Introduction The Law provides for a free appropriate public education (FAPE) of exceptional children by assuring the financial support of teachers of special education and the administration of the program. The administration of special education at the macro level is assumed by the government and is usually carried out as one of the functions of the Department of Education (or a similar body). In the Philippines, the Department of Education (DepEd) is the principal government agency responsible for education and manpower development.
The Department is primarily in charge of the formulation, planning, implementation and coordination of the policies, standards, regulations, plans, programs and projects in areas of formal and non-formal education. It provides for the establishment and maintenance of a complete, adequate and integrated system of education relevant to the goals of national development through the public school system; and it also supervises all basic education institutions run by the private sector.
The current Department structure consists of the Central Office and the field offices which consist of the regional and sub-regional levels. There are field offices in sixteen regions, each headed by a Regional Director; 157 provincial and city schools divisions, each headed by a School Division Superintendent; and 2,227 school districts headed by a District Supervisor.
The Special Education Division is lodged at the Bureau of Elementary and performs the following functions: formulates policies, plans and programs for the preparation of instructional materials; evaluation of programs in special education; conducts studies and develops standards of programs and services for special learners; plans for prototype in-service education programs to upgrade the competencies of administrators, supervisors, coordinators, teachers as well as the non-teaching special education personnel; and establishes/strengthens linkages with agencies concerned with the education and welfare of children with special needs.
The Regional Director has the overall responsibility for the administration and supervision of special education at the regional level. The School Superintendent has the over-all responsibility for the administration and supervision of special education at the Division level and is assisted by the Division Supervisor. The District Supervisor supervises the school principals and other school administrators at the district level.
The administrator of special education is appointed based on qualification standards set by the Department and provided with appropriations from the national funds. The Department also sets up a minimum standard for the qualification of teachers, and establishes the criteria for the selection of pupils for special education. In other countries like the US, education is primarily a State and local responsibility. The U. S. Department of Education is the agency of the federal government that establishes policy for, administers and coordinates most federal assistance to education.
The Federal States and communities are responsible for establishing public and private schools and colleges; developing curricula; setting requirements for enrollment and graduation; determining state education standards; and developing and implementing testing measures to verify if schools are meeting their education standards. The structure of education finance in America reflects this predominant State and local role. Of an estimated $1.
1 trillion being spent nationwide on education at all levels for school year 2009-2010, a substantial majority will come from State, local, and private sources. The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) is lodged at the U. S. Department of Education and is responsible for monitoring state and local compliance to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by providing leadership and financial support for infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities ages birth through 21 years old.
The law (IDEA) aims to ensure that all children receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) and special services to assist in meeting their educational needs. IDEA authorizes formula grants to states, and discretionary grants to institutions of higher education and other nonprofit organizations to support research, demonstrations, technical assistance and dissemination, technology and personnel development and parent-training and information centers.
These programs are intended to ensure that the rights of infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities and their parents are protected. Particularly, the OSEP conducts verification visits to states to review their systems for general supervision, data collection, and state-wide assessment. During these visits, OSEP staff work with state staff to ensure compliance and help improve the performance of federal programs. In addition, each state submits an annual performance report that reflects the state’s actual accomplishments compared to its established objectives. As part of its monitoring, OSEP uses performance data such as graduation and dropout rates to identify low performing states.
OSEP staff and OSEP-funded technical assistance centers work in partnership with states to put in place strategies to improve results for children with disabilities. At the micro level, the administration of special education is with the school principal. A recent policy thrust of the DepEd in the Philippines is the empowerment of the public school principals where the latter is able to assume more administrative authority and accountability for improving teaching competencies and pupils’ achievement.
This policy gives principals the administrative authority to: manage the school’s funds for maintenance and other operating expenses; raise additional funds for the school through Parent-Teachers and Community Associations; design and develop his/her own school improvement program in collaboration with parents and community leaders; participate in the selection, recruitment and promotion of teachers; plan and develop an innovative curriculum, using the national curriculum as a framework.
For the private sector, the school owner together with a Board of Trustees acts as the school administration and defines the direction of the special education program; while it is assumed that they follow the guidelines set by the Department of Education to be duly recognized and credited as a teaching institution. But much of the responsibility for the success of an educational program rests in the administration. There may be proven needs, accepted philosophy, qualified personnel, and available facilities and resources; but without adequate administration, the entire organization may be one of confusion and misdirection.
