically necessary and is understandable even today, given the great
curricular imbalance and learning gaps that continue to exist in most schools today (Nieto, 2012
p. 48-49).
This is not as highly debated as it sounds; many educators concur and will agree with this
argument in reference to their students. When questioned, the teachers at my urban high school
say that we have a hugely diverse population, yet an almost monocultural curriculum. To my
colleagues, this is not debated, rather, the method to fix it is widely argued and discussed. In
essence, it is at least being addressed and given some attention. But, to what attention? When
referencing multiculturalism, many of us automatically think, race, ethnicity, and even religion if
we widen our thoughts. What is not considered as widely, is the concept of ability as a culture.
Race does not alone define someone, rather every aspect of someones personality and
background creates an identity, a culture. And as is the case at the school where I teach, the
special education populations culture is being ignored, discriminated against, ignored and
undereducated. And, what is worse, is that no one seems to consider this a problem to be solved,
only as something to be accepted. This part of these students culture is as important as other
aspects of each of the students, even if it does not have a specific food group, language, country
or even race. Their struggles must be addressed and remedied as much as anyone elses.

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Research Question

What can be done to improve the Special Education populations academic learning in
the inclusion driven environment?
Background for School
One of eight high schools located in the 12th largest district in Texas, Lakeview
Centennial High School has a total student population of 2447 students. LCHS is a Dual Credit
school and has a College and Career Magnet program that covers six sub areas, including AVID,
Business and Marketing, Classical Center, Collegiate Academy, Law and Justice Center, Future
Teacher Internship and Television Production and Broadcasting. The school motto claims that
LCHS education is More than a diploma, and our mission is Preparing students for the
demands of advanced learning and realities of the future. Neither of which I knew before
looking them up on the website.
In a state where the ethnicity of 51.3% of students are Hispanic, 49.7% of students are
Hispanic in our district and our individual is at 41.6% Hispanic, you can say that we have a large
but not quite as proportionate Hispanic population. On the other hand, our state lists AfricanAmerican students as 12.7% of the population statewide, while our district is composed of 17.2%
and our individual campus consists of 30.5%. So, in essence, we have a larger proportion of
African-Americans than the state and district average. While our other minorities and mixed
populations make up only 7.2% of our population, white students are below the state and district
average: 30.0% statewide, 22.4% district wide and only 20.8% campus wide.
Staff-wise, we are also doing better than the state and district averages. Compared to
other schools, our teachers and staff are more diverse, ethnically and gender-wise, except in the

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case of the Hispanic teachers. The largest difference is the gender statistics of our teachers. While
the state only has record of 23.2% for male teachers, our school employs a rate of 52.4% of male
teachers. In an environment often calling for more male role models, this becomes an important
factor.
Pertinent School Data
What is very telling is the numbers that compose our Special Education program. In a
school which has 7.6% composition of Special Education students, smaller than both state and
district wide, 8.5% and 8.7% respectively, it actually employs a much larger number of Special
Education teachers and staff. 8.2% of our teachers are designated for Special Education, where
the state only reports 3.3% of Special Education teachers and the district only 6.7% of Special
Education teachers.
In order to keep this data simple, I am including scores for Lakeview Centennial Special
Education students in regards to their results on Reading I, Reading II, Writing I and Writing II.
The percentage of Lakeview Centennial Special Education students who passed each of these
tests were 32%, 53%, 16%, and 22%, respectively. District scores for the percentage of Special
Education students passing the STAAR test are 42%, 46%, 26%, and 30%. State scores for the
percentage of Special Education students passing these four tests are as follows: 44%, 52%,
29%, and 39%.
Data Analysis
In the Academic Excellence Indicator System data we can find many interesting things
that tell us an awful lot about our schools. One thing that an analysis of data pertaining to

