It’s time to debate whether debate whether mainstreaming special-education students is fair to all students, argues attorney Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, author of Fixing Special Education, in a Wall Street Journal commentary.
When teachers focus on students who need more attention, other children get less attention, writes Freedman. Yet parents of regular-education students rarely challenge policies that place high-need children in mainstream classrooms.
The special-education system in the U.S. is highly regulated by law, expensive, and sometimes marked by litigiousness. Those working to reform the system are almost exclusively people with a direct stake in it—including school representatives, parents of students with disabilities, advocates, lawyers, special educators, academics and government officials.
Fourteen percent of students are in special education today: 70 to 80 percent have mild or moderate disabilities, including learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, social and emotional disabilities, ADHD, etc. While federal regulations govern special ed, 80 percent of funding comes from states.
Students with disabilities have the right to be in the “least restrictive environment” to the maximum extent “appropriate,” with added resources such as computers, large-print or recorded books, and personal aides, if needed.
Look into the research on inclusion and you will find that this policy is generally based on notions of civil rights and social justice, not on “best education practices” for all students. The effectiveness of inclusion for students with disabilities varies—some groups and individual students benefit; others don’t. This is one reason why inclusion remains controversial in some segments of the disability community.
Very little work has been done to establish how inclusion affects regular students—whether they are average, English-language learners, advanced, poor or homeless. Studies seem to support the social benefits of mainstreaming for children with disabilities and possibly for regular-education students, but what about the effect on their academic progress?
Teachers may tell you (privately) that inclusion often leads them to slow down and simplify classroom teaching. Yet the system is entrenched and politically correct.
Educators and parents should join a “robust, inclusive and frank national discussion” on how to fix a broken special education system, Freedman concludes.
I’d be very interested in what teachers really think about inclusion. How many are getting the supports they need to do it well?