Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Teacher and Administrator Perceptions of Heterogeneous Education

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Teacher and Administrator Perceptions of Heterogeneous Education

Article excerpt

For over a decade, researchers and educators have discussed changing the delivery of special education services, using such terms as "mainstreaming," "regular education initiative," and "inclusion." These discussions have highlighted some of the perceived requirements for these new types of service delivery to be successful, including restructuring, merging general and special education, creating a unified educational system, and developing shared responsibility for students. Rhetoric has been rampant as individuals with differing perspectives have attempted to bolster their positions related to service delivery.

The regular education initiative (REI), first proposed under that name by Madeleine Will (1985), originally conveyed the notion that students with mild disabilities could be served within the general education setting. It was not long before advocacy efforts expanded the REI concept to incorporate serving all students, including those with severe and profound disabilities, in general education classrooms in neighborhood schools (Biklen, 1988; Strully & Strully, 1985; Thousand et al., 198G; Villa & Thousand, 1988). By the 1990s, the concept had grown to one in which the focus was on "heterogeneous" schools (frequently called "inclusionary schools"), where all children are educated with necessary supports in general education environments in their local neighborhood schools (Villa & Thousand, 1988). In these schools, the traditional schooling paradigm was altered, with curriculum and instruction modified for all students (Neary, Halvorsen, Kronberg, & Kelly, 1992; Stainback & Stainback, 1990, 1992; Thousand, Villa, & Nevin, 1994; Villa, Thousand, Stainback, & Stainback, 1992).

Heterogeneous schools sometimes are treated as the contrast to providing a continuum of placement. Until recently, most of the debate about inclusion has occurred without data on the effects of the various service delivery models on students, both with and without disabilities (Baker, Wang, & Walberg, 1995; Lipsky & Gartner, 1995; Villa & Thousand, 1995).

For a long time, research on alternative service delivery models like the REI was based on opinion. Yet these data were considered important because they provided an indication of what is thought to be required of those individuals implementing the new service delivery models. For example, Semmel (1986) noted that the success or failure of the REI likely would be determined by the school personnel responsible for its implementation, namely, general educators together with their special education colleagues. By 1989, studies of the attitudes and perceptions of the necessary implementers of the REI began to emerge. Coates (1989) reported that general education teachers in Iowa did not have a negative view of pullout programs, nor were they supportive of the REI. Semmel, Abernathy, Butera, and Lesar (1991) surveyed 381 elementary educators (both special educators and general educators) and concluded that these educators were not dissatisfied with the current special education system that preferred pullout special education programs. These studies were conducted at a time when heterogeneous schools were just beginning to appear.

Since that time, the inclusion debate has expanded beyond special education and has be come part of the total school reform movement. Reports like winners All, by the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE Study Group, 1992), supported the concept of heterogeneous schools. Major educational organizations (e.g., Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1992) passed resolutions supporting the same notions, noting the need to eliminate tracking and segregation and the need for services that focus on the prevention of learning problems, minimal restrictive regulations, and flexible use of funding to promote success for all children.

Recently, Webb (1994) reported that "by the fall of 1993 almost every state was implementing inclusion at some level" (p. …

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