Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Special Education and the Regular Education Initiative: Basic Assumptions

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Special Education and the Regular Education Initiative: Basic Assumptions

Article excerpt

Special Education and the Regular Education Initiative: Basic Assumptions

ABSTRACT: The regular education initiative (REI) is a thoughtful response to identified

problems in our system for educating low-performing children, but it is not a detailed blueprint

for changing the system. Educators must achieve consensus on what the REI actually proposes.

The authors infer from the REI literature five assumptions regarding the roles and

responsibilities of elementary regular classroom teachers, concluding that these teachers and

specialists form a partnership, but the classroom teachers are ultimately in charge of the

instruction of all children in their classrooms, including those who are not succeeding in the

mainstream. A discussion of the target population and of several partnership models further

delineates REI issues and concerns. * Our purpose in this article is to contribute to the national dialogue about the regular education initiative (REI). We identify what we view as one set of assumptions underlying the initiative and examine their implications for two central issues: (a) the target population to be served and (b) the nature of the classroom partnership between general education and specialized services in educating that population. We also test our assumptions on several partnership models and conclude the article by raising certain issues that warrant further examination.

We hope that our analysis will stimulate discussion within the educational community about the meaning of the REI and, for now at least, deflect attention from value judgments about whether the initiative itself is good or bad, until there is some consensus about what the REI actually is. We invite others to continue this conversation, sharing their agreement or disagreement with our perceptions.


Problems in instructing low-achieving children are as old as education. In recent years, the educational community, from policy makers to parents, has increasingly focused attention and concern on one segment of the educational universe--that is, what Wang, Reynolds, and Walberg (1987) have called the "second system," that aggregation of categorical programs designed to improve our public schools' services to children who have difficulties learning in the mainstream. Serious problems identified in this second system range from what happens to individual children (e.g., unacceptable progress and improper classification) to what happens to the entire public school system (e.g., fragmentation, wasted resources, and loss of local control).

In her article, "Educating Students with Learning Problems: A Shared Responsibility," Will (1986) cited four main problems with the current system of special education: 1. Services for special and remedial children

seem hopelessly fragmented in distinct

categorical programs. This fragmentation

not only impairs the programs'

effectiveness, but also causes children who need

services to fall through the cracks created

between the separate programs. 2. Special and regular education operate as a

dual system in which the responsibility for

educating students with learning problems

falls to the special programs, while the role

of classroom teachers and building

administrators is weakened. Special programs often

remove students from regular classrooms for

services and fail to coordinate their

instruction with that of the regular classroom. 3. Students in special programs who are

segregated from nonhandicapped peers may

be stigmatized, suffering negative

consequences ranging from lowered self-esteem

to unhealthy attitudes toward learning. 4. Rigid eligibility requirements associated

with special programs create conflicts

between parents and school personnel, who

may disagree about a student's placement

in a particular program. …

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