Date of Award

12-2006

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Educational Administration

Major Professor

Vincent A. Anfara, Jr.

Committee Members

E. Grady Bogue, Michael C. Hannum, Howard R. Pollio

Abstract

This research was intended as a mixed methods case study of the initial effectiveness of one school system’s Special Education Parent Advisory Committee (PAC). It was not until well into the study that it became clear the phenomenon at the root of the this research was actually the broader one of special education parental involvement in the schools, with the Rush County (a pseudonym) School System’s Department of Special Education as the case study. Although phenomenological inquiry is primary, the mixed methods research design employed included both thematic development and verification based on data obtained by both qualitative and quantitative means. Quantitative data were collected annually from 2002 through 2005, using a state- developed surve y instrument sent each spring to half of the families with children receiving special education services. The primary qualitative data were collected from nine individual interviews of PAC charter members. Observational notes, the researcher’s field log, and archival documents from the PAC were also examined.

The main quantitative findings were that the parents of special education students in Rush County return consistently positive responses when asked yes/no type questions about their children’s educational programs. The only areas in which negative responses were more than 20 to 30% concern the parents’ own participation in school system activities. The quantitative finding that special education parental involvement in the school system is limited was also one of the qualitative findings. These are the four phenomenological themes developed:

“It’s all about the kids” (the parent as primary advocate),

“Our own little group” (parents’ focus on special education),

“One person can’t get it done” (being helped or hindered by a range of others), and

“Get them involved, and then we’ll make them care” (the range of parental involvement in the school system).

These findings were verified using member checking, peer examination and debriefing, and commentary from a group of university instructors and graduate students who regularly read transcripts with the goal of understanding the essence of each experience described.

The main outcome of analyzing these themes was the realization that in public education (particularly special education), as others decrease in proximity to the child, their impact on that child also decreases. The PAC has become more than an advisory committee for the special education director; it is a support and advocacy group for special education parents as well. The discussion of findings explored the possibility that information sharing (support) is taking a primary role because the PAC investigated is still in its early years. The discussion also pointed out that the support, advisory, and advocacy functions of the PAC were all written into its charter from the start.

To relate the main result of this research to theory and practice in public education: the parents provide the most support, then the child’s teacher to a lesser degree. The parents’ view is that the school system and community have very little to do with the day-to-day help the child receives, other than keeping a structure in place for education to occur. Parental involvement is a spectrum and the school system has to have methods in place (especially during students’ transitions from one school to another) that allow parents to get involved to the levels with which they are comfortable. One way to do this is for school systems that do not already have special education PACs to organize them.

A lesson learned from this study is that the PAC will need years to grow and become known and used in the school system and community. Although the move from school to work for special education students has no clear progression, this unfortunate finding can result in a positive outcome since it highlighted the need for public school systems to establish and use special education parent advisory committees as vehicles for home-school-community interaction.

This research closes with a recommendation for a follow-up or longitudinal study of Rush County’s Special Education PAC as well as for research that would include teachers, school administrators, and the parents of other than school-aged people with disabilities. A related study that specifically correlates parental involvement with outcomes for families could also complement this research.

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