An exploration of organizational factors affecting ethical practice in special education

Date of Completion

January 1996


Education, Administration|Education, Educational Psychology|Education, Special|Political Science, Public Administration




Current federal law and professional codes of conduct require that students with disabilities be provided with a free and appropriate public education. Special services personnel often encounter conflicting objectives in securing special education services for these students. This study applied systems theory to ethical problems and identified aspects of the school climate which promote or impede ethical decision making. To determine the climate of special education programs and its affect on ethical practice, this study examined three indicators of climate: Authoritarianism, Democracy, and Hierarchical Influence. Specifically, the role attributes of special education directors, not personality types were explored. Special education directors were viewed as both superiors and subordinates. As a superior, a director's interactions with Planning and Placement Team members were either authoritarian or democratic. As a subordinate, a director was seen as exercising greater or lesser influence with his or her own superior. Climate was defined as the organizational behavior that emerged from the interactions among special services personnel.^ Results of the stepwise multiple regression analysis indicated that Democracy contributed significantly to the prediction of Ethical Practice in special education programs at the elementary level. Democracy was significant and was found to explain 39% of the variance in ethical practice, F(25,1) = 17.48, p $<$.05. Authoritarianism and Hierarchical Influence did not enter the regression equation. Although these variables did not add significantly to the variance predicted by Democracy, the correlational analysis showed that both Democracy,.64 and Hierarchical Influence,.57 respectively have strong univariate relationships with Ethical Practice. The moderate multicollinearity among these variables may explain why Authoritarianism did not enter the regression equation; why it was not statistically significant.^ These data suggest that the effectiveness of a special education program and its ability to deal with ethical problems is contingent upon the degree of multiple linkage between and across other levels of the educational organization. Special services personnel must be able to exercise their expertise in decision-making processes so that the needs of students with disabilities are served. Universities and schools need to prepare special services personnel in ethical deliberation, collaborative decision-making, and in cultivating influence within the hierarchial structure of a school system. ^