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Lakeview Centennial High school tells us is that we have a significant issue in our Special
Education department.
Specifically, we have a larger proportion of Special Ed teachers than our district as a
whole, while our Special Ed student population is among the lowest percentage. If we have low
numbers of SpEd students, and a higher number of SpEd teachers, then our results should be that
our students are better served and educated. However, the numbers also show us that Lakeview
Centennial has the lowest scores in the district when comparing Reading I, Writing I and Writing
II scores on the EOC STAAR test. These scores are also significantly lower than the states
average score for these tests for Special Education students across Texas.
The percentage of Special Education students who passed these same tests across the
state are significantly different in 3 out of 4 of the English based tests. On three of those tests,
students at Lakeview Centennial were 12 or more percentage points in deficit compared to the
state. The deficit is significant and clear. There is a problem with the Special Education program
at Lakeview Centennial High School. The numbers do not lie, and in essence, the culture should
clearly be suffering. Without delving into the subjective and the observational, it is hard to make
claims that the ability challenged culture has an issue.
Applying the Research
Even though I have taken extra time, I feel I have done nothing to stimulate successful learning
for my students with disabilities and, because of that extra time, I feel I have cheated my other students
both academically and socially (quoted by Hewitt, 1999, pg. 2).

In recent years, the rush to become fully inclusive within special education has caused
many changes- some good and some bad. There are many sides of the spectrum that can be

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reported, but factual research has come up short because as emphasized by Guetzloe in his
article, Inclusion: Broken Promise, There is very little empirical information to support the
efficacy of inclusion. The positive outcomes cited in the many non data-based reports are
usually social in nature, such as improvements in the self-esteem of students with disabilities
(which are not observable) or changes in attitudes toward such students (based on self-reports by
parents and teachers)... (1999, pg. 93). So, unfortunately, the data is often based on subjective
collection and biased internal reporting. However, when this information comes from the hearts
of those working within the special education community, and from the mouths of the students
and hard data found in their grades and scores, we can certainly draw conclusions.
Main issues that teachers are concerned with are that many school districts across the
continent simply do not provide the elements of inclusion described above. Horror stories
abound-of overcrowded classes; untrained and unskilled teachers; students who are often
excluded from school; students who make no progress in either their IEPs or the regular
curriculum and students who, in spite of the mandates of the public law and their own IEPs,
receive no special education or related services at all (Guetzloe, 1999, pg. 93). Teachers are
often frustrated and desperate for ways to help their special education students be successful in a
rigorous general education classroom. This frustration stems from many reasons, many of them
not directed at the students, but from inner-program problems.
Children are being left behind, even in this newly popular inclusion model because
special Education services are given to these students in the regular classroom with general
education teachers unprepared to handle special children and special education teachers
unfamiliar with general education structure and curricula (Hewitt, 1999, pg. 133). The molds
that we are requiring our special education student to fit into are not individualized- they are a

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part of a culture that is not their own. In these efforts to help them and socialize them, we are
expecting them to be normal when normal does not exist as one entity. (Fink, 2004, pg. 273)
What we are finding is that while aspects of inclusion may certainly be right for many
students, there remain a number of students for whom placement in a regular classroom is hardly
a prize to be sought (Prowatzke, 1997, pg. 1). Altough many supporters scream for fairness and
inclusion, sometimes the act of including is actually excluding them. This is where this culture
starts getting left behind, ignored, taken for granted and oppressed. Instead of raising them to the
standards of the classroom, the requirements of IEPs suggest lower expectations and cause a
lower sense of worth and attitude in these inclusion students. We cannot expect one type of
learning to fit for all students, especially those with special needs. Inclusion is not a place, nor is
it a template that can be superimposed on any and all individuals Let us be truly inclusive in
our thinking and include the reality that, for some students, true inclusion happens in a different
place than the neighborhood school (Prowatzke, 1997, pg. 1). This argument stems in favor of
allowing students to get their best education academically with people who can help them; and
suggests that socially and culturally, it will fall into place.
I think we have established that there needs to be more than placement in the classroom.
Increasingly, especially at Lakeview Centennial, students are thrown into general education
classrooms and given a very small amount of supplementary assistance. The school is
understaffed with Special Education teachers, and is ran in a format unfamiliar to students at the
school. Before reaching high school, these inclusion students are used to being able to go to a
content mastery room when they feel they need the extra help. While they still received the same
instruction, content and materials within their general education classroom, they had the option
of getting one-on-one help for portions of the period. They had a feeling of comfort and security

