A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Monday, July 11, 2011

Is it just me, or is this a faulty headline?

I was arrested by the headline to this article: "Most teachers favor inclusion for autistic students!"

Then I read further. Let's see if you spot the problems that set off alarms for me:
The majority of general education teachers support the notion of including autistic children in a regular classroom environment, a small new survey suggests.

Overall, the eight general education teachers surveyed expressed positive views of inclusion for children with autism, but they felt additional resources would help ensure success in a mainstream classroom.

Survey co-authors P. Rosen and E. Rotheram-Fuller, of Temple University, and D. S. Mandell, from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, are scheduled to present the findings Wednesday at the International Meeting for Autism Research in San Diego.

The teachers surveyed worked in a single, large urban school district. Each had between one and four students with autism already present in classrooms that catered to an average of 25 students. The majority of the autistic students spent at least half a day enrolled in a general education setting, according to a meeting news release.

On average the teachers had more than 10 years of experience, although specific work with autistic students ranged from none to 15 years.

The preliminary results revealed that all the teachers shared a positive perspective on including autistic children in an otherwise standard classroom setting.

Doing so was completely appropriate for 44 percent of students, and somewhat appropriate for 33 percent of students, they said. And as a whole, those surveyed indicated that they felt most of the autistic students (66 percent) would do well to remain in their current classroom situation.

However, for 22 percent of students, inclusion was considered somewhat inappropriate, and for one-third of students, a different, more restrictive environment would be better, the teachers said.

Regardless of their views, the teachers generally expressed confidence in their ability to handle autistic students, while at the same time observing that not all of the children were adequately prepared for the demands of a general education environment.

Overall, the participants suggested that more resources were needed to help promote social interaction between autistic students and their healthy peers. Also necessary: continued support from special education teachers and training in how to meet the demands of individual education plans, they said.

Research presented at meetings is considered preliminary because it has not been subject to the scrutiny required for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

Okay? Now here's what I see:

Eight general education teachers in ONE large urban school district is hardly the basis for a sweeping statement about all teachers. And this study hasn't even been peer-reviewed yet.

How in the world can one extrapolate widespread support from such a small sample from one school district? What subjects do these teachers teach? What grade levels? Is this school district also majority-minority and economically disadvantaged beyond what is common in a typical school district in America?

Now, it may be that most teachers DO support inclusion of autistic students in regular classrooms. I personally support the inclusion of any exceptional student in my class if they receive adequate support from special education professionals and if they do not detract from the learning environment to the detriment of other students. This includes my advanced placement classes, as long as they can maintain the level of scholarship necessary for an advanced placement class. I have had several students who have been diagnosed within the autism spectrum, and some placements have worked well.

Some have not.

But I would prefer to see the study authors cast their nets a whole lot wider before such sweeping claims are made.


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At 7/11/11, 7:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems like they didn't even survey *most* of the teachers at that 1 school.

I suspect Yahoo is to blame for the title, since the first paragraph is really all they read for headlines.

I do think a wider net should be cast. Preferably in rural and suburban area.

At 7/11/11, 7:27 PM, Anonymous Jen said...

Most research methods professors favor using this study and its write-up as the most basic example to give students of piss-poor research "design." I had to put the quotes because this wasn't designed, this was someone asking 8 people he knew a question.

That's a dinner party, not a research study.

At 7/11/11, 8:06 PM, Blogger ~Tim said...

Oh, that's horrible. I was going to point out some additional faults and now I have a headache. Stuff like this really irritates me.

At 7/11/11, 9:23 PM, Blogger PamelaTrounstine said...

I was going to post... um, 8 people answering some questions is a dinner party, but Jen beat me to it. That isn't a study. I believe in QUALITATIVE research as much as quantitative, but this is 8 teachers and only as many autistic students. Does not BEGIN to cover the topic for a district, let alone sweeping generalizations about all teachers in the 50 states.

At 7/12/11, 12:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This "study" reeks of an agenda. Even forgiving the small sample, the numbers given do not add up to endorsement; they add up to mixed. Plus, the comments all lean towards "support AS LONG AS," in other words, "I would support inclusion for autistic students IF there were adequate supports."

At 7/12/11, 1:27 PM, Blogger Lea said...

8 teachers, all of whom already have students with autism in their classrooms.

Can you say biased sample? I thought you could.


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