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Special education has been a widely discussed topic in the educational debate arena involving parents, school administrators, education policy makers, and other stakeholders. The fact is that many children in the United States have special needs, which have to be addressed in the normal school setting in order to balance the competitive environment with their counterparts. According to Diana (2004), “children with special needs aged 3 through 21 number over 6,500,000 in the US and account about 10% of K-12 public school children” (p.4). Through positive advocacy on the issue, many parents have been sensitized to the need to ensure that their children with special needs are attended to in the right way. However, there has been some level of discontent among parents who feel that special education leads to unnecessary burden depending on the school setting. According to data from the U.S Department of EducationNationalCenter for Educational Statistics, the number of students requiring special education has been on the increase for the past two decades (Gaughan et al., 2008). Consequently, this has increased the pressure on education institutions to create facilities that can accommodate the needs of this group of students, especially given the fact that the establishment of institutions dedicated to offering special education needs is an expansive affair.
First, the majority of parents support the initiative for special education, especially after the introduction of the phenomenal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The passing of this legislation developed into a sweeping movement prompting reforms in the education sector (Gaughan et al., 2008). Parents have discovered how this important piece of legislation can be used to safeguard the education interests of their children. In fact, it has been a major driving force behind the introduction of special education facilities in some regular institutional settings, where previously it was difficult to do that. According to most parents, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 introduces a new accountability framework into the education arena and promotes evidence based studies, which hold significance particularly for students with disabilities (Gaughan, 2008). Thus, the legislation has enabled parents to actively safeguard the rights of Parents consider that when it comes to making decisions regarding the accommodation of their children into special education settings, they need to be formally involved in the entire process. Normally, the participation of parents in the decision making is minimized. However, parents consider that it is their right to be involved during assessment of their children’s needs with regard to preference for a particular school, placement of the child in recommended school, and possible appeal against declaration made (Harris & Riddell, 2011). As much as this may seem to be a good step towards safeguarding education standards of children with special needs, it complicates the process in the schools in question. By considering parents as stakeholders in the process, normally their participation will be possible in terms of giving recommendations and suggestions for improvement, but little is done with regard to actual resources. Thus, this becomes a limiting factor, especially for those institutions that are narrowed in terms of resources. The obligation towards children with special needs was formally initiated after the recommendations from the Warnock report, which led to the proposal for the introduction of a rights-oriented framework (Harris & Riddell, 2011). Therefore, this shows how parents continue to be actively involved in the chain process of ensuring that the special needs of their children are guaranteed regardless of the institution they attend.
The popularity of advocacy programs has solved to some degree parents’ concern regarding the introduction of individualized programs as a component of meeting special education needs. The individualized programs are specially designed to safeguard the interest of particular parents who feel that the current special education needs attainment framework does not suit their children. This is partly supported by the inclusion of the rights-oriented framework. According to Harris and Riddell (2011), “such procedural rights reinforce the element of parent participation that is expected to be integral to these determinations” (p.52). Thus, some parents feel that their children with special needs should be provided with individualized facilities. They seem to share the view that having a standard framework does not level the education requirement for special needs for all children. The assumption is used that some children are endowed with more capabilities than others. Development of an individualized education program implies that parents become active participants in the entire process by cooperating with the school in identifying unique needs, consequently gaining reciprocity from the school personnel (LaVenture, 2007). However, there are instances when this cooperation is not sufficiently attained, which undermines the goals of the individualized program. Parents support the adoption of an individualized education program to safeguard children with special needs is appreciated. However, parents seem to undermine the fact that the education provisions required to support these needs may be unavailable in certain institutions. This can only be addressed through a comprehensive parent-institutional partnership that is geared towards ensuring that the special needs of the child are met to the best standards.
Parents have major objections when it comes to the determination of the education curriculum to be used for children with special needs. Even though part of the student’s portfolio can be derived from the admission information available in the institution, parents feel that they should be consulted (Tallack & Sally, 2000). The process of preparing a functional education curriculum is usually a complex one because it requires engagement of education experts and policy providers. In this regard, specialists may be sought for since it is possible that the curriculum developed may be differentiated eventually (Tallack & Sally, 2000). Whenever the differentiation happens, it may become a major problem during actual implementation. The engagement of a curriculum specialist may not adequately streamline the program because of the possible occurrence of standardization. When the program becomes standardized, meeting individual needs becomes a problem, which may raise dissatisfaction among some parents. The schools strive to their potential to ensure that the curriculum accommodates an individual’s level of cognitive capabilities.
Some parents feel that some special education programs are less goal-oriented; hence, they do not improve the situation of the affected child. According to Burns (2004) “if goals are meaningful, it does not take a great deal of time or extensive curriculum based assessment to determine the progress towards goals” (p.58). In this regard, some parents feel that the existing framework does not feature similar progressive initiatives like the ones for normal children. In their view, the programs are less geared towards recognizing the cognitive potential of children with special needs. For example, there are situations in which a child with special needs may stay at a particular stage for a long period of time. To parents, this may indicate that the improvement is very minimal or there is no desirable change at all. For example, “If the goal is to improve writing ability, having the child write a paragraph on some topic once a month and then counting errors or specific errors (e.g. spelling), or the number of words written, or simply assigning a holistic grade (e.g. the paragraph is assigned a grade such as 70, 85, 95” (Burns, 2004, p.58). Parents who have children with special needs feel that such a program seriously undermines the cognitive potential of the children. As a result, they believe that the small development observed over a significant period of time is partly attributed to the poorly developed program.
