Full Inclusion: Are the Schools Ready?
In 1955, the story of a brave and tired woman named Rosa Parks was put in front of this country's awareness (What is Inclusion). This woman had gotten historically tired of being denied equality. She wanted to be included in society in a full way, something which was denied people labeled as "black". So Rosa Parks sat down on a bus in a section reserved for "white" people. When Rosa was told to go to "her place" at the back of the bus, she refused to move, was arrested, and history was challenged and changed. All of this happened because Rosa Parks was tired, historically tired of being excluded. She had sat down and thereby stood up for inclusion. Another powerful cry for inclusion is being heard today. This new cry is being raised by people with disabilities.
In the past, it was quite common for children with disabilities to be institutionalized or home schooled (Kavale, 279). Then, in the early twentieth century, many compulsory attendance laws were passed that enabled some of the children with disabilities to attend public schools. However, in 1919, the Supreme Court declared, in Beattie v. Board of Education, that a school could exclude a child who had a condition that caused him to drool, have face contortions, and slurred speech. This ruling enabled schools to exclude some handicapped children. Later, in 1975, congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, which was the beginning of free and appropriate public education to all school age children, regardless of disability (Kavale, 282). This act led to special education programs in public schools. These special education programs essentially segregated disabled students from the general classrooms in public schools, but did provide more individualized attention along with different educational standards. This law was amended in 1990 and was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and then was amended again in 1997. The amendment required that a student should be placed in an environment with the fewest restrictions and the greatest opportunities in the context of a particular disability. This was known as the least restrictive environment. Some advocates of the disabled are seeking to replace these special education programs with the full inclusion of disabled children into regular classrooms (Kavale, 283). The success of full inclusion lies in the hands of the teachers and the school systems. The question is however, are the school systems today ready to handle such a drastic change and make this a successful program?
It has long been recognized that a major factor in the success or failure of a policy such as mainstreaming is the attitudes of the general education teacher (Full Inclusion). Early on, general education teachers expressed some negative attitudes especially feelings of inadequacy in dealing with students with disabilities, although they remained generally positive about the concept of integration. Although, positive attitudes about students with disabilities could also be found these positive attitudes were often accompanied by concern about the integration of students with severe disabilities, particularly those with significant intellectual deficits. Teachers were also found to be more willing to integrate students whose disabilities did not require additional responsibilities on their part. Otherwise, they revealed a resistance to greater integration. Although attempts to foster more positive attitudes about integration have been made any positive attitudes achieved were found to be short-lived.
The attitudes of peers toward students with disabilities have also been investigated (Full Inclusion). Although, they have been uniformly positive, findings generally revealed a tendency toward more tolerance with increased contact. Generally, though, general education peers paid no particular attention to students with disabilities. Any positive reactions about inclusion among students without disabilities also tended to be accompanied by feeling of discomfort, especially about students with moderate and severe disabilities who may possess significant communication difficulties and often lack positive social skills. Although, some found that students with severe disabilities were accepted by non disabled peers.
For parents, generally positive attitudes about inclusion appeared to be the norm, although anxiety about the actual mechanics was also seen (Full Inclusion). The anxiety was most evident among parents who supported inclusion but had reservations about it for their children. As a result, it was possible to find diverse opinion about inclusion among parents. Some parents doubt whether inclusion would be appropriate for their child with a learning disability because of the loss of special education services. Many parents asked what has changed in the general education classroom that would ensure that full inclusion would be successful? The answer to that question is unfortunately nothing.
Administrators, because of their leadership positions, were viewed as playing a significant role in the success or failure of mainstreaming (Full Inclusion). Principals however, demonstrated a lack of their knowledge about students with disabilities and often perceived little chance of success in general education, particularly students with the label "mentally retarded". Additionally, principals indicated that pullout programs were the most effective placements, that full-time general class placements offered more social than academic benefits, and that support services were not likely to be provided in general education classrooms. When the attitudes about mainstreaming of teachers and administrators were compared, the most positive attitudes were held by administrators, the individuals most removed from the reality of the classroom. Critical differences between principals' and teachers' opinions about inclusion are including differing perceptions concerning the possibilities for enhanced academic achievement, what really works best, and the level of resources being committed for inclusive arrangements. The optimistic views of principals were in sharp contrast to the more pessimistic views of teachers, and were assumed to be based on negative experiences regarding the outcomes of inclusion or the conviction that inclusion will not produce appropriate outcomes.
