Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Integrating Students with Moderate and Severe Disabilities into General Education Classes

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Integrating Students with Moderate and Severe Disabilities into General Education Classes

Article excerpt

There rarely seems to be a shortage of recommendations about how to improve our schools (Fullan, 1991). The real task is more complex: to select recommendations that are both needed and efficacious, to initiate the change, and to sustain its beneficial effects. When school reform is involved, the change process is lengthy and may take 5-10 years from initiation to stable establishment (Fullan).

The literature on educational change tells us that many factors influence the levels and patterns of improvement outcomes. For example, if an innovation is initiated by someone who has experience with it, particularly the chief district administrator, then change is more likely (Huberman & Miles, 1984; LaRocque & Coleman, 1989). Huberman and Miles found that when teachers received assistance in mastering the skills required to implement an innovation, they became more committed to the change as their effort and skill increased. Huberman and Miles also found that initial use of an innovation typically is rough, and that smooth early use is "a bad sign" in terms of desirable outcomes (p. 273). Finally, Bredo and Bredo (1975) found that incremental or localized change, in contrast to systemwide change, may help a school's overall progress toward institutionalizing the change for several reasons: Fewer conflicts arise with a small-scale trial of the change, and professionals' autonomy is respected because those who are less involved can observe the positive involvement of colleagues with a "wait and see" attitude (p. 464).

Teachers, who characteristically are overloaded to begin with, view proposed change with skepticism (Lortie, 1975). Their initial perception of change is often in terms of a variety of concerns about the impact of the change on their work and its benefits for students (Hall & Hord, 1987). As practitioners guided by an ethic of practicality, teachers' view toward change is similar to the notion of a cost-benefit comparison: They weigh the impact that change will have on their time, energy, and routines against the benefits it holds for their students (Doyle & Ponder, 1977-78). As Fullan (1991) noted, many innovations are adopted with no clear explanations to teachers of either their benefits or implementation procedures. This fact, coupled with the provision of inadequate resources to support implementation, often results in teachers' experiencing more costs than rewards. Further, the initial weighing of costs and benefits occurs before teachers have had a chance to gain experience with the change and to reach an accurate understanding of what it actually means for them.

Ambivalence about whether the change will be favorable is nearly always experienced before the change is attempted. It is only by trying something that we can really know if it works. The problem is compounded because first attempts are frequently awkward, not providing a fair test of the idea. Support during initial trial is critical for getting through the first stages, as is some sign of progress. (Fullan, 1991, p. 129)

Special education has evolved with a tangential association to schools in general, and has not been without its ills and recommended remedies. The ill of being separate and its spillover effects on the children it serves has received considerable attention (Gartner & Lipsky, 1987; Lytle, 1988; Oberti v. Clementon, 1993; Skrtic, 1991). The remedy of integrating children with special needs into the mainstream of schools while providing them with individualized supports is one educational reform made particularly complex because it forces a tangential relationship between special and general education to intersect and become cooperative in nature (McLaughlin & Warren, 1992). (We use the term integration to emphasize both the social and curricular aspects of attendance in general education schools and classes by students needing special education supports and services. We use the term full inclusion to refer to educating students with identified disabilities in the school and classroom they would attend if not disabled via collaboration by general and special educators to bring supports and services to the student [Rogers, 1993]). …

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