by Amy G. Dell

Fall 1998, Vol. 10 No. 1

Although New Jersey was one of the early leaders in providing an education to children with disabilities, its record in recent years has been less than laudatory, particularly in the area of providing an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. The state ranks near the bottom on all measures of segregation of children with disabilities, and parents around the state are repeatedly frustrated in their efforts to find supported inclusive education settings for their children. There are several factors contributing to this, but a major part of the problem is clearly a lack of preparation on the part of professionals, specifically:

The New Jersey Developmental Disabilities Council has been very concerned about this lack of opportunity for children with disabilities and has published an oft-quoted monograph called Separate and Unequal (1994). This year they decided to focus their efforts on teacher preparation and solicited proposals for a funded project to 1) conduct research on how teacher education programs can support inclusion and 2) develop a model teacher education curriculum. It is with great pleasure that the TECH-NJ editors announce that the School of Education at The College of New Jersey has been awarded this important grant.

A salient feature of the Teacher Education for Inclusion Project at TCNJ is ongoing collaboration between professors in both special education and regular education. From its inception, the project was jointly designed by faculty from both disciplines, and all efforts towards curriculum reform will involve both departments. This kind of ongoing collaboration is essential to the success of both inclusion at the local level and curriculum reform in higher education. Amy Dell from the Department of Special Education and Ellen Frede from the Department of Elementary/Early Childhood are project co-directors; in addition, Connie Titone from Secondary Education will be joining the project this winter. Anne Disdier, Managing Editor of TECH-NJ, and Orah Raia, a parent of a child who is included, are the project's research associates.

After gathering research on the national picture, project staff will be convening several focus groups locally to determine the kinds of skills New Jerseyans believe their teachers need for inclusion to be successful. The focus groups will represent the diverse constituencies who have a stake in inclusive education, including faculty from colleges and universities who teach in teacher preparation programs - both special and regular education; student teachers/certification candidates who are preparing to be teachers - both special and regular education; parents of children with disabilities who have experience with inclusion (or attempts to make inclusion happen); students of high school age who have disabilities (or recent graduates); teachers in both special and regular education who have experience with inclusion, and those who have no such experience; paraprofessionals who have served as aides for included students; and school principals and directors of special education.

In Year 2 the project will use the information it is gathering this year to assist other New Jersey colleges in conducting self-assessments and to develop a model teacher education curriculum which will be designed to prepare graduates to teach in inclusive settings. In Year 3 the model curriculum will be implemented at TCNJ and two other sites, and project staff will develop a plan to impact certification requirements in New Jersey so that all teachers will be better prepared to teach in inclusive settings. These are ambitious plans, but it is hoped that ultimately, New Jersey's children with disabilities will have more opportunities for quality inclusive educational experiences as a result of this kind of teacher education reform.

Amy G. Dell is Editor-in-Chief of TECH-NJ.

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