Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Implementing Inclusion at the Middle School Level: Lessons from a Negative Example

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Implementing Inclusion at the Middle School Level: Lessons from a Negative Example

Article excerpt

The term "inclusion" refers to a process whereby students with disabilities receive their education, with necessary special education support, primarily in general classrooms alongside students without special education designations (York, Doyle, & Kronberg, 1992). Both "mainstreaming" and "inclusion" describe practices for operationalizing the concept of "least restrictive environment" (LRE) as mandated by the federal special education law. This concept requires that students with special education designations be educated "to the maximum extent appropriate ... with children who are not handicapped" (Education of All Handicapped Children Act, 1975, p. 125). What is "appropriate" is to be determined by school student support teams in consultation with parents who are to have ultimate decision-making authority. Available options are to be based on the "cascade of services" concept (Deno, 1970) ranging from full-time placement in general education classrooms to home-bound education (Hocutt, Martin, & McKinney, 1991). Although more normative definitions have been proffered (Kaufman, Gottlieb, Agard, & Kukic, 1975; Wang, 1981), "mainstreaming," as commonly used among educators, describes situations where special education students receive instruction in "regular classrooms for a portion of the school day" (Gottlieb, 1981, p. 116). The term "inclusion" is more philosophically loaded, prescribing that the appropriate placement for students with disabilities is almost always the general classroom. This means that they are to be considered as full-fledged members of, not visitors to, the general classroom and are to be educated in that setting to the fullest extent possible with necessary supports. Occasional removal from the general classroom, while not ruled out, requires justification in terms of practicality or feasibility considerations (National Down Syndrome Society, 1996).

Inclusion is far from universally accepted among educators and educational policymakers. As of the 1990-91 school year, only 7.4% of students ages 6-21 with mental retardation were placed in general classes for 79% or more of their school day (U.S. Department of Education, 1993). Some writers have pointed out that movements for educational change, such as inclusion, which would require much greater cooperation and coordination between special and general education, thereby weakening the boundaries between them, have much more support among some special education theorists than among most general education policymakers and practitioners. They argue that without greater support from general educators, such far-reaching change is not feasible (Braaten, Kauffman, Braaten, Polsgrove, & Nelson, 1988). Results of a number of studies have indicated that most teachers are opposed to mainstreaming (Johnson, 1987). Several organizations of general and special educators and of advocates for students with disabilities such as the Commission on the Education of the Deaf, The Council for Exceptional Children, the Learning Disabilities Association, and the National Education Association have issued policy statements supporting a strong separate special education system (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1994). Recently the American Federation of Teachers called for a moratorium on inclusion policies to allow "that more time and thought be put into balancing the needs of special education and general education students alike" (Gorman & Rose, 1994, p. 10).

The practice of inclusion becomes even more complicated at the secondary level. Schumaker and Deshler (1988) have argued that the kind of integration required by inclusion would be difficult to achieve in a secondary setting for two major reasons: (a) the discrepancy between the minimum levels of academic skills required for success in a general classroom and those possessed by students with mild academic disabilities is greater at the secondary than at the elementary level; (b) integration would require significant structural changes in the secondary school environment. …

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