Programs of special education succeed in direct proportion to the efficiency of the administration. More often, when special education is introduced into a school system, the administrative plan usually does not install major changes in the existing organization. The responsibility for the program is often given to an Assistant Principal, a Director of Instruction, or some other administrator who already has many duties. Consequently, the administration of special education program becomes a major problem in the education of exceptional children.
The Special Education Administrator
The term “administrator of special education for exceptional children” is used to designate the school official directly in charge of the special education program. Regardless of the title, the job entails organizing the special education program, equipping the structures with adequate classrooms, employing specially trained classroom teachers, ensuring the proper placement of pupils who are not able to attend regular classes because of various handicaps, ensuring that a special academic instruction based on individual differences such as speech correction and any prescribed therapy (speech, hearing, occupational, and physical therapist, etc.).
Most of the studies gathered determine who administers the special education programs (both in the public and private sector), what their functions are in regard to both administration and special education teachers, how much time they devote to the program, and whether they are administrators or supervisors. Rigsbee (2008) did a research on what makes a good school-based administrator and interviewed teachers, support staff, parents, and students from a number of school communities in North Carolina.
The results of the study indicate that there are characteristics common across school levels and community demographics such are: the principal should be accessible and build “a community of caring” where students feel at home, there is an air of connectedness, sense of teamwork, a family atmosphere, and frequent celebrations so work becomes fun for everyone.
Rigsbee (2008) further explained that the administrator must treat the teachers, cafeteria staffs, custodians, and office staff as professionals; give the staff a “big picture” understanding of the students’ needs and let them know that they are valued for the work they are doing for the children. Lastly, Rigsbee (2008) adds that they develop leaders and do not micro-manage; they work diligently to ensure that their teachers are equipped to be leaders in the classroom; and they “distribute” leadership as they serve as important mentors to assistant administrators and teacher leaders to achieve the vision of the school.
Special education administrators play an important role in the education of disabled students. They are responsible for overseeing programs and services for students with learning, physical, behavioral or linguistic disorders. Additional job duties in the field range from ensuring adherence to federal, state and local special education regulations to helping teachers provide the unique services special education students need.
Knowledge and Compliance to the Laws on Special Education. In a study by Saravanabhavan and Pressley (2008) on “Preparing Leadership in Special Education”, they assessed the school principals in Florida and noted that school principals must have a thorough knowledge of special education practices to ensure that students receive adequate services, and teachers receive pertinent guidance and support for their students to become high academic achievers.
Saravanabhavan and Pressley (2008) proposed the need for school and district administrators to be educated not only in the foundations of special education, but also in the legal aspects related to compliance and enforcement of special education services, as well as instructional methodologies, and student placement, in order to enhance their efficacy in servicing their students.
In another study, McMullen (2001) investigated the knowledge of Mississippi’s high school principals regarding the IDEA Amendments of 1997 in regard to four aspects: (a) disciplining students with disabilities, (b) involving parents and students in decision making, (c) adhering to procedural safeguards and placing students in the least restrictive environment, and (d) impacting administrative practice.
The study (McMullen, 2001) concluded that although the principals demonstrated some knowledge of the law, they did not appear to have sufficient knowledge to fully implement the Act, thus, proposed for a comprehensive training that will enforce a paradigm shift from the old Public Law 94-142 to the newly reauthorized law for a more positive attitude toward the provision of services to children with disabilities. It is worth noting the need for administrators of special education program to be aware of their legal obligations to students with disabilities in after-school athletics and extracurricular activities.
Fetter, et. al. (2008) cited that administrators in public schools are undoubtedly familiar with their duties under federal law to serve students with disabilities in the educational program. But only a few know whether students with disabilities are entitled to participate in athletics and other after-school activities, and if so, are not aware of what types of services and accommodations school officials and coaches should provide (Fetter, et. al. , 2008).
The authors (Fetter, et.al. , 2008) said that the failure to sufficiently work through these issues leaves school districts vulnerable to costly litigation; and in addition to juggling the complicated legal issues related to serving students with disabilities who participate in athletics and extracurricular programs, many administrators are taking aggressive steps to promote healthy school communities by implementing body mass index (BMI) surveillance and screening measurement programs.
The study concluded that while these programs offer an innovative approach to encouraging good health, they raise additional issues for busy administrators; it is therefore imperative that administrators should be aware of the common traps, and practical ways to comply with the law (Fetter, et. al. , 2008).
The US law, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), stipulates that educational leaders must ensure that special and general educators use scientifically based instructional methodologies like applied behavioral programming, task analysis, direct instruction, and cognitive-behavior modifications in order to address the cognitive needs of the students.
