March 2000 Communication
for the Ontario Association of Deans of Education
The Coalition for Inclusive Education seeks positive ways to help students and their teachers, by improving the capacity of schools. Students with intellectual disabilities have particularly suffered from segregation. We began to work together to ensure they receive additional support to learn - both academically and socially - in regular classrooms in their own neighbourhood schools. But we have learned how inclusive schools benefit all students, where special and regular education resources and structures are merged. Schools should be equitable communities wherein belonging is seen as a prerequisite to learning, and teachers are committed to the success of every student. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development concludes that "well structured and supported inclusive practices are beneficial for both disabled and non-disabled students alike", while being "a cost-effective form of provision". This research suggests "from organizational, curriculum and pedagogical perspectives, given certain safeguards, there is no reason to maintain segregated provision for disabled students in public education systems". But it says that "the training systems for teachers and other professionals appear to be inadequately oriented for preparing trainees for the demands of working in inclusive settings. The paucity of adequate training would appear to be helping to maintain an unnecessarily high level of segregated provision."
The Supreme Court of Canada's decision regarding Emily Eaton stated that "integration should be the norm of general application because of the benefits it generally provides." It also said forcing segregation - by failing to make reasonable accommodations - was discrimination. Since September 1998, Ontario's Education Act Regulation 181 has required that regular class placement be considered for every exceptional student. Individual Education Plans (IEPs) must outline expectations, required supports and evaluation methods - in consultation with parents and older students. Minister of Education Janet Ecker recently announced plans to improve accountability by means of better IEPs. They are the best way we have to direct resources to create better outcomes for students. With the support of the Trillium Foundation, the Coalition for Inclusive Education will work over the next 2 years to help families establish IEPs that bring better support to students and their teachers in regular classrooms, across Ontario. .
BUILDING UPON SUCCESS
We understand that the Association of Deans of Education received some government funding in 1995 to consider issues in the training of teachers for inclusive settings. At the same time we began the Building Inclusive Schools Project, with Ministry of Education funding, for professional development activities with selected schools. We directly assisted French and English elementary and secondary schools, in Public and Catholic school boards, all across Ontario - in Barry's Bay, Burlington, Caledon East, Chatham, Crediton, Ignace, Hudson, Huntsville, Kingsville, Ottawa, Richmond Hill, Thunder Bay, Timmins, Toronto, Welland and Whitby. This has created an unprecedented partnership - even in these times of great educational conflict across Ontario - whereby schools asked advocacy organizations for help. Imagine people with disabilities, students, parents, teachers, support staff and administrators working collaboratively, highlighting successful educational reform strategies. These twenty schools then told others about steps they were taking to change the structures and the culture of their classrooms and school communities. This unprecedented partnership combines personal experience and professional expertise. Some of our most motivating consultants are people who themselves were assessed as having an intellectual disability, segregated in school, isolated throughout life, lacking job skills, wasting years in "lifeskills" programs, only to learn to read and write as adults. This has been a very "grass roots" change process; some of our best ideas come from students; after all, whose school is it anyway?
IMPLICATIONS FOR FUTURE TEACHERS
Graduates of Faculties of Education need to be prepared for the students of all abilities who are now present in classrooms across Ontario. Special education has too often removed those students perceived as "different" to segregated settings, where they lack role models. This can also do a disservice to students remaining in regular classrooms, by assuming they are all "the same". Teachers are already learning how to accommodate various learning styles; everyone can be included. In spite of political rhetoric about competitive standardization, we know good teaching must respect all students and prepare them to participate together as citizens. Accordingly, "inclusion" must not be "elective". It is philosophically more appropriate and pedagogically more effective to incorporate equity issues within all the learning opportunities of future teachers.
SPECIAL EDUCATION QUALIFICATIONS
Even while Special Education is offered now as an Additional Qualification, graduates need to know - not just how to identify students' exceptionalities - but the functional information that helps teachers to build upon their strengths. Instead of taking students out in groups for extra help, resource teachers are called upon to bring supportive changes into the regular classroom. They are agents of professional development. "Special" educators no longer work in isolation, but need to listen to families, inspire other teachers, and lead collaborative teams in their school.
We witness such variation across Ontario, as to how educational policy is applied, and how schools accommodate students - not just among school boards, but from one school to another. Opportunities for students depend very much upon the attitudes, willingness to collaborate with parents, and leadership approach of school principals. It is crucial that Principals' Courses equip them not just as competent managers, but also as courageous leaders who have the highest possible expectations for all students, and seek whatever it takes to support their teachers.
"ALL TEACHERS; ALL STUDENTS"
a Collaborative Project of York University Faculty of Education and the Coalition for Inclusive Education
We plan to begin June 1st. to meet with representatives of the other Faculties of Education across Ontario, with the College of Teachers, with Teachers' Federations, and with the Ministries of Education and Training, Colleges and Universities. We will convey our perspective about the policies and practices of inclusive education, and we look forward to learning about teacher training. We hope this is the beginning of a positive partnership to help Faculty of Education graduates teach the students of all abilities who will be in their regular classrooms, in schools all over Ontario. We welcome suggestions.
For more information, please contact:
Patty Gillis, Chair
Marilyn Dolmage, Project Co-ordinator