Challenges in Providing a Quality Education for Young Children with Disabilities in California
The Individuals with Disabilites Education Act (IDEA) mandates equal educational opportunities for young children with disabilities and specifies that this education be provided in inclusive environments to the greatest extent possible. However, just one in five young children with a disability in California are in inclusive educational settings (One System, 2015).
Teachers are a critical component in providing high-quality, inclusive early childhood education (ECE) for children with special needs, yet there is a shortage of Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) and general education teachers who are well-prepared to teach in inclusive settings (CA Special Education Task Force, 2014-15). Research suggests that many early childhood teachers do not have the training to work effectively with families of young children with disabilities (Bruder, 2010) nor do they feel adequately prepared to work with young children in inclusive settings (Chang, Early, & Winton, 2005).
Addressing the Challenge: ECSE Accelerated Credential Program
In 2016 California State University, Dominguez Hills launched SELECT-LA, a research-based, accelerated ECSE credential program to respond to the need for qualified ECSE teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District, specifically in high-needs schools. SELECT-LA will prepare 60 teachers and is unique in offering an accelerated pathway to teaching in early childhood special needs with a focus on family-centered and inclusion practices. Program participants become university intern teachers in inclusive settings where they co-teach with general education teachers after one summer of coursework and field experience. As intern teachers, participants are highly supported by university and district coaches to be successful in the classroom. After one year of teaching and completion of additional coursework, candidates earn a preliminary ECSE credential.
Evaluation Findings – Year 1
Vital Research (VR) was contracted as the project evaluator to examine the implementation process and targeted outcomes. As a member of the management team, Vital Research contributes to program development based on data and evaluative thinking. Surveys, focus groups, and interviews were conducted throughout the first year of implementation to assess the successes and challenges of the model. Based on program management and participant feedback the following are essential components in making the accelerated ECSE credential a success:
Blend theory with practice; coursework provides a theoretical foundation, which classroom practice reinforces.
Immediate placement in inclusive settings is necessary so theory is translated into practice right away.
Forecasting ECSE teaching needs is challenging and placements in inclusive settings remain limited.
Strong partner relations are vital to the placement process.
Financial support was essential for students during summer coursework given the intensive model.
During the next phase of implementation, it will be important to document classroom practices and child outcomes. Coaching data regarding site visits will be analyzed to explore the extent to which key family-centered and inclusive practices are implemented. Student data will be analyzed to evaluate impact on development.