Inclusion of Students with Disabilities into Regular Education Classrooms
The American Community Survey (ACS), which is conducted by the Census Bureau, estimated that about 6.3% of the children between the age of 5 and 15 years had some form of disability in 2007.1 The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which was legislated in 1975, requires all public schools in the U.
S. to provide ‘all eligible children with disabilities a free public education in the least restrictive environment appropriate for their needs. ‘
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, about 6. 7 million children and youth, between the ages of 3 and 21, received services under IDEA in 2006 – 2007. 2 The issue of inclusion and mainstreaming of children with disabilities has always been controversial. While it is wrong to differentiate and isolate children based on their abilities, most regular schools are ill equipped to take care of children with certain disabilities and that can be disadvantageous to the disabled child as well as the regular children in the class. So, although every eligible child should have a right to go to any educational institution that he or she wants to, it is important to make individualized decisions about inclusion.
Teachers, doctors, therapists, parents and students should work together and decide what is best for all the children in the classroom. The National Dissemination Center for children with disabilities has defined inclusion as the philosophy, process, and practice of educating students with disabilities in general education classrooms in neighborhood schools with the supports and accommodations needed by those students.
However, different researchers and educators have different opinions about what ‘inclusion’ can actually mean. Some researchers like Lewis and Doorlang consider a child with disabilities ‘included’ if he spends any part of the school day with general class peers in “common instructional or social activities with additional instruction and support from a special educator” while Friend & Bursuck believed that inclusion generally occurs when a student with disabilities can meet “traditional academic expectations with minimal assistance.”
Until the late 1960s, there was no help for children with disabilities at public schools. In fact, most schools had the right to refuse admission if the child was severely disabled while children with mild problems had struggle by themselves to cope with the school curriculum. All of that changed in 1969, with the passage of the Children with Specific Learning Disabilities Act, when it became mandatory for public schools to provide support services for students with learning disabilities.
The Congress enacted the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975 which intended to support states and localities in meeting the individual needs of children and youths with disabilities. This law was later renamed as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA. 2 As more and more kids started receiving special education, it was observed that such children were not taught the general curriculum at the schools. This led to the reauthorization of IDEA in 1997 and access to the general curriculum was added to the statute.
Ever since its formation, IDEA and the concept of inclusion were contentious. The supporters of the act believed that since disabled children have to live in the same society as the general population when they grow up, it is better to start early. This will help the general children also to develop into more understanding and compassionate individuals. The opponents of inclusion, on the other hand, believe that if the handicapped children are sent to regular classrooms, they would be denied the ‘small-group, multi-sensory, carefully sequenced instruction, integrated with their various physical therapies, now provided by skilled certified teachers’ while the non-handicapped children may miss their regular lessons.
Some critics of inclusion believe that mainstreaming is a better option. Mainstreaming refers to selective placement of special education students in one or more “regular” education classes. The students are introduced to few regular classes based on each student’s individual potential and they follow a Individualized Education Plan (IEP) under the guidance of a specialist. The students are thus, exposed to the outside world but at a slower pace. The purpose of mainstreaming is specialized academic learning while the purpose of inclusion is to prepare for an independent life as an adult. Inclusion is less restrictive and allows a child with disabilities to be a part of a regular classroom and follow the regular curriculum with assistance of a specialist.
Full inclusion, on the other hand, refers to elimination of special education altogether and instructing all students in the same classroom with same curriculum. The proponents of full inclusion believe that all children are equally worth and hence, should be treated equally. Several models have been proposed to implement inclusion in classrooms across the United States. Some of these models include the Consultant model, the Teaming model and the Collaborative or Co-teaching model. In the Consultant model a special education teacher is made available to the students and will help to reteach a difficult concept or skill
This non- intrusive approach is effective in case of low incidence of special needs students and overall low student population. In the Teaming model special education teacher is assigned to a team and the teacher provides student several strategies to deal with assignments and tests. The team meets on a regular basis, establishing consistent communication among the team members. All team members work together and broaden their knowledge in various areas, whether they are from general education or special education.
