August 24, 2006

Comparative studies in special education: a brain-bursting exercise

This evening, I'm finishing up my reading and note-taking on non-U.S. history of special education placement for a review article on inclusion. I'm writing a small section, and I know it would come to this: someone who knows just about the U.S. (me!) has to search for and read the secondary literature on comparative perspectives. And it was just as I feared: big enough that I couldn't quickly grasp it, and small enough that I really could read the entire field or close to it. I'd been hunting and pecking away over a month with moments stolen here and there, but the primary author came down with the hammer (properly so) and told me, Thou shalt redo your section and do it quickly. That means now or yesterday, whichever is earlier. (Un)fortunately, I found an extra book or three today and also realized I needed to scavenge a three-volume reference work to really flesh it out. (The problem with wonderful online resources is that when a field is mostly journal, you sometimes forget to check books... silly historian who should know better: me, again.)

You didn't think it would be simple, did you?


So I headed to the library this afternoon to do that. Shortly after I entered the library, I realized a few things: I had forgotten my laptop for notetaking in the reference section, I didn't have an umbrella, and the skies had just opened.  Great, just great.  Oh, yes, and I had forgotten my reading glasses, so I had about an hour of useful reading time before a headache was inevitable.

So I tried a technological crutch I've never used before: the cell phone. Scrounging through the encyclopedia, I'd find and read an article and then call my own voicemail and leave a minute-long message: author, title, pages, and the bit I wanted to extract. I left the reference section sometime later having made 10-11 calls. So far, so good. Then I headed up to the stacks and gathered the volumes and brought them down again. Still pouring. Okay, check out the books, extract cash from the in-library ATM, and get a lattĂ© in the foyer Starbucks. (I get the decaf, nonfat version, or what one wag barrista tells me is the "why bother" drink there.) I sit down, skim through a third of one of the books, and realized it's down to a drop every 10 seconds and so it's time to rush to my building.  Whew!

... until I got to my office realizing I'd have to transcribe my own dictation.  Note to self: never torture a dictation secretary with your talking.  Please. By the time that was done and I had finished notes on all but one volume, I headed out (with that last volume) to pick my son up from school. The poor guy had started a headache at 1 and didn't know he could go to the school nurse and beg the nurse to get approval from me to dose him with ibuprofen. So we stopped by a pharmacy, came home so he could rest (which worked, in combination with the Motrin), and after I told the story of the parent-teacher conference that morning (at my daughter's high school), I realized I still needed to finish that reading.  Off to local ChainCafĂ© (where I sit tonight almost, almost done).

And so, after all is said and done, I'm left with about 4-1/2 single-spaced pages of notes on various countries and a few broader models. I suspect I'll need to condense this to about 2 pages of double-spaced text (and also delete some of the U.S. material that was in the earlier draft). And I hope to return it to the primary author tomorrow, while there are two meetings. 

The practical problem is that this has sufficiently engaged me that I want to puzzle the patterns out. The most sophisticated comparative model I've read, by Rosemary Putnam in 1979 (Comparative Education, vol. 15, pp. 83-98), addresses the generic size of special education, not placement issues, and suggests that different looks suggest either a stage theory of national development or a wealth effect. (The data is a little different, suggesting by the relationship with health expenditures that it may be a matter of state welfare development as well.) A book by Mazurek and Winter in 1994 (Comparative Studies in Special Education) specifically suggests a stage theory of inclusion, except for some pesky countries that have well-developed, "mature" special education systems that are largely segregated (or were at the time): Japan, Russia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Czechoslovakia. So that throws a wrench in the comparative developmentalist (i.e., stage) model.

All right: time to get another drink, ponder my notes, and think of a way to organize this material.

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Posted in Education policy on August 24, 2006 9:11 PM |