Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Teacher Perceptions of the Regular Education Initiative

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Teacher Perceptions of the Regular Education Initiative

Article excerpt

Considerable interest and professional controversy has recently centered around the practice of labeling and providing special education services to students with mild disabilities. The call for reform of extant special education service delivery systems has been referred to as the regular education initiative (REI). Advocates of REI have suggested that instructional services for children with disabilities be delivered within the regular classroom environment. The lack of data supporting the efficacy of special education "pullout" programs (e.g., Semmel, Gottlieb, & Robinson, 1979) and the inferred superior instructional delivery techniques emanating from the study of effective schools has been offered as a rationale by reformers. These proponents have argued that there is insufficient evidence to support the need to implement special techniques for children with disabilities. Many have contended that effective instruction as practiced by teachers in regular classes can be appropriately implemented for all children and can accommodate the individual differences among pupils characterized by special educators as students with disabilities (Gartner & Lipsky, 1987; Lilly, 1988; Lipsky & Gartner, 1987; Pugach, 1987, 1988; Reschly, 1988a, 1988b; Reynolds & Wang, 1983; Reynolds, Wang, & Walberg, 1987; Stainback, & Stainback, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1989; Stainback, & Stainback, 1984; Taylor, 1988; Wang & Birch, 1984; Wang, 1988; Wang, Reynolds, & Walberg, 1986, 1988; Will, 1986a).

The former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education outlined specific problems with the current special education delivery system and proposed solutions within the regular education setting (Will, 1986b). This publication presented a framework for reevaluating the delivery of services to children with disabilities. Will cited fragmented educational approaches and problems with a "dual system" as negative features of current programs. Students with mild disabilities in pullout programs are described as not typically receiving consistent and continuous instruction in curriculum areas. To REI proponents, the dual system separates special education and, therefore, minimizes communication between special and regular classroom teachers. REI proponents also have perceived a harmful disjunction between ongoing regular classroom instruction and remedial programs (Biklen & Zollers, 1986; Gartner & Lipsky, 1987, 1989; Lilly, 1987, 1988; Reynolds et al., 1987; Stainback, & Stainback, 1984; Walker, 1987).

The advocates of REI have further contended hat lebeling students with mild disabilities and segregating them from regular classrooms results in stigmatization. Students exhibiting learning or behavior characteristics that do not meet the expectations of the regular education system are typically referred for assessment and labeled "deviant," "special," or "exceptional." These children are said to harbor feelings of inferiority resulting from this process (Biklen & Zollers, 1986; Hobbs, 1975; Stainback, & Stainback, 1984; Wang & Birch, 1984). Implementation of the REI is viewed as a means for reducing the need for assessment of students with lower levels of functioning, thereby eliminating harmful labeling practices. Rather than categorizing students, regular education classes would be adapted to meet the needs of all individual learners. All children would be considered different in intellectual, physical, and psychological characteristics, but capable of learning in most environments (Gartner & Lipsky, 1987).

Kauffman, Gerber, and Semmel (1988) pointed out that students are frequently misunderstood and stigmatized because they fail to meet acceptable performance standards set by teachers and peers. This outcome is purported to be independent of whether or not they are labeled or served by special education. Further, the general demand for more effective schools has resulted in increased pressures for improved aggregated achievement test scores and a consequent press for accelerated classroom academic instruction. …

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