The proper implementation of the IDEA or any law for that matter is enforced by leaders who have thorough knowledge of the law and are able to use these to enhance the performance and welfare of their constituents. The IDEA was revised in an effort to clarify the discipline mandates because it needed to be more consistent in the practices when disciplining students with special needs. However, Principals continue to misinterpret the law or avoid it altogether. As indicated in the studies below, it is apparent that knowledge of the disability laws and how it is put into practice are depended upon each other.
In a study to determine the relationship between Georgia elementary school principals’ knowledge of disability laws and the practices used for disciplining students with special needs as mandated in the IDEA, Claxton (2002) used the Individualized Educational Programs (IEP), Behavioral Management Plans (BMP) or Behavioral Intervention Plans (BIP), and Functional Behavioral Assessments (FBA) in the research.
The Principals were given the opportunity to provide comments about discipline and the procedures they used for students with special needs. The study also examined various demographics including age, gender, original college degree, administrative degree level reached, and years of experience in administration in relationship to the knowledge held of disability laws and the practices used by Georgia elementary school principals for disciplining students with special needs; ANOVA was used to examine each demographic variable (Claxton, 2002).
The results showed that the Georgia elementary school principals used discipline practices in line with the parts of IDEA 1997 with which they were most familiar but it did not indicate any significant difference in the principals’ knowledge and practice (Claxton, 2002). Because principals or their assistants are responsible for enforcing discipline and are on the front line in terms of student safety, they are often conflicted about how to proceed when a student with a disability needs to be disciplined.
Moreover, many principals need to be reminded that they are not the sole arbiter of discipline decisions for students with disabilities. The administrator should make an effort to include families by offering various opportunities for parents, advisory councils, and a multidisciplinary team to take part in varying venues (open house nights, question-and-answer sessions, and frequent communication via phone messages, emails, and publications).
In another study conducted by Stephens and Joseph (2001) in the School Study Council of Ohio (SSCO) using an informal phone survey to assess the knowledge of randomly selected Central Ohio principals, special education administrators, and teachers; they were asked to rate their assessment of what level of knowledge principals needed in order to do their jobs effectively.
A three-level scale was used: (1) no knowledge required; (2) a basic, working knowledge required; and (3) intimate knowledge required in four basic categories: Instruction and Programming, Placement Procedures, Federal and State Laws and Regulations, and Procedural Safeguards (Stephens and Joseph, 2001). The results showed that the perceived roles of principals differed when viewed by district level special education personnel and practitioners and these views where all in contrast to the self assessment of the principals (Stephens and Joseph, 2001).
The findings elaborated the problems of principals regarding lack of knowledge includes the following: the education of the handicapped; managing the diversity of students with disabilities; mainstreaming and inclusion strategies; large-scale assessment and accountability (Stephens and Joseph, 2001). Administrative Competency and Leadership. Lowe & Brigham (2000) stated that numerous special education authorities have cited the importance of the principal’s ability to be the school’s instructional leader.
In special education, the principal’s role as the instructional leader will often determine the efficacy and the quality of special education services. But research and authoritative opinion generally reveal that principals are not sufficiently knowledgeable about important aspects of the education of students with disabilities. A major explanation as to why they are typically uninformed about special education is that their professional preparation may be inadequate.
According to Lowe & Brigham (2000), most school administrators do not receive sufficient training to supervise the instructional practices used by special educators. In an effort to both validate and consolidate previous work in the area of critical skills for principals in relationship to special education, Stevenson-Jacob, et. al. (2006) asked elementary and middle school principals what they considered to be critical competencies.
Information was gathered on the principals’ background, training, assignments, and specific practices related to administering special education at the building level; and it was found that elementary and middle school principals agreed on eight critical competencies that principals need: (1) managing the education of students in the less restrictive environment (LRE); (2) collaborative teaching strategies; (3) the case study approach; (4) general/special education procedures; (5) parent rights; (6) state/federal requirements; (7) state/federal statues: and (8) recruitment, selection, orientation, and supervision of staff (Stevenson-Jacob, et. al. , 2006).
To help administrators increase their awareness and sensitivity with issues that affect their interaction in the school, Hoy & Miskel (2001) conducted a survey with students with special needs, their teachers, and their parents in the school district.
The study concluded that administrators who would like to become more competent with curriculum delivery issues must participate fully in the planning processes of the IEP and IFSP because by engaging in this process it signals its importance and administrators gain a more complete understanding of the curricular issues that face parents such as: tasks that are too difficult for the child; homework assignments that are too long and that require prerequisite skills; implementation strategies that work and should be continued; teachers who are either unwilling or unable to make accommodations for students with special needs (Hoy & Miskel, 2001).
