A school is a unique and diverse environment that must function to serve many types of students. From ESL to LD, schools are only as strong as their ability to serve every student on an individual basis while creating a cohesive and integrated educational environment.
Recently, a team of researchers based at Kansas University spent time exploring the ways in which schools serve traditional and special needs students. During the coming year, researchers fine-tune a new model for special education that they hope will completely overhaul the way schools educate children with special needs.
Wayne Sailor, a KU professor of special education who is leading the project, calls it the beginning of “a school reform process that braids special education, general education, second language programs and other discreet programs available to schools in such a way that all of the resources benefit all of the kids.”
“Right now we have what are called ‘silos’ within schools,” Sailor said. “Special education is a silo; (English as a Second Language) is a silo; Title I and gifted-talented programs are silos. And schools all spend quite a bit of resources determining eligibility of kids for entry into their silos. And the only kids who benefit from the resources in those silos are the ones who are identified and get entrance.”
Sailor says the goal of the program is to break down those silos by reconfiguring the way schools and classrooms are organized, so that all students can receive all the services they need.
The five-year project is funded by a $24.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the largest single research grant ever received by KU. Based out of the Schiefelbusch Institute for Life Span Studies – one of the largest human development and disabilities research centers in the country – the project brings together the work of many different departments and research centers at KU, as well as researchers from other universities around the country.
Ultimately, it will establish a new center at KU that will provide technical assistance to schools throughout the country to help make their special education services more inclusive.
“When you look at schools in low-income areas in particular that are multicultural, often all the kids in those schools need something in order to help support their ability to benefit from the teaching-learning process,” Sailor said. “They don’t have the preparation that privileged kids do to make gains from education.”
“What our approach is about is to help schools integrate these systems, so that all kids get a better match with their problem in learning with available resources at the school,” he said.
Sailor and his team will spend the first year of the project studying six schools in the country that have already made significant progress toward inclusion. Those schools will serve as “knowledge-development sites” to provide more information about how an inclusive special education program can operate.