Special education continues to pose many challenges throughout its history. The United States has created the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to give children with disabilities more opportunities in life. However, there are gaps in this set of policies that prevent educational facilities from reaching their full potential. While a significant part of these problems lies in financing, it is also vital to understand that these children require a different approach. There are evidence-based teaching strategies, such as Individualized Educational Programs, that can help many students yet remain out of the scope of this act (Edschteidt et al., 2021). The expansion of parent-teacher interactions can revolutionize early childhood special education programs, yet there are obstacles that can be resolved by a governmental intervention (O’Leary, 2021). There are many potential improvements that can transform the programs across the United States to become more efficient, inclusive, and appropriate for the needs of all involved stakeholders.
The efforts by the government to address critical issues in education led to the creation of many programs that aimed to adhere to the needs of individual groups of students. One of such efforts led to the creation of The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which aims to ensure equal access to education for children with special needs (“About IDEA,” n.d.). The number of students with disabilities between the ages of 3 through 21 has continued to increase throughout the past decade and nowadays represents 14.4 percent of all students (Riser-Kositsky, 2020). However, there are both new and long-standing problems that remain unresolved by these programs that need to be thoroughly analyzed. This research paper will discuss the issue that special education presents to teachers in kindergartens.
Background Information Regarding the Issue
Children with disabilities have been left out of the scope of many educational policies before. These students were often met with segregation and ignorance and went under-represented by government officials (Bartlett & Mickelson, 2019). However, the impact of these negative views was recognized during the 1960s, and services for children with special needs began to appear (Bartlett & Mickelson, 2019). Throughout the decades, these policies evolved, eventually turning into the Individuals with Disabilities Education and Improvement Act that, among all many positive reforms, includes greater access to education facilities for children with disabilities (Bartlett, & Mickelson, 2019). However, society continues to change, and the IDEA needs to adapt to the new reality where children with disabilities represent a significant portion of students.
Despite the recognition of the issue by lawmakers, the reality of special education students remained less than ideal. Funds per child with special needs remained lower than needed even after the implementation of the IDEA, while the number of such students continued to grow (Bartlett & Mickelson, 2019). Moreover, kindergarten policies remained as recommendations for over ten years since the release of the IDEA until the Family Engagement from the Early Years to the Early Grades policy issued by the U.S. Department of Education (Bartlett, & Mickelson, 2019). Some of the most efficient practices that emerged recently remain present in kindergartens only as recommendations still, such as the Individualized Education Program (IEP) (Bodine, 2020). Through this lack of adequate attention, special education programs remain underdeveloped in the United States.
Current Perspective and Controversies
Many issues that are present in special education have been identified by educators and parents of children attending early childhood programs. The major problem that remains unsolved is the lack of funding, which leads to many others, such as high enrollment barriers for children or disproportionate teacher-student ratios (Purtell et al., 2020). The teaching process for such students must begin as early as possible, yet the IDEA leaves some processes, such as assessment and enrollment, without proper attention (O’Leary, 2021). At the same time, the creation of a curriculum for early childhood students is more demanding for teachers, as they must prepare ahead for both teachings and connecting with less independent students (Purtell et al., 2020). Programs for special education are challenging in both planning and execution.
There is a prominent issue with the number and training of teachers in special education. Unlike the state of the regular student-teacher ratio, the recent statistics reveal a sharp decrease in the number of teachers per student with disabilities (Riser-Kositsky, 2020). This discrepancy only adds to the lowered expectations from such programs and drives the workforce away from this field of research (Phillips-Krivickas, 2021). The prerequisites for these educators are higher than for regular teachers since it is more difficult for them to establish communication with students. It must be understood that the strain on teachers of this specialization is increased, as they must establish much closer connections to their students to provide examples of social interactions that are otherwise often lacking (Fixsen, 2018). Therefore, curriculum guides must consider the personal needs of these individuals as much as their limitations.
Moreover, there are issues with inclusivity and support among such programs. The previous one-fits-all approach is detrimental for students with disabilities, as each physical or mental health problem introduces an intricate set of requirements that cannot be fulfilled by the universal method. The IDEA clearly outlines that the opinions of parents must be incorporated into the teaching process to ensure that child’s needs and exact capabilities are taken into consideration (Edschteidt et al., 2021). However, there are gaps in policies’ details, leading to unsatisfactory outcomes. Edschteidt et al. (2021) state that “many parents disagree with the outcomes of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process” (p. 1). IEP is more demanding for both teachers and facilities, yet it is more efficient (Allam & Martin, 2021). The need for individualized programs is clear, although there are obstacles to the implementation of such an approach.
Current curriculums may leave essential parts that are not related to education out of the scope. Respect for students must come first, along with acceptance of their imperfections (Allam & Martin, 2021). Another obstacle is related to parents, who must be viewed as a crucial part of the teaching process. The purpose of each part of a curriculum must be easily understood by a child’s parents to ensure their cooperation (O’Leary, 2021). Otherwise, some parents may remain unwilling to put their child into such a group sometimes, despite the apparent need.
I believe that there are many opportunities to adjust the educational system for the betterment of children with disabilities. As these students are often met with disregard or misunderstanding, it is essential to include information regarding the positive aspects of special education in early childhood. It appears that there are deficiencies in knowledge regarding teaching techniques appropriate for special education facilities. Creating and teaching curriculums among this population of children must be explained through training courses and corrections to the teacher preparation programs. Cooperation between higher education institutions that prepare teachers and other involved parties, such as kindergartens, can lead to a creation of an extensive program that will cover all the necessary topics.
I think that the deficiencies in the IDEA that exist nowadays must be addressed as soon as possible. There is evidence from many perspectives that shows the benefits of IEPs for children with disabilities. However, IEPs remain only a recommendation, which is a significant oversight from my point of view. Moreover, to make a program genuinely individualized, I believe that input from parents must be mandatory. It might be necessary to share insight with parents on how they can positively affect the educational process of their children to increase their willingness to participate.
Research regarding this topic is most likely damaged by the lack of funding as well. Teaching pre-school pupils with disabilities may seem like a tough choice for a career due to this stagnation. Innovative practices that are being implemented throughout kindergartens and other educational facilities can be highly beneficial for children with disabilities. Governmental entities can issue grants for those involved in this process.
In conclusion, there are many opportunities for educational facilities to improve the lives of children with special needs through mindful practices and inclusive policies. I think that parents must be more involved in the teaching process for children with special needs, as their input can play a defining role in the success of the IDEA. The intention to focus not on universal but on an individualized approach is the right direction for these programs. However, there are gaps that prevent educational facilities from allocating their resources efficiently and with maximum benefit for their students. The need to incorporate efficient evidence-based policies into the IDEA is apparent, as curriculums across the United States require modernization. The U.S. Department of Education may make special needs students’ lives significantly better by addressing the issues outlined in this paper.
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