New Year, Same Focus: Unfinished Learning

Topics: Equity and Diversity, Special Education

In the new year, principals across the nation will continue to address the unfinished learning that emerged from the back-to-back school years that were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. While much has been written about the widening achievement gaps that resulted for our youngest learners and underrepresented students, less attention has been paid to one of the hardest-​hit populations: students with disabilities.

Some of the repercussions of the pandemic—staffing shortages, declines in social and emotional skills, and widening achievement gaps, to name a few—hit students with disabilities especially hard. Consider the following:

In the 2020–2021 school year, 7.2 million students (15 percent of all public school students) received special education services, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That number is expected to grow.

In 2019, 44 states reported special education teacher shortages to the federal government. This school year, that number jumped to 48.

Only 12 percent of school principals and 17 percent of general education teachers reported feeling well prepared to teach students with disabilities in 2019, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

This issue of Principal magazine explores the principal’s role as a leader of inclusion, defined by the Council of Chief State School Officers’ (CCSSO) National Collaborative on Inclusive Principal Leadership as someone who strives to “create strong school cultures and distribute leadership across staff to serve all learners well and ensure all students feel safe, supported, and valued in school.”

With articles that address special education staffing shortages, outline new guidance from the Department of Education on disciplining students with disabilities, and cover social and emotional learning and the principles of Universal Design for Learning, this issue of Principal will provide you with the direction you need to fulfill the tenets of inclusive leadership defined by CCSSO.

I hope that this issue and the gift below energize you as you continue to lead dynamic learning communities.

Kaylen Tucker, Ph.D.