LAWRENCE — Understanding how nations around the world value education and how inclusive they are for all students can provide keys for transforming and improving education in the United States, a University of Kansas researcher has written.
Elizabeth Kozleski, professor and chair of the Department of Special Education, has written two book chapters on preparing better special education teachers and improving inclusive environments in schools, based on several years of international research. She recently presented her research at the Fourth International Conference on Disability and Rehabilitation at the Prince Salman Center for Disability Research in Saudi Arabia.
The presentation was built on research Kozleski has performed since she was named the chair of inclusive education of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 2005. In that role, she and colleagues formed teams in 12 countries across five continents to study how marginalization took place at the classroom, school and system level.
“One of the things that became clear early on was that while inclusive education is meant as a construct to include children with special needs as part of an accepting school environment, it often ends up being too reliant on a certain viewpoint about some, but not all, students,” Kozleski said. “Our educational systems are not always being set up in a way that brings together people from many different perspectives.”
That finding led the researchers to examining who gained advantages when selecting students for special education and who was disproportionately overrepresented for such classes as well as which groups were underrepresented for gifted student programs.
“Special education was all too often a way in which countries were segregating parts of their population that they wanted to, for a number of reasons, marginalize,” Kozleski said.
For instance, children of Turkish immigrants were disproportionately represented in special education in Germany, while in Sweden, it was children of immigrant families from the Middle East and Africa. The findings were published in the 2011 book “Inclusive Education: Examining Equity on Five Continents,” co-edited by Kozleski, Alfredo J. Artiles and Federico B. Waitoller.
More recently, Kozleski has begun to review the relationship between the demographics of the teacher workforce and its effect on equity and inclusive education. The findings were published in a pair of book chapters in the Handbook of Research on Special Education Teacher Preparation and the Handbook of Effective Inclusive Schools, respectively. In the former, Kozleski discusses strategies for increasing diversity in the special education workforce, which previous research has shown is composed of 85 to 90 percent white women. In the latter she points out that while one-fourth of schools are in large urban areas, most new teachers are sticking to what they are familiar with. Among first-year teachers, 85 percent work at schools within 40 miles of the high school they attended, and 61 percent are at a school within 15 miles of their own school.
“That suggests the work that needs to be done recruiting in local high schools, doing it early and making sure high school students from diverse populations understand the value of working in education as a career,” Kozleski said.
The chapters detail how universities can partner with schools, especially those struggling with inclusiveness, in professional development school partnerships. The arrangements match university personnel with educators in the school to share research, learn from teachers and mentor teacher candidates. They also outline the importance of improving both special and general education by focusing on transformational change, in which teachers, administrators, students, parents and all stakeholders are involved.
“Schools are representative of the communities in which they are situated,” Kozleski said. “If our schools can change for the better, so can the communities.”