Some parents also feel that special education programs do not take into account the individual family goals for a special child. Since parents have nurtured their children for a significant amount of time, they have their own goals, which may not necessarily merge with the school’s orientation. For example, a family’s goal may be set so high such that it is not be possible to attain the envisioned targets in a timely manner. Kilgo and Richard (2010) state the curriculum designed should match the age of the child with regard to their development cycle. However, this may not be the case for all students because of the varying ages, at which children with special needs are integrated into the education system. Hence, some parents do not necessarily understand these variations, which may push them to suggest the implementation of unrealistic goals during the design of the individualized education plan. For example, in a situation where a family has two children aged 9 and 10 years, where the 10 year old child has certain cognitive disabilities. In the scenario when this child is introduced into the program, the family goals may be different from what the school envisions as realistically achievable within a given time frame. It is possible that parents’ expectation is that the child would catch up with his/her younger sibling within a given period. When this is not achieved, parents may feel that the program is not effective. In such situation, recommendations can be given to the parents regarding the program content and what procedures are followed in improving the situation for the child.
Some parents tend to have the assumption that once the child has been initiated into a special education program, it becomes the sole responsibility of the institution to ensure that their children attain the desired level of improvement. This is a misguided way of addressing the special needs of the child because it implies that he/she does not receive similar corrective strategies in the home environment. This non-involvement contributes to the poor outcomes in some of the special education strategies initiated. For example, an autistic child will not show significant improvement when the parent leaves the entire responsibility to the program. Despite the fact that the programs as usually founded on a collaborative framework, it does not necessarily mean that all stakeholders will actively participate in the program, which may impair success (Gandhi, 2005). Such parents need to be advised to assist their children in improving their condition. In essence, parents should play the role of collaborators and co-therapists of their children (Reynolds & Janzen, 2002). When this is done, it will be possible to observe significant outcomes of a stipulated period of time provided there is commitment on all collaborators.
Having faith in the system forms an important element in ensuring the successful implementation of a special education program. However, there are parents who have doubts regarding the success in the response to intervention (RTI) modules implemented to address special education needs. For example, some parents argue that several response intervention modules result in a delay in the provision of some areas’ special education services (Brue & Linda, 2010). Consequently, it implies that there is usually some level of parents’ reluctance before the decision to enroll their children with special needs fearing the worse outcomes. This perception has a major negative impact on the program in some areas. It is possible to find the special education services seriously underutilized since the parents prefer taking their children to other areas that they feel are better. This is also points out to the existing weaknesses in the institutional framework because of the poor involvement of the parents in the decision making structure (Kumar & Krishna, 2006). In essence, what can be done in such scenarios is the improvement in the process of curriculum development with regard to the response to intervention modules.
Parents also believe that there is a poor funding arrangement to sufficiently support the special education programs. According to the National Education Statistics, the Department of Education funds about 40% of the total federal funding for special education, while other departments (the Department of Labor, National Science Foundation, Department of Health and Human Services, and Department of Interior) contribute the remaining portion (Diana, 2004). This implies that there is an overburden on the Department of Education, while other departments are committed to their internal issues; hence, little priority is given to the special education program. The conflict arises in the funding issues existing between the federal government, states, and school districts regarding the allocation of funds for special education (Bursztyn, 2007). Hence, parents feel that the program is not receiving the proper attention from the concerned authorities, consequently affecting the quality and encouraging enrolment in private programs.
Some parents feel that the current legislative provisions regarding consent are very comprehensive in protecting the interest of the parents when it comes to the issue of special education. Normally, informed consent should be given to the parent before the child is enrolled into a special education program (Siegel, 2011). However, despite this level of involvement, some parents feel that more provisions should be put in place. Parents believe that during consultations, their views have some weight. Hence, they feel that the procedures followed are just a mere formality. In addition, during evaluation of the special child, parents must be consulted to ascertain their child’s reception of special education (Siegel, 2011). The consultation should ensure that the parent is well briefed on the assessment mechanisms so that they understand what their child is being subjected to and which areas of improvement should be noted so that they are put more emphasis on during home therapy. Moreover, the recommendation for the transfer of a student should only be done after significant proof of the child’s incompetence and the recognition of the parent’s right (Rothstein & Johnson, 2009).
Finally, in as much as the special education plays a central role in ensuring that the goal of the No Child Left Behind, parental involvement forms a major component in the success of the program. Parents share mixed perceptions regarding the appropriateness and applicability of a special education program. In order to ensure that the program is a success, there is the need for parents to be equally recognized as stakeholders. The system should not be designed to include them in the process just for the sake of doing it, but with an aim of improving the overall welfare of the child with special needs.