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Important information about Inclusion

In your own words, provide a brief overview of the research in the area of inclusion and also provide your views on inclusion of students with disabilities. Did it change after your research? Why or why not?

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When I started teaching twenty-five years ago the research supported an idea called mainstreaming. This was the early model of inclusion, and it was also called integration, normalization, least restrictive environment, deinstitutionalization, and regular education initiative. The problem was that all of these terms were used interchangeably, and as they were the definitions of these terms were confused even more as others incorrectly made distinctions between the terms. I have to admit that much of the confusion over the issue of inclusion has always stemmed from the incorrect usage of related terms while important differences in their meanings existed, especially among the most common, which were mainstreaming, integration, inclusion, least restrictive environment, and full inclusion. As a teacher then, I was confused by this. Inclusion is certainly not a new concept in education, but it is becoming much better defined and understood.

Mainstreaming and these other older terms are a representation of a time when students with the disabilities were assimilated into a regular division classroom with students that were considered to be their non-disabled peers. Mainstreaming was simply a time when students with disabilities shared the same physical space with those who had no disabilities, and only when they were able to do the same activities as everyone else with few modifications. When I started teaching the primary responsibility for the education of students with disabilities remained with their special education teacher. When I worked with a special education teacher to mainstream a student into a regular division classroom, it was assumed that the special education student would have to earn his or her way using ability to keep up with the work of the regular division class in order to remain mainstreamed. As I worked with the Special Education teacher, he or she would insist that we start with mainstreaming only one subject at a time. The special education teacher would determine what the student's strongest subject was and start there. If the student could keep good grades in that subject, then the special education teacher would suggest that we add another subject. If and when the students could keep up with all of the subjects, they were considered to be fully mainstreamed. Unfortunately, this meant limited opportunities for students who had more severe disabilities. As a result for many, lunch, recess, and sometimes physical education, music, art, and vocational programs were the only times when students with more severe disabilities were integrated with their non-disabled peers. At our school under this definition, only students with mild disabilities were ever truly allowed to participate in the traditional core academic content areas like reading, mathematics, language arts, science, social studies, and history.

The students who were able to adapt without much support were considered integrated, which I have since read is a carry-over from the civil rights/racial desegregation legislation of the 1960s and before. Integration is also primarily a legal term that I used to see in Individualized Education Plans or IEPs. It really harkens back to a simple suggestion of a physical blending of different groups in a classroom. In my school, mainstreaming became a balancing act demographically as a way for the schools to answer to the state, rather than a genuine way to truly seek ways of fostering social and academic interactions, and for finding better ways for all students to learn. As a part of my teaching experience over the years, I saw a movement toward the current definition of inclusion born out of the term "integration." It was used by special educators to convey the idea that students with disabilities ought to be desegregated from self-contained special education classrooms, special schools, or institutions, and integrated into the realm of regular classrooms. They even had a percentage in mind as an integration rate. The rule of thumb was that the regular classroom should incorporate a naturally occurring percentage of those with disabilities, which was deemed to be approximately 10 percent in relation to those without disabilities. This was another step toward the idea or concept of inclusion today.

After getting my Masters in Teaching and Leadership, and after studying much about the redefining of how we educate individuals with disabilities, I learned that the concept of inclusion is a more quality-based term than integration. After studying the research, I realize that the whole idea of inclusion is based on the premise that all individuals with disabilities have a right to be included in an educational setting with all of their peers. Now I understand it to be a commitment to educate each child to the maximum extent appropriate in the school and classroom he or she would otherwise attend. And, it involves doing this with full support for each child, rather than simply letting each child struggle on their own in order to keep up with the other students in a classroom. In my opinion, students with disabilities ...

Solution Summary

When I started teaching twenty-five years ago the research supported an idea called mainstreaming. This was the early model of inclusion, and it was also called integration, normalization, least restrictive environment, deinstitutionalization, and regular education initiative. The problem was that all of these terms were used interchangeably, and as they were the definitions of these terms were confused even more as others incorrectly made distinctions between the terms. I have to admit that much of the confusion over the issue of inclusion has always stemmed from the incorrect usage of related terms while important differences in their meanings existed, especially among the most common, which were mainstreaming, integration, inclusion, least restrictive environment, and full inclusion. As a teacher then, I was confused by this. Inclusion is certainly not a new concept in education, but it is becoming much better defined and understood.

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