The history of special education dates back to the mid 1950’s when campaigns against segregation of the disabled were initiated and court proceedings became necessary. As Daugherty Richard in ‘Special education’ pointed out various states are expected to offer or rather provide equitable educational opportunities to their citizens. In 1975, the congress enacted the ‘Education for All Handicapped Children Act’ with the aim of supporting all states as well as localities to protect the rights of children with impairments or disabilities of any kind.
The Act would see to it that the needs of such children were met and as a result they would lead more comfortable lives. Prior to the Act children with special needs were blocked from assessing education due to their disabilities as they could not cope well with the other students. (Daugherty R, 2001). Some schools made it clear that they had no room for children with special needs for instance the deaf, blind or even the mentally challenged. President Bush reauthorized the IDEA Act in 2004 to further enhance excellent performance among the children with special needs.
The ‘No Child Left behind Act of 2001 in line with the IDEA act would make schools ensure excellent performance. They also aimed at promoting a close relationship with the other general schools. After the introduction of the act these trends changed dramatically and states would provide accommodate the disabled though not without limitations or challenges. This paper will focus on special education in Alaska and compare it with the rest of the nation. The US constitution stipulates that primary education should be the responsibility of the government and special education is not an exception.
The government is supposed to fund only 40% of the special education costs. (Parrish et al, 2004). In his article ‘State Funding Programs for High Cost Special Education Students’, Griffith M, notes that up to a tune of 5 million students which is roughly a 5% of the total population have special needs and consequently demand for special treatment which comes at a cost. It is estimated that a child with special needs could spend about 13 times more than what a normal child could incur as education costs.
Due to inadequate resources, strategies like the use of developmental disabilities waitlist were incorporated and enrollment was on a ‘first come first served’ basis. This is rather unfortunate as children with special needs are left unattended. This is attributed to the high numbers in the back log and some may stay for long periods of time without accessing the services. Statistics from Alaska State Special Education website indicates that there were 17,536 children enrolled for special education in the various districts as at 10th January 2007.
Disabilities ranged from mental retardation, hearing impairment, speech or language impairment, developmental delay, visual impairments, deaf and blind, orthopedic impairment, emotional disturbances, multiple disabilities, autism as well as traumatic brain injury. A large percentage or proportion of the children with special needs that is 7411/17536 which is about 42. 26% had specific learning disabilities. Other major disabilities included developmental disabilities at 2338/17536- 13. 33%, other health impairment 1754/17536- 10%, speech and language impairments at 3305/17536- 18%, emotional disturbance 733/17536- 4. 8%, and mental retardation was 691/17536 Anchorage, Fairbanks, Mat Su and Kenai Peninsula districts had high incidences of children with impairment/disabilities. (http://www. eed. state. ak. us/TLS/sped/. )
According to the Alliance for Excellent Education Fact sheet 2007 there are approximately 4. 4 million American Indian and Alaska Natives living in Alaska as well as the other states of America. The National clearing house for professionals in special education estimated that 1% of American population comprised of American Indian or Alaskan Natives who were enrolled in special education under the 3-21 years category. www. cec. sped. org).
Although the US census categorizes them as one group they clearly declare that they belong to about 10 tribal groupings. Most students from these communities do not access the educational support they deserve and this is bore witness by their academic achievement. Fed statistics indicate that Alaska’s population was estimated to be 670,053 while the US had 299,398,484 in the year 2006. Children under 5 years in the region were 7. 4% in relation to 6. 8% of the total population.
In 2000, Fed statistics show that there were approximately 83,220 persons with a disability below the age of 5 while the total population of persons with disabilities was 49,746,248. (www. fedstats. gov/af/states/02000. html) Susan Banks and John Neisworth in the ‘Journal of American Indian Education’ pointed out that over the years Alaska Native students/American Indian had a large proportion represented in special education programs while there were minimal representation in gifted as well as talented programs.
This consequently called for the introduction of educational assessment strategies or practices too. The US Department of Education research on the status and trends in the education of American Indians and Alaska Natives in 2008 established that out of the 560 federally recognized American Indian/Alaska natives the largest tribes comprised of Cherokee and Navajo. In the year 2006, 27% of these tribes lived in poverty in contrast to 13% of the general population. (US Department of Education).