The major barrier seems to be lack of systematic and sustained programs for professional development in special education tailored to the needs of the special education administrator or principal.
Therefore, educational leaders must be knowledgeable of the special education placement continuum to ensure that students receive instruction in the environment that will maximize their academic and social skills. In order to eliminate increasing challenges and to maximize quality of services provided to children with disabilities, it is vital to prepare school leaders and administrators with sound knowledge based in special education.
Course work in the foundations of special education and legal aspects of special education along with advocacy for children with special needs ought to become a core area in school leadership preparation. The administrator preparation programs should place more emphasis and time on core special education competencies for principals who can effectively lead special education programs in schools.
School principals must have the opportunity and the incentive to participate in sustained and systematic special education programs. Attitude toward SPED Programs and Practices. Goddard & Goddard (2000) cited the highly important roles that administrators play in the education and lives of children with disabilities as they evaluated how the administrators are impacting on the progress of the students with special needs.
The result of their study emphasized that administrators can create a climate that supports all students with the awareness of key concepts in special education and important curriculum and environmental considerations that will enhance instruction (Goddard & Goddard, 2000).
They (Goddard & Goddard, 2000) further explained that issues pertinent to the population of special needs students demand the focused time of concerned and knowledgeable administrators, and as such, will encourage the development of programs that will increase accessibility like: flexible course schedules, stipends or scholarships to cover costs of tuition, materials, child care, transportation, distance learning and video-conferencing technologies.
Another area of special education that principals need to know and understand is the concept of “inclusion” and what an inclusive philosophy should reflect. The principal is the educational leader of the school, and as such, his or her attitude and philosophy regarding students with special needs sets the tone and is critical for determining how students with disabilities access the general education curriculum.
Inclusion has been introduced way back in the 90’s and the law has been explicit about the regulations in terms of a continuum of services; however, many inexperienced principals still have difficulty interpreting what this means. Salisbury and McGregor’s study (2002) of five elementary schools engaged in inclusive practices showed personal attributes similar to those found in the transformational leaders.
The transformational leader, according to Salisbury and McGregor (2002) had “a greater impact on teacher motivation to perform beyond expectations”; and the behaviors associated are charisma, inspiration, and consideration of individual teacher needs while they strive to develop shared values and beliefs, meanings, and commitment to common goals.
The study further showed that principals “tended to be leaders who shared decision-making power with their staff, extended the core values of inclusiveness and quality to initiatives throughout the school, and actively promoted learning communities and change through collaborative, intentional, and supportive practices” (Salisbury and McGregor, 2002).
In another study done by Kuaun (2002), which attempted to describe the profile of the school administrators (age, gender, civil status, educational attainment and length of service) and verified any significant difference on the perception of school administrators from regular schools with SPED classes and from SPED schools regarding the inclusion of children with special needs.
The researcher employed the descriptive method utilizing a questionnaire which consisted of two parts: personal information from 66 respondents and 48 close-ended type of questions about inclusion; and administered them to sixty-six (66) school administrators (36 from regular schools with SPED classes and 30 from SPED schools) from twenty-two (22) schools in Metro Manila (Kuaun, 2002).
The findings indicated that majority of the school administrators are female, married, aged 51 to 60, with an educational attainment of Master’s degree (from the regular schools with SPED classes) and Masteral units (from special education schools); and that majority from the regular schools with SPED classes have served longer as school administrators than the respondents of special education schools (Kuaun, 2002).
Finally, the study concluded that both groups appeared to have a positive perception on inclusion of children with special needs as indicated by a no significant difference on the means scores in their inclusion perceptions (Kuaun, 2002),. This positive outlook towards inclusion was manifested in the study of Causton-Theoharis and Theoharis (2008); they cited that inclusion and the sense of belonging are seen as essential conditions for educating each child.
The commitment of the principal under study implemented an inclusive philosophy which meant no self-contained special education classrooms, no resource room pullout programs, no kids sent to other schools (Causton-Theoharis and Theoharis, 2008).
All the kids (kids with significant disabilities, kids with autism, kids with serious behavior issues, kids with learning disabilities, kids in wheelchairs, kids who were high flyers, kids who were learning English) needed to be an essential member of the classroom and school community; thus, the general education teachers and specialists (special education, English as a second language, reading, etc. ) had to co-plan and co-teach (Causton-Theoharis and Theoharis, 2008).