The general education classroom is generally a place where undifferentiated, large group instruction dominated and teachers were more concerned with maintaining routine than meeting individual differences (Kavale, 290). In these classes any student who could not conform would likely to be unsuccessful. A study was done that observed children with disabilities in a regular education classroom and the following results were found (Special Education Inclusion). In the general education classroom children with disabilities were treated much like the other students but they did not receive differentiated instruction or adaptations. Even effective teachers were found to make few adaptations because of the belief that many adaptations were not feasible of because students themselves did not view many adaptations favorably. In fact, many students with disabilities preferred special education pullout programs over programs delivered exclusively in the general education setting. Many students with disabilities experienced feelings of anger, embarrassment, and frustration in a special education setting and generally viewed it as undesirable. But they also found the special education setting to be a supportive and quite environment where they could receive extra academic assistance.
In a later analysis of full-time mainstreaming with Project MELD (Mainstream Experiences for Learning Disabled), the issue of whether the regular education class can provide an environment in which students with learning disabilities have more opportunities to learn, to make greater educational progress in academic skills, and to avoid the stigma associated with being less capable in academic achievement was investigated (Special Education Inclusion). After examining the outcomes the conclusion was that the special education students did not get a special education. This was attributed to the increased demands on the general education teacher and that the general educators are not fully trained to provide diversified instructional methods or to cope with the needs of diverse learners. In fact, general education teachers were most comfortable when using generic and nonspecific teaching strategies that were not likely to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities.
After analyzing three large scale projects designed to restructure schools to better accommodate students with disabilities in general education classrooms it was concluded that: general education settings produced achievement outcomes for students with learning disabilities that are neither desirable nor acceptable (Full Inclusion). Although, findings assessing academic outcomes associated with inclusion were mixed, they generally were not encouraging given the significant investment of resources necessary to provide these enhanced educational opportunities. A similar scenario was found for the academic performance of students with disabilities who had been reintegrated into general education classrooms.
In addition to academic effects, social outcomes associated with general education placement have also been investigated (Kavale, 286). Although some positive social outcomes have been found, primarily in the form of increased tolerance and more social support from students without disabilities, there also appear to be continuing negative consequences, including limited self-confidence, poor self-perceptions, and inadequate social skills among students with disabilities. Mixed findings also surrounded teacher-child interactions in inclusive settings. Although students with disabilities have been shown to engage in a greater number of positive interactions with teachers studies have also shown far fewer such positive interactions. In a study of teacher-child interactions in inclusive classrooms over the course of a school year found that the number of teacher-student interactions did not differ over the course of the school year (Special Education Inclusion). Students wit!
h disabilities may, however, require continuing higher levels of interaction and by receiving the same amount of interactions at the end of the school year, the needs of the children with disabilities and at-risk children may not have been sufficiently met.
With respect to self perceptions among students with disabilities in integrated settings it was found that there was low levels of global self-worth, academic competence, and behavioral conduct (Full Inclusion). Simple contact with students with disabilities in itself does not result in more favorable attitudes and improved acceptance. The nature and quality of interactions were significant influences on the way attitudes developed, and any objectionable behavior on the part of students with disabilities quickly resulted in less favorable perceptions among their peers in general education. Additionally, if there was a strong academic focus in the classroom, then perceptions about students with disabilities not keeping up my result in less teacher tolerance and less peer acceptance.
There has been, over the past 25 years, a steady press toward greater integration of students with disabilities (Kavale, 279). The law demands education in the least restrictive environment, but difficulties have resulted from this provision coming to be interpreted as solely the general education classroom, particularly for all students regardless of type and level of disability. The reality of general education suggests that the requisite attitudes, accommodations, and adaptations for students with disabilities are not yet in place (Full Inclusion). Special education should therefore focus on providing the best possible education for all students with disabilities.
Kavale, Kenneth (2000). History, Rhetoric, and Reality. Journal of Remedial & Special Education, 21, 279-297.
"Special Education Inclusion." Http://www.weac.org/resource/june96/speced.html.
"What is Inclusion?" Http://www.inclusion.com/N-What
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