The department also established that approximately 14% of American Indian Alaska Native children were offered IDEA services, a higher rate than other racial or ethnical groups. Whites receiving IDEA services were 8%, blacks 11%, Hispanics 8% and Asian/Pacific Islanders. The percentage of these children has risen from 1998 – 9. 5%, 1999 – 9. 4, 2000 – 10. 5%, 2001 – 11%, 2002 – 11. 4%, 2003 – 11. 9%, 2004 – 13. 3%, 2005 – 13. 5% and 2006 – 13. 6%. This is in contrast with the total trends which have been 1998 – 8%, 1999 – 7. 9%, 2000 – 8. 2%, 2001 – 8. 3%, 2002 – 8. %, 2003 – 8. 6%, 2004 – 8. 7%, 2005 & 2006 – 8. 6%.
Alaska Natives tend to register low performance in academics when compared to other states. The effective delivery of educational services is hindered by geographical conditions that make transportation difficult. There is a clear overrepresentation of students in special education especially in the rural areas. These trends are blamed on both internal as well as external forces. Internal factors include one’s family influences while external factors include the community as a whole as well as the respective schools.
Teachers’ attitudes and perceptions and the schools management have a role to play in as far as the contributing factor of high cases of special school attendance is concerned. High numbers of children in need of special education affects their performance especially because the number of children does not rise with the increased children. Children will be ineffectively or inadequately taught and they are likely to be excluded from the next level of education.
This will consequently perpetuate the rising rates of inaccessibility to special education and the use of waiting lists will be eminent. Some researchers argue that in appropriate and inadequate special education precipitates increased representation rates in the juvenile justice systems. A major challenge facing the effective implementation of special education in Alaska is inadequate funding. The finances set aside by the government do not match the high demand for the provision of special education which is quite expensive.
There are various professionals needed to make special education a success. They include the early intervention staff, therapist, teachers, psychologists, program administrators among others. The Institute of Social and Economic Research made it clear that contrary to the expectations of many there is a shortage of teachers in Alaska like in the rest of the nation especially in areas of specialty like in special education. There is a variance between the demand for teachers and the high numbers of students in need of their services.
Districts are forced to recruit new teachers due to the high turnover rates. Dianne and Alex established that the high turnover rates were attributed to the state’s geographical position or remoteness, the high poverty rates, high needs as well as low achievement among the students. Increased turnover rates have negative implications or consequences on the students’ academic performance. Qualified teachers may move from one region to the next and this would only work to perpetuate poor performance in the schools.
New graduates or inexperienced teachers would have a minimal influence is as far as improving the quality of education offered is concerned. Effective identification and intervention is also difficult to ensure when there are constant teacher turnover rates. (Hirshberg D and Hill A, 2006). Transportation problems are a major issue in Alaska not only in the rural areas but also in the urban areas where buses do not operate at all times.
The situation is however worse in the rural areas where there is need for much creativity if one is to move from one place to the next. Hirshberg D and Hill A, 2006). At time the only means of transport is by air or water and it can be expensive thus contributing to the high teacher turn over rates. This does not work in favor of the student with disabilities as some fail to access schools providing the special education services. Another factor for the increased turn over rates is the poor sanitation, poor housing and water systems. Some teachers also cite the student’s indiscipline as a factor for their movement from Alaska.
Large proportions of the teachers in Alaska schools both in the rural as well as urban districts are whites. This has a negative implication on the quality of education offered. Teaching effectively becomes a problem given the fact that the Alaska Native villages use their own language and follow a different culture altogether. This also has an effect or rather contributes to the high teacher turn over rates as the white teacher may want to move due to family obligations. (Hirshberg D and Hill A, 2006).
Lack of a high representation of in the number of native Alaska teachers’ compromises on the quality of education offered and students could feel like the teacher disrespect their culture. This calls for the need to introduce culturally competent education which would ensure higher performance in all schools. Today, there are various programs beneficial to the children with special needs and they range from the early intervention programs to the introduction of ‘accommodative programs’ that embraced such children within the ‘normal schools’.
Educating children with special needs near their homes in the ‘normal schools’ with the non-disabled children, is advantageous. An all inclusion approach ensures that the ‘disabled’ children attain their optimal goals as they feel appreciated rather than rejected. Their academic performance would reflect the positive effects and so would their employment especially in today’s society where academic excellence plays an important role in determining ones employment.
Educating the special students in all inclusive institutions is better than when it’s done in the state institutions away from home and with many restrictions. For effective coverage of quality education to children with special needs, it is vital that the services are near them because when they are far away. It is uncomfortable and more expensive to maintain. There is also need for the introduction of culturally competent educational systems where people of their own kind can act as role models as this would act as a motivational factor and would have a positive effect on the quality of education offered.