The same staff was used but arranged differently in all aspects of the school which included: the after-school programs, reading interventions, the physical arrangement of classrooms and dramatic changes on the playground (Causton-Theoharis and Theoharis, 2008). Because of the special education administrator’s commitment to educate all their students together, the school under study realized the substantial achievement gained by bringing students with disabilities in the center of the discussion about school reform and in the center of the general education classroom.
In another research, the findings of McClean (2007) revealed that many administrators are willing to accept having inclusive schools; and most believed that schools are generally ill- equipped to run inclusive programs. Based on the study McClean (2007) conducted in Barbados, about (20%) twenty percent of the administrators surveyed believed that students with disabilities should be educated in special schools or classrooms only because they shared in the opinion that the inclusion of students with disabilities would retard the progress of students in the general education classroom.
While majority of administrators, (80%) eighty percent, wanted to have inclusive programs in their schools but were uncertain how to implement and manage these programs without the appropriate mechanisms for success (McClean, 2007).
The study further discussed that the success of inclusion is determined by the principals and the teachers (whether special or regular education) who are committed to providing the necessary support; are giving the vital input to make the inclusive process their own; and are not threatened or disadvantaged by the implementation and management of any inclusive programs at their respective schools (McClean 2007). The study concluded that the success of inclusion will ensue by winning the hearts and minds of all stakeholders which include the principals, teachers, parents and students, officials of the Ministry of Education and the wider communities.
Abell’s study (2006) examined the attitudes and factors valued by Kentucky directors of special education (DOSE) who are currently implementing the universal design for learning (UDL) principles within their school districts to further enhance the inclusion of student with special needs. The purpose of the study was to provide new information to DOSEs by researching leadership issues and aspects involving district level UDL implementation.
Department level professional development and technology implementation issues were also explored. The survey was sent to the 176 respondents and the result found no significant differences in DOSE’S gender, education level, or years of administrative experience in relation to the DOSES own level of educational innovation (Abell, 2006).
The study showed that the UDL implementation was found to be significant with regards to district acquisition of curriculum in digital formats and the technology infrastructure to run it but it was not a significant predictor, likewise, there was no significant relationship between DOSEs knowledge of UDL in relation to the size of their district special education population (Abell, 2006).
The Universal Design for Learning principles call for curriculum flexibility in relation to content presentation, student expression, and student engagement. UDL is a new approach for teaching, learning, and assessment, that draws on brain research and new media technologies to respond to individual learner differences (Center for Applied Special Technology, 2008).
It is important to the field of special education that administrators are open and flexible to various strategies to find the best possible intervention for students with exceptional needs in an inclusive setting. The studies raised important points, because administrators play a pivotal role in setting the climate in schools. School administrators who believed in integration created program options for its promotion; while those opposed to it have even sabotaged any efforts. A supportive school climate can also be enhanced when administrators set the occasion for teachers to have mastery experiences with the curriculum and with students’ progress in the curriculum.
Administrators who are knowledgeable about the curricular needs of students with disabilities and how special education and general education curricula intersect will be better prepared to face the challenges of educating all students successfully. There are hosts of ways that administrators can become familiar with current and emerging issues in special education.
This was validated by Bakken, et. al (2006) in their study “Changing Roles of Special Education Administrators: Impact on Multicultural Learners. ” Bakken, et. al (2006) mentioned that special education administrators must take active part in the education of their students and they suggested the need to develop and practice highly effective communication skills because they believe that effective partnerships are built on communication.
Other important considerations include an awareness of best practices in special education, effective instructional presentation strategies, curricular adaptations that support individual student progress and a variety of evaluation methods. By being student-centered; students know when they’re cared about and know when an administrator makes a difference in a school and in their lives. It is evident that supporting students with special learning needs is more successful when the principal’s attitude is positive and sympathetic.
At the same time it must be recognized that a great deal of effort and time go into building a successful service delivery of special education programs. It takes a strong instructional leader to ensure that all children are able to succeed and achieve in class.
It takes a strong instructional leader to ensure that all children and their teachers receive the supports and services they need to learn and develop. It also takes a strong instructional leader to create a positive learning climate that embodies a unifying philosophy of respect for all children and stakeholders in the total school community. Problems encountered.
Tate (2009) conducted a survey of 108 special education administrators in North Carolina in order to identify their characteristics (which included licensure, teaching experience, LEA information, and personal demographics) and factors that contribute to their staying or leaving the field using two open-ended questions that addressed the least and most satisfying.