On the other hand, the Collaborative model involves general education and special education teachers working together to teach students with or without disabilities in a shared classroom. Students receive age-appropriate academics, support services, and possible modified instruction. Collaborative teaching can be organized in a number of ways like one teacher and one support, parallel teaching design, team teaching, alternative teaching design etc.
The kind of model that a classroom might adopt depends on a variety of factors like the requirements of the students and the number of resources that the teachers have at their disposal. Whichever model it adopts, an inclusive classroom is student-centered and students have a major role to play in deciding the academic and social activities of the day. There is a lot of social interaction with each student doing their own individualized curriculum under the guidance of a special education teacher. The classroom may have different centers that focus on different skills like language, math etc.
Children are allowed to use many different kind of learning tools like books, computers, taped stories and music. One of the major advantages of a inclusion classroom for regular students is that it helps them develop compassion and sensitivity at a young age. Children get an opportunity to experience diversity in a small classroom setting and it also boosts their self-confidence as they develop an ability to make a difference and to help others. All students have the benefit of having two teachers in the class.
Also, inclusion classrooms focus on peer learning and that can have immense impact on most children. Inclusion classrooms can also be beneficial to the teachers as it gives them an opportunity to be a part of a multi-disciplinary team that faces new challenges everyday. The teachers also learn to appreciate the fact that each child has his own strengths and weaknesses and get an opportunity to understand the benefits of direct individualized instruction. Children with special needs can benefit immensely by going to regular schools.
It gives them a sense of belongingness in the community. It enhances their self-respect and enables them to develop friendships with same-age peers. A regular school exposes the child to a more stimulating environment and may make it easier for them adjust to the outside world. Thus, the supporters of inclusion believe that all students will benefit from being in an inclusion classrooms in the long run. In spite of all these advantages, inclusion classrooms are controversial and that is because these classrooms can often be disruptive and under productive. In practice, children pursuing individualized curricula with aides, under the supervision of the teacher who is attempting to teach the whole class may lead to commotion and confusion.
The critics also believe that there is no scientific basis for the belief that handicapped children benefit by being placed with non-handicapped children. In fact, some research shows that handicapped children feel more isolated in the regular class, as it imposes greater psychological pressure on them and they become more aware of what their peers can do and what they cannot. Some research has shown that in Texas, Missouri and Minnesota, special-education students are suspended at roughly twice the rate of regular students, state reports indicate.
Also, for children with disabilities in a regular environment, socialization becomes more important than academics and hence, can be detrimental to student’s education. Some school districts have reported higher teacher turnover and classroom commotion due to mainstreaming.
Many teachers are often uncomfortable with an unorganized classroom. Most teachers lack special training and support to deal with inclusion and can lead to frustration. Inclusion can also be viewed unfavorably by regular students. They may find it disruptive to their own education. Also, if not implemented properly, it can lead to resentment among regular students towards their disabled peers and can lead to unpleasant atmosphere in the classrooms. Even the proponents of inclusion have to agree that it is not for everyone.
“Inclusion without resources, without support, without teacher preparation time, without commitment, without a vision statement, without restructuring, without staff development, won’t work. ” says Mara Sapon-Shevin, professor of inclusive education at Syracuse University. So, before starting any new inclusion program, it is important to analyze the situation and check for all the available resources. Every body involved in the education system including students, teachers, special education teachers and parents should be involved in the decision.
It is also important to make a smooth transition in a gradual step by step manner that is not overwhelming to the handicapped children as well as their non-handicapped peers. Also, good communication between the teachers, students and the parents is key to the success of inclusion education and thus, schools should have clear strategies and plans before introducing inclusive classrooms to their system.
Inclusion is a disputable issue and proponents on both sides of the theory are equally passionate about their cause. It a great concept of education that is based upon the principle of compassion and equality for all. If implemented properly, the inclusion classrooms can be great models for an ideal society. However, it is a difficult concept to implement. Most teachers lack the appropriate training and resources to manage an inclusion classroom and that can be overwhelming to all the individuals involved.