Inclusion is a term used to describe one option for the placement of special education students in public schools. These inclusive programs are sometimes referred to as mainstreaming, which is the selective placement of students with disabilities in regular education classrooms. This controversial educational concept has its share of advocates on both sides and continues to be a source of contention with educators and parents. They all agree that schools must focus on meeting the needs of students with special needs in the most appropriate setting for each individual.
The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) is a federal law that requires students to be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). They must receive an education with supports set forth in their Individual Education Plan (IEP), which is different for each student. The federal laws that govern the education of special needs children do not require that they receive an inclusive education. They only require that all students with disabilities be educated in the least restrictive environment and that their unique needs are met.
Inclusive education programs provide educational services for all students including those with special needs. These programs serve all children in the regular classroom on a full-time basis. If a student requires extra services such as speech therapy, these services are brought into the classroom. This program allows the student to remain in the regular education classroom setting at all times. This program is intended to meet the objectives of IDEA by educating students in the regular classroom while still providing for their unique needs.
There are variables in inclusive education programs, which make a standard definition of inclusion misleading. Full inclusion is described as placing all students, regardless of disabilities and severity, in the regular classroom on a full-time basis. These students do not leave the regular classroom for services specified in their IEP, but these services are delivered to them in the regular classroom setting. Inclusion or mainstreaming refers to students being educated with non-disabled peers for most of their school day. A special education teacher collaborates with a general education teacher to provide services for students. The general education teacher is responsible for instructing all children, even those with an IEP. The special education teacher collaborates with the general teacher on strategies.
Another placement option places disabled students in the general classroom with the special education teacher providing support and assisting the general education teacher in instructing the students. The special education teacher brings materials into the classroom and works with the special student during math or reading instruction. The special education teacher aids the general education teacher in planning different strategies for students with various abilities.
When the IEP team meets to determine the best placement for a child with disabilities, they must consider which placement constitutes the least restrictive environment for the child based on individual needs. The team must determine which setting will provide the child with the appropriate placement. The primary objective of inclusive education is to educate disabled students in the regular classroom and still meet their individual needs. Inclusive education allows children with special needs to receive a free and appropriate education along with non-disabled students in the regular classroom.
Even though several studies have been conducted to determine the effectiveness of inclusive special education programs, no conclusion has been reached. Many positive signs have been observed with both special education and regular students. Some proponents of inclusive education programs argue that segregated special education programs are more detrimental to students and fail to meet their educational goals.
Those who favor inclusion see some positive evidence that all students can benefit from these inclusive programs when the proper support services are enacted and some changes take place in the traditional classroom. Professional development classes for both special and general education teachers produce a better understanding of the concept of inclusive education. When provided with the proper tools, special needs students have the opportunity to succeed along with their non-disabled peers.