The allocation of resources for assistive technology does not have to result in a gap between general and special education. This case study illustrates how a school district can respond to this ethical dilemma with the philosophy that special education technology is money well spent for all education, general as well as special needs. This chapter will discuss the ethical dilemma of funding assistive technology for general education and special education. It will explore the issues of ethnicity, social attitudes and the socio-economic factors regarding technology and special education. It will also examine the tools of technology that provides a bridge to close the learning gap in special education and finally, the benefits that the bridge provides to the special education population and general education.
The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson (Emerson, 1844/2006, p. 251)
In the twenty-first century, respecting the pupil, that is, making learning an equitable, accessible, and intellectually blossoming experience, is increasingly difficult, especially when that student is a special education student. The concern has to do with funding. In the work of assistive technology, school administrators struggle over allocating resources between general education and special education. More often than not, it’s the general education students who receive the bulk of the resources, and the special education students who “lack respect” (McDonald [Weblog]) in receiving resource assistance. The result is an ethically unfair treatment of students.
In this chapter, I’ll argue that allocating resources for assistive technology doesn’t have to result in a gap between general and special education. In fact, in my school district, we’ve responded to this ethical dilemma with the philosophy that special education technology is money well spent for all education, general as well as special needs. Drawing on the case study of my school district, this chapter will discuss the ethical dilemma of funding assistive technology for general education and special education. It will explore the issues of ethnicity, social attitudes, and the socio-economic factors regarding technology and special education. It will also examine the tools of technology that provide a bridge to close the learning gap in special education. And finally, I will discuss the benefits that this bridge offers to the special education population and general education.
In the past decades, the United States has created laws making it possible for people with physical disabilities to access any building, and every public space, allowing them to be individually independent of others. Those laws are designed to protect a minority of people with extreme needs. But, what about education? Educators would agree that their goal for all students is to create an independent learner. Isn’t special education, where a minority of students have high learning needs, similar to the minority of people with physical disabilities? Shouldn’t special education students get the same level of access to educational technology that general education students get? How can this population benefit from the use of technology in the classroom? For clarification, special education refers to a student body that is receiving assistance in education because they have been medically diagnosed with a disability and qualify for assistance. The modified education they receive either in a resource room (a room that the student goes to for extra assistance) or a special education classroom (with other special education students) involves techniques, exercises, and subject matter designed for students whose learning needs cannot be met by the standard school curriculum (American Heritage® Dictionary, n.d. online). These special education students differ from general education students because of the modification they receive; general education students take core school curriculum classes without any assistance (Wikipedia. n.d. online). In other parts of the world the term Special Educational Needs (SEN), would reflect a similar connotation.
Special education students who can work on their own will do so if given the proper tools to be an independent learner. As an educator, I have dubbed this the “I do it myself” philosophy, and technology can support that approach. As a result, many immeasurable benefits can accrue from the use of technology in the special education field. For example, looking at education more positively, (Johnston & Cooley, 2001 p.88), technology can facilitate students’ willingness to be more open to new educational challenges (p.88), enlarging their circle of peers that can increase their academic level (p.88), and finally increase their self-esteem (p.88). Consequently, the ethical dilemma facing schools lies in determining how funds should be distributed between the general education population and the special education population. Perhaps there is no ethical dilemma. Maybe the solution lies in leveling out the distributions so as to benefit both groups.
Key Terms in this Chapter
At-Risk Student: The term refers to students who fall into any of the following categories: ethnic minorities, academically disadvantaged, low socioeconomic status, and probationary student. These students do not get modification on assignments or tests because they lack and IEP. At-risk students. (Wikipedia)
Assistive Technology (AT): According to the United States Assistive Technology Act of 1998, assistive technology (also called adaptive technology ) refers to any “product, device, or equipment, whether acquired commercially, modified or customized, that is used to maintain, increase, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.” Common computer-related assistive technology products include screen magnifiers, large-key keyboards, alternative input devices such as touch screen displays, over-sized trackballs and joysticks, speech recognition programs, and text readers. (Hager, 2003 AU33: The in-text citation "Hager, 2003" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. )
Engaged Learner: Highly engaged learners take an active role in meaningful tasks and activities, increasing responsibility for their own learning and demonstrating their understanding. They explore a variety of resources and strive for deep understanding through experiences that directly apply to their lives, promote curiosity and inquiry, and stimulate new interests. ( Johnston & Cooley. 2001 , p13)
Disability Categories: Certain children with disabilities are eligible for special education and related services. The IDEA provides a definition of a “child with a disability.” This law lists 13 different disability categories under which a child may be found eligible for special education and related services. These categories are: Autism, Deafness, Deaf-blindness, Hearing impairment, Mental retardation, Multiple disabilities, Orthopedic impairment, Other health impairment, Serious emotional disturbance, Specific learning disability, Speech or language impairment, Traumatic brain injury and Visual impairment, including blindness. According to the IDEA, the disability must affect the child’s educational performance. The question of eligibility, then, comes down to a question of whether the child has a disability that fits in one of IDEA’s 13 categories and whether that disability affects how the child does in school. That is, the disability must cause the child to need special education and related services. ( Questions , 1999 AU34: The in-text citation "Questions, 1999" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. )
Special Education: The student body that is receiving assistance in education, because they have been medically diagnosed with a disability and qualify for assistance. The modified education they receive either in a resource room or special education classroom involves techniques, exercises, and subject matter designed for students whose learning needs cannot be met by the standard school curriculum. (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language)
General Education: The student body that does not have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 (A state legal document that observes that the student needs extra assistance but they do not have a medical condition as defined by the United States Federal Government in the IDEA Act). These students attend and take the core school curriculum classes without any assistance. General education requirements. (Wikipedia)
Instructional Technology (IT): The use of technology (computers, compact disc, interactive media, modem, satellite, teleconferencing, etc.) to support learning. (Stallard, 2001 AU35: The in-text citation "Stallard, 2001" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. )
Circle Of Mediocrity: This cycle refers to somebody who lacks any special skill or flair. They lack a connection to technology, to their surroundings, someone who settles for second rate work. Second-rater, mediocrity. (WordNet)
Mastery Learning: Also known as criterion referenced instruction, in which students are evaluated as having “mastered” or “not mastered” specific criteria or learning objectives. (Bloom, 1971 AU36: The in-text citation "Bloom, 1971" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. )
Authentic Learning: In this type of learning, materials and activities are framed around “real life” contexts in which they would be used. The underlying assumption of this approach is that material is meaningful to students and therefore, more motivating and deeply processed. (Marra)