Research shows that full inclusion for students with the most significant intellectual disabilities is the best path forward. Federal law requires it. But reality is much different! Talk to any parent of a student with Down syndrome, and they will tell you: “the struggle is real!” In fact, statistics show only 16% of students with intellectual disability spend the majority of their time in a general education classroom with their typical peers.
Now, the University of Minnesota’s National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) plans to put more of these students in general education classes with the support they need. NCEO was recently awarded $10 million dollars from the U.S. Department of Education to create the TIES Center: Increasing Time, Instructional Effectiveness, Engagement, and State Support for Inclusive Practices for Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities.
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“We’re so excited to get this center up and running. The grant begins October 1st, and we’re thrilled to have this opportunity,” says principal investigator for NCEO, Sheryl Lazarus. The center is charged with a monumental task: to support systematic changes in the way most school districts are teaching our loved ones with intellectual disabilities (ID).
“We believe in full inclusion for these students, and now we want to make that happen for them,” explains Lazarus. The goal of the TIES Center is to get students with ID fully engaged in in the same instructional activities and curriculum as their typical peers, while meeting their individual learning needs.
Students with Down syndrome would be a target group for this program. In fact, National Down Syndrome Congress Education Policy Advisor, Ricki Sabia, was chosen to be the parent advisor and liaison for the TIES Center.
“In spite of the strong least restrictive environment language in IDEA, the vast majority of these students are still segregated from their peers. Studies show that students in separate classes have less access to the grade level curriculum and content trained teachers. NDSC is looking forward to the impact that the TIES Center will make to improve the quality of instruction for students with significant cognitive disabilities in inclusive environments,” Ricki Sabia says.
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Lazarus says the TIES Center hopes to accomplish the following goals:
- Develop professional learning communities in partner state and local education agencies
- Develop coaching models for implementation of resources, inclusive practices and communicative competence.
- Improve the efficiency and effectiveness of existing resources.
- Support parents to become partners in the practice of inclusion for students with significant cognitive disabilities.
- Support systems change within the leadership of state and local education agencies for implementation of inclusive practices.
Research on better inclusion won’t be limited to the University of Minnesota. Lazarus says they will have subcontractors at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, University of North Carolina Greensboro, University of Cincinnati, CAST, University of Kentucky and the Arizona Department of Education. There will also be parent liaison’s working with the TIES Center to help parents better advocate for their child.
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Lazarus says they plan to work backwards to find solutions to the barriers keeping students with ID out of general education classrooms. “We plan to work with schools to find out what’s working and what’s not to create better outcomes for these students. Hopefully that will translate into materials for teachers and parents. We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but we’re going to work hard to find the best path forward,” says Lazarus.
To learn more visit https://nceo.info. I’ll be posting more information on this grant project as new policies or practices are introduced.
What barriers do you see to full inclusion for students with Down syndrome? Comment below and share your experiences and thoughts.