University of Vermont

The Center on Disability and Community Inclusion (CDCI)

Paraeducator Supports:

Employing, directing, and supporting paraprofessionals in inclusive education programs for students with disabilities: A multi-site case study

Ghere, Gail Sweeney (2003). Employing, directing, and supporting paraprofessionals in inclusive education programs for students with disabilities: A multi-site case study.

Institution: University of Minnesota

THE FOLLOWING ABSTRACT IS POSTED WITH THE WRITTEN PERMISSION OF THE AUTHOR

ABSTRACT

It was not until the 1997 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that federal special education legislation referred to "paraprofessionals." This was despite the paraprofessional workforce expanding from 10,000 in 1965 to over 500,000 full-time equivalent employees by 1996 (Pickett, 1996). Over the last decade, the literature on paraprofessional roles and responsibilities, direction, and development has grown steadily, although more research is needed in all of these areas. In addition, little is known about paraprofessional employment processes (Giangreco, Edelman, Broer, & Doyle, 2001). There is a significant gap in our knowledge about how districts address paraprofessional employment, direction, and development across the levels of district and the degree of communication and coordination that occurs between the levels of a district. These issues are particularly important for inclusive special education programs because they tend to be highly decentralized and paraprofessionals often do not work in close proximity to the special education teachers most of the school day. The purpose of this study was to describe and understand the systems that districts use to employ, direct, and develop their special education paraprofessionals to work effectively in inclusive special education programs. A multi-site, case study of three school districts was conducted. District level special education personnel in each district identified one elementary and one secondary special education teacher who they believed were effectively including students with disabilities in general education classes and who directed the work of at least two paraprofessionals. Other key informants (e.g., special education directors, coordinators, principals, paraprofessionals) were drawn from the site and district levels in each district. A total of 53 individuals from across the three districts participated in the study. Data collection included semi-structured interviews and structured group interviews. Nine key findings were identified that clustered around three areas: paraprofessional and teacher roles and responsibilities, directing and developing paraprofessionals, and paraprofessional employment. Specific findings included role and responsibility clarification, the complexity of effectively directing the work of paraprofessionals, the centrality of administrator support for teachers in directing the work of paraprofessionals, the importance of job-embedded paraprofessional development, and the impact of paraprofessional turnover.

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