Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Special Education and Literacy Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Elizabeth Whitten

Second Advisor

Dr. Daniel P. Morgan

Third Advisor

Dr. Derek Cooley


special education, PLC, PD


In 2018 the The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), a program of the U.S. Department of Education (DoED), issued a letter of determination to the State of Michigan concerning compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004 (IDEA) Parts B and C. States are evaluated for compliance with IDEA 2004 based upon a set of 20 State Performance Plan Indicators (SPPIs). Michigan was the only state in the union to receive the lowest rating possible, “needs intervention,” for the 2016-2017 school year.

Over 10% of students with disabilities in the State of Michigan spend less than 40% of the school day in general education classroom. Some these students are placed in self-contained classrooms located within “center-based” schools in which students receive instruction in core subjects from a certified special education teacher. Transforming center-based schools in the State of Michigan into Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) offers a way to improve the quality of education provided for students with disabilities.

In 2011, The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) issued a policy statement calling upon schools to move away from traditional Professional Development (PD) and toward professional learning. The policy statement included supporting guidelines as well as quality indicators for professional learning outcomes. Research exploring implementation of professional learning systems - or what is commonly referred to as a PLC - in Michigan’s center-based schools is non-existent. This study attempts to fill this gap.

This study uses concurrent triangulation, a mixed methods research framework, to explore implementation of PLCs within center-based schools located in the State of Michigan. Results indicate over 90% of center-based schools in the State of Michigan have at least started to implement PLCs, although not necessarily based upon MDE policy. Fewer than 20% of of these schools have seamlessly integrated PLC activities into routine practices. Most leaders of center-based schools do not view professional learning as a replacement for PD. The results of this research indicate PLCs within center-based schools collaboratively analyze a different set of assessment data than traditional public schools. Teams are not necessarily divided by grade level (as is usually the case in traditional elementary schools) or subject (as is the the case in many secondary schools).

Leaders of center-based schools see some of the predicted changes in teacher behavior associated with implementation of PLCs as specified in MDE professional learning policy. Leaders of center-based schools within the State of Michigan have the opportunity to improve the quality of education provided for students with disabilities through professional learning. It requires substantial preservice training, meticulous planning around a complex set of constraints, and transformation of school culture. Implementation of professional learning based upon MDE policy will require a feedback loop between policy implementers and policy makers to close the gap between policy guidelines and actual conditions within center-based schools.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access