Fall 2014 Message from the President

Greetings from your KDEC President!

It's a time of beginnings….new school year, new courses, new routines, new friends, new teachers, new classes, new students. Those of us who work with children don't know any different. These challenges and new events make our lives exciting and rewarding!

Photo of Claudia ShannonI want to thank each of you for your continued commitment to our children in Kansas. We have learned how in the past 30+ years to be successful interventionists! Thank you to all our professors, instructors, colleagues and leaders for sharing their research and methodologies. Our kids have benefited from our hard work!

Thank you for your membership to Kansas Division of Early Childhood. Let's make a commitment to invite at least one colleague or friend to join KDEC. Your KDEC Board wants to double our membership this year. Please check the link on our KDEC homepage.

You won't have to travel far for a superb annual conference March 5-6, 2015, in Wichita, Kansas. KUDOS for all the 2014 presenters for taking the time to share your craft. The evaluations were incredibly positive. Everyone took back many practical strategies that we could implement the next day. We even had loads of fun as we learned!!

Again, thank you for your commitment to Kansas' kids and their families. Looking forward to seeing you in Wichita next March.

Claudia Shannon KDEC President

Message from the DEC Executive Board regarding recommended practices (PDF)

Early Childhood Least Restrictive Environment: How Are We Doing?

I was at a national conference recently where one session I attended impacted me significantly. I was disappointed and frustrated to learn how little progress has been made in the provision of services to young children in inclusive settings. This session discussed our national data around preschool inclusion or early childhood least restrictive environment (EC-LRE). The presenters discussed the ample researchphoto of Vera Stoup-Rentier supporting the effectiveness of preschool inclusion. They highlighted the Individual with Disabilities Education (IDEA) Act that clearly holds inclusive services as preferred. And they demonstrated how our professional organizations, the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) clearly support preschool inclusion. Their joint position statement (DEC & NAEYC, 2009) outlines the importance of preschool inclusion and illustrates the features that make preschool inclusion effective. What I found most shocking… despite all the evidence we have supporting the provision of special education and related services in typical early childhood settings … was that services to preschoolers with disabilities in inclusive settings have increased nationwide only 5.7% since 1987. Many young children with disabilities continue to be educated in separate settings.

I started my career in 1987 as a preschool teacher. My second year, three children with significant disabilities (autism, cerebral palsy, and intellectual disabilities) were placed in my regular education classroom (3, 4 & 5 year olds) that was a combination of Head Start, Child Care and Early Childhood Special Education Services. Funding for services varied from child to child. One of the reasons I decided to go back to school and pursue a degree in early childhood special education was to be more skilled in addressing the needs of all young children. When I came to Kansas in 1993, I found there were also programs providing inclusive services, but the majority of our early childhood special education services were being provided in more restrictive settings. Knowing nationally that we have only moved 5.7% toward more inclusive services in early childhood, I know Kansas has come farther. That being said, I also know we still have many programs who are not yet providing services in settings that contain a majority of preschoolers who are typically developing. Many special education classrooms included no peers or if they do include peers it is at a ratio of less than 50% of the classroom.

So, I ask you, as a professional organization, what do we need to do differently to insure that more children with disabilities and developmental delays are educated in their least restrictive environment? Barton & Smith (2014) conducted a national Preschool Inclusion Survey. The survey defined preschool inclusion as young children (age 3 – 5) with Individual Education Programs (IEP) who receive their special education and related services in settings with at least 50% peers without IEPs. The respondents were asked about the challenges and their ideas for solutions regarding the provision of inclusive services to preschoolers with disabilities. Over 200 responses were received from 35 states and territories across the country. Three primary challenges were identified (a) attitude and beliefs (e.g., staff beliefs and attitudes about children and programs, difficulty with communication/collaboration, feelings of preparedness, lack of respect between programs); (b) policies (e.g. LRE options, fiscal, transportation); and (c) resources (e.g. lack of resources to transport regular education preschoolers, lack of resources for itinerant services). When these same respondents were asked to provide solutions to the challenges identified they suggested (a) braided and blended funding to create inclusive settings, (b) education of local administrators and principals, and (c) MOUs and contracts with community programs to address quality. Our data indicates that 39% of our programs are not meeting the requirement to provide early childhood special education services in typical early childhood settings at a rate of 38.9% or more of their preschoolers. We know some of the challenges that exist nationwide also exist in Kansas. I think we need to ask ourselves some hard questions:

  • What are the steps we can take to address the challenges we face individually and as a state?
  • Who has the power to make those changes and how can we reach those decision makers?
  • What are the steps we need to take to ensure solutions are implemented statewide?
  • Does everyone know what the research says about preschool inclusion?
  • Do we provide a continuum of options for children and their families?
  • Are we providing services based first on what is best for children and families?
  • Do we know what is best for the children and families we served?
  • Are our decisions based on data provided by families?
  • What type of relationship do we have with other preschools in our community?

Ten years ago, my daughter attended a preschool special education program in Kansas. She had a wonderful teacher and she loved school. However, as a working mother, I also needed child care for my daughter. She was bused from her school to child care. This meant she didn't have the opportunity to go to preschool with her twin brothers. While we were able to make this work, it wasn't what we would have preferred. We all have an investment in making sure preschoolers have the best education possible. The evidence is clear, we as early childhood special educators have a responsibility to be facilitators of inclusive services for preschoolers with disabilities. What will you do?

Submitted by Vera Stroup-Rentier, September 16, 2014

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