Support for Family Involvement (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Educators: Striving for Greater Effectiveness

To meet the special needs of children with disabilities, educators must expand the traditional role of the classroom teacher. This expanded role demands that we view teaching as more than instructing academic skills in the classroom. Today’s special educator attaches high priority to designing and implementing instructional programs that enable students with disabilities to use and maintain academic, language, social, self-help, recreation, and other skills in school, at home, and in the community. As part of their home and community life, children may participate in some 150 different kinds of social and physical settings (Dunst, 2001). The large number of non-school settings in which children live, play, and learn illustrates two important points. First, the many different settings and situations illustrate the extent of the challenge teachers face in helping children use newly learned skills throughout their daily lives. Second, the many different settings and social situations children experience in home and community provide extended opportunities for learning and practicing important skills. It is clear that to be maximally effective, teachers must look beyond the classroom for assistance and support, and parents and families are natural and necessary allies.

Extensive evidence shows that the effectiveness of educational programs for children with disabilities is increased when parents and families are actively involved (e.g., Cronin, Slade, Bechtel, & Anderson, 1992; Guralnick, 1997; Hardin & Littlejohn, 1995; Keith et al., 1998). At the very least, teachers and students benefit when parents provide information about their children’s use of specific skills outside the classroom. But parents can do much more than just report on behavior change. They can provide extra skill practice and teach their children new skills in the home and community. When parents are involved in identifying what skills their children need to learn (and, just as important, what they do not need to learn), the hard work expended by teachers is more likely to produce outcomes with real significance in the lives of children and their families.

Legislators: Mandating Parent and Family Involvement

Parent involvement was a key element in the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (P. L. 94–142), the original federal special education law. Each reauthorization of the law has strengthened and extended parent and family participation in the education of children with disabilities. For example, Congress reaffirmed and made clear its belief in the importance of parent and family involvement in the introduction to IDEA 1997: “Over 20 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by . . . strengthening the role of parents and ensuring that families of such children have meaningful opportunities to participate in the education of their children at school and at home” (U.S.C 601[c][5][B]).

Parent participation in the form of shared decision making is one of six basic rules, or principles, of IDEA that form the general framework for carrying out national policies for the education of children with disabilities. IDEA provides statutory guidelines that schools must follow with parents of children with disabilities with regard to referral, testing, placement, and program planning and evaluation. In addition, the law provides due process procedures if parents believe that their child’s needs are not being met.

We have identified three factors responsible for increased parent and family involvement in the education of children with disabilities: parents want it, educators know it’s a good idea, and the law requires it. But the most important reasons why families and educators should strive to develop collaborative partnerships are the benefits to the child with disabilities:

  • Increased likelihood of targeting meaningful IEP goals
  • Greater consistency and support in the child’s two most important environments: home and school
  • Increased opportunities for learning and development
  • Access to expanded resources and services
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