Equity in Quality of Special Education Programming: A Qualitative Study on the Perceptions of Special Needs Parents
AuthorCouncil, Eileen Harmon
AdvisorDavis, James Earl
Committee memberShapiro, Joan Poliner
Caldwell, Corrinne A.
At Risk Students
Special Education Outcomes
Permanent link to this recordhttp://hdl.handle.net/20.500.12613/1015
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AbstractWith over 6 million children receiving some form of special education in the United States, and federal legislation mandating that all disabled students be provided with a free and appropriate education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE), school districts are facing the daunting task of providing individualized services for a growing percentage of special education students. Unfortunately, it is well established in the research literature that special needs students who "belong" to racial and ethnic minority groups and/or are from low Socioeconomic Status classes have traditionally been over-represented in special education. Disturbingly, not only are minorities over-represented in special education classification, they are also under-funded. While research contends that the actual level and quality of service received by members of the above groups tend to be sub-standard to those of their white and/or higher income counterparts, parent perceptions regarding this may or may not align with this fact. This leaves the potential for a gap to exist between what objective measurements and observations uncover and what the parent holds to be true. This also raises the question of ethics in equity of information access for those with limited cultural or social capital. This qualitative study examines the perceptions parents from various demographic groups have regarding the special education services their children receive. Interviews with parents of special needs children who are from the Philadelphia and surrounding areas serve as the primary data source. Additionally, information gathered while assuming the role of observer participant in a local support group serve as a support source of data for my study. A variety of sources were used to gather data on parent perceptions for this study. The parents of twelve special needs children were interviewed for this study. Each parent was asked a series of questions regarding their experiences with their child(ren)'s special education including, but not limited to, identification of the disability; ease/difficulty of obtaining services; design of education program offering; initiation of services; IEP implementation; and goal attainment. Several characteristics of the participants were focused on to identify commonalities among participants that determine likenesses in perceptions of various aspects of interest relating to special education services. Participation/observation in a support group for parents of special needs children, in addition to the literature distributed at that session also served as data sources for this study and that led to the study findings. Survey quantitative data, and information from limited IEP review, were also contributors to the pool of data that ultimately led to the study findings and recommendations. The conduction of a focus group was planned and attempted on more than one occasion during the study period, however, the recruitment of an acceptable number of willing participants proved to be an insurmountable challenge. One major area of interest in the study included determining if the participants believed there were differences in the special education services received by different students and if so, why. Interestingly, all of the respondents answered yes and identified eleven "major contributors" to the differences. The four considered most significant by a majority of the participants include Parental Persistence, Time Availability of the parents, the Connectedness/Access to Information maintained by the parents, and belonging to a high SES. After studying the content of all of the interviews, noticeable likenesses in the characterizations of the mindset of the participants regarding special education emerged. This commonality was so strong that it led me to give this phenomenon or theoretical concept a name - Framing Mindset. Each participant, as a result of her experiences over an extended period of time with the "universe of special education" develops a certain "casting point" where the parent's attitude becomes "set" and future decisions regarding special education programming for that child follow similar thought patterns. Thus, the parent has adopted one of three "mindsets" that serve as the "framework" from which all of their educational choices are built. Finally the study looked at the question: "How does a special needs parent's current stage of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance) relating to having a son or daughter with a long term, often lifelong disability, influence the perception of the variables (quality, appropriateness, timeliness, comprehensiveness) comprising his or her child's educational programming?" According to the responses given by the study participants, the majority of the respondents had a connection between the stage on the Kubler-Ross' Grief Cycle and their satisfaction level with special education services; a small number of respondents did not have a connection between the stage on the Kubler-Ross' Grief Cycle and their satisfaction level with special education services; and for less than one quarter of the respondents it was not possible to determine if there was a connection between the stage on the Kubler-Ross' Grief Cycle and their satisfaction level with special education services. The results of this study have implications for advocacy/parent education, professional support group/facilitator training, and education policy. First, the results of this study, tell us that a large majority of the participants believe that access to information is key to determining the composition of the special education program received by their child. Knowing this, the role of the advocate can become much more critical to both newly diagnosed parents and parents who are not well connected. Second, the literature, interview participants, and support group participants affirm that seeking out and attending support groups is often one of the first things the parent of a newly diagnosed disabled child does to both obtain information and relieve stress. Unfortunately, the participants also indicated their frustrations with the formats and content of the groups - enough so that most did not return. Therefore, it is recommended to be the most helpful to parents of special needs children through the support group venue, training for the potential facilitator and a quick survey to potential attendees to assess their interest, preferred format, and needs should occur first. Finally, the implications of information from the study for education policy relate to the both the implementation of special education law and the oversight of the implementation of special education law. All of the interviewees asserted that there are differences in special education services among special needs. As a result of this remarkable finding, I recommend that changes to education policy include a provision for local oversight or "watchdogging" of the process of special education service provision; tougher sanctions be developed for districts and private schools who fail to provide appropriate services to a disabled child or are found guilty of providing inequitable services; and that parent surveys about their home district be distributed annually with the district and private school's scorecard partially based on the survey scores.
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