Academic journal article Exceptional Children

The Regular Education Initiative Debate: Its Promises and Problems

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

The Regular Education Initiative Debate: Its Promises and Problems

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: The most intense and controversial issue presently receiving attention in the special education professional literature is the Regular Education Initiative (REI) debate. The proposed merger of special and regular education into a unitary system has attracted both strong advocates and critics. This article examines the current parameters of this discourse, identifies specific problems and issues related to this debate, and suggests strategies for overcoming perceived obstacles and improving the overall dialogue. Particular attention is given to key groups, for example, local educators and students themselves, who have been largely excluded from the REI debate. Most of the suggested benefits of the REI movement will never accrue unless its present discourse is expanded to include these groups. Ill As the current debate involving the proposed merger of special education and regular education intensifies, it appears that many special educators feel compelled to choose sides. Either one is for or against what has commonly become known as the Regular Education initiative (REI), the movement advocating that the general education system assume unequivocal, primary responsibility for all students in our public schools-including identified handicapped students as well as those students who have special needs of some type. Thus, most proponents of the REI (e.g., Reynolds, Wang, & Walberg, 1987; Sapon-Shevin, 1987a; Stainback & Stainback, 1984; Will, 1986) call for a dissolution of the present dual system in our public school structure, to be replaced by a unitary educational system, which, if carefully designed and implemented, would allow for a more effective and appropriate education for all students.

In brief, REI advocates argue that the current special education delivery system is beset with a multitude of problems. They see it as based on flawed logic, as discriminatory, as programmatically ineffective, and as cost inefficient. Whereas the rallying cry of special education professional and advocacy groups during the 1960s and 1970s was "greater access to the mainstream," today it is being replaced by a much more complex rallying cry: "full access to a restructured mainstream" Skrtie, 1987a).

Advocates argue that "mere access" to the current general education mainstream is not enough. However, because of the deficiencies in organizational structure of general education, along with its present inability to respond effectively to individual student diversity and difference, general education requires a major reconstitution if it is to meet the needs of handicapped and other special needs students (Edgar, 1987, 1988; Reynolds et al., 1987; Skrtic, 1987a, 1988).

Most writers commonly identified as REI "opponents" (e.g., Gerber, 1988; Hallahan, Keller, McKinney, Lloyd, & Bryan, 1988; Keogh, 1988; Mesinger, 1985) generally attempt to qualify their positions, claiming not to be necessarily opposed to the merger of regular and special education per se, but rather advocating a more cautious approach to the issue. Typically they argue that the REI movement is based on some basic false assumptions and that it lacks a rigorous research base. These opponents maintain that if the REI is adopted too quickly on a widespread basis, it could bring serious harm to the very students it is designed to help. Despite these qualifications, the battle lines increasingly are being drawn and-justifiably or not-scholars and researchers are clearly being identified as being either for or against the REI.

It is not my purpose to pass judgment on or question the motives of anyone who has offered written or verbal commentary on the REI. This would be both presumptious and nonproductive. Yet several critical factors in the present REI controversy have not been given sufficient consideration by most debators. If these issues are not carefully addressed, they will only present major obstacles to the development and implementation of effective educational reform for all students. …

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