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that they would get the aid they needed, all while still being included with their general
education peers.
However, at Lakeview Centennial, we have no content mastery room to seek out, we
have no one place students can reach out and ask for help. Instead, they stay in their general
education classrooms filled to capacity with students and are at the mercy of a teacher who is
stretched thin with other students and not necessarily trained to help the special education
students, especially if there are many. What Lakeview Centennial considers their Special
Education program is having five Special Education teachers, one for each subject area, who will
go around from class to class each period and check that the students are doing their work and
that they are passing classes. This means that each Special Education teacher is in charge of at
least 35 students grades, one-on one learning, IEPs and overall well-being at every moment in
the day. Information from each of these teachers indicate that they do more paperwork all day,
focusing on grades and updating plans, than they do sitting with students one- on-one.
Many worry that it not only is detrimental to the special education students, but also the
general education population as well. This can be explained by issues with program problems.
Problems that stem from those in charge of determining the nature and extent of special
education and related services that students need[and having] missed the part about
supplementary aids and services. Further, it is often impossible for even a knowledgeable and
highly skilled teacher to deliver the appropriate aids and services in the regular classroom
(Guetzloe, 1999, pg. 94). The need for more Special Education teachers is apparent, but this is
not newsworthy. This is something that schools know, but cannot do much about. Inclusion is
inherently a costly program, yet necessary in the long run. Giangreco, Suter and Hurley
hypothesized that schools with a special educator school density of below 1:80 were the

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healthiest in terms of meeting student educational needs(2004, pg. 122). In keeping with this
obligation, we would more than double our Special Education teachers and have a Special Ed
teacher to student ratio that was significantly lower. It is not that teachers are not trying, it is not
that students are not going to succeed in this inclusive environment, but it is that it does not serve
them to the best of their needs. It has become more of a con, than a pro, more of a burden than a
benefit.
Response to Re-Intervene with Inclusion
The numbers do not lie, and in essence, the culture should clearly be suffering. Without
delving into the subjective and the observational, it is hard to make claims that the ability
challenged culture has an issue, but it can clearly be seen in the words of my students. I never
get any help here. I cant keep up. Why cant my other teacher come in here and help me?
You never have time for me.
On the other hand, successful inclusive programs seem to have developed a plan for
co-teaching- defined as two teachers doing together what one could not do alone (Hewitt, 1999,
pg. 134). So, there is hope. There are ways, without throwing our program out the window, or
even doing a system overhaul. Making small changes can make a huge difference.
Several different types of collaborative teaching programs are used in supporting general
education teachers who teach special education students: consulting teacher services, cooperative
teaching in the classroom, supportive resource programs, and instructional assistants (Idol,
2006, pg. 78). There are many options out there, and I hope I have found a solution for next year
that may make a difference, while not causing huge transitions for the students, or hiring more
people (which Lakeview Centennial budget will not allow).

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It seems to me, from the many articles I have read, the experiences I have had, and the
feedback I have gotten, that the co-teaching option would be the best. Even adding one more
teacher to the mix decreases the ratio and allows for more one-on-one interaction. My proposal
would be to pull together the special ed into a limited number of classrooms, not excluding them
from general education, nor separating them out, but putting larger concentrations into them, and
then putting two teachers to teach together. On top of this becoming a co-teacher environment,
this would allow for the one Special Education teacher assigned to that subject area to stay in one
place longer. He or she would no longer be hopping from classroom to classroom, wasting time,
adding to paperwork and having to contact and train more teachers in the Special Education
accommodations and modifications.
Now, I know that this is not a complete solution, nor is it anywhere near perfect. It may
not work for any other school; however, our schools problem seems to be unique, and needs
some type of change. On top of students not receiving their supplementary help, they are often
feeling lost and ignored, often alone in a classroom of people who are different from them.
Often, being surrounded by people with problems similar to our own just gives us confidence to
grow, seek help and focus.
Obviously, informing students and building a relationship between them and their Special
Education case manager plays a huge role in this. Many students do not even know they have
someone because they are left alone to figure things out, or dont realize in the few moments
spent in each individual classroom, who exactly that person is. Relationship building and more
one-on-one learning, filled with classrooms that make special education students feel
comfortable can only help them. Can this be accomplished with these simple terms? We do not
know for sure because every school is different. But, at Lakeview Centennial, when our numbers

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are at an all-time low, it does not hurt to try. Each inch counts, and in the next year, through our
passionate and thorough teachers, we can make more adjustments in our classes and with our
staff.

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References
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