Inclusion: What Are We Doing?
Perspectives From The Field
In the mid-seventies a landmark act for educating special education students was passed to ensure the rights of special needs students to receive appropriate instruction in a regular education setting, based on the individual needs of each student. As we fast forward to the present time, this is still happening on paper, as special educators are mandated to write an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) for each student who qualifies for and receives special education services. Unfortunately, the needs of many students are not being met because of a new movement called inclusion.
This meant that special education students would receive special education services in regular classrooms with their peers. The rationale was that special education students would not be excluded, socially, and could be mainstreamed if they had mild learning disabilities.
I have been a special educator in the public schools in Prince Georges County Maryland for 21 years. It was with great enthusiasm that I voluntarily transferred to a school to be the special education inclusion teacher for the 6th grade. Unfortunately, it turned out to be my worst nightmare. Most of my special education students were in a classroom with an experienced teacher of many years who was resistent to inclusion. My students’ IEP goals were not being met. The classoom teacher insisted that they complete the same assignments as the regular education students, even if they copied it from someone else. These students were totally frustrated and so was I.
At the end of the year, I packed all of my personal belongings and requested a transfer. I garnered a position in a pull-out program in a multicultural school. The principal announced that the school would use an inclusion model for the special education programs. There was no mention of teacher training for the new model and it was soon apparent that there would be teacher resistance in sharing the responsibilities of implementing IEP goals.
Inclusion can be an excellent model when programs appropriately meet the needs of the students, when teachers are treated professionally and attend workshops to better understand and implement inclusion, when they are given planning time with regular education teachers, and, most of all, when they receive the support of their principals.
The states are being pressured, on a national basis, to expand inclusive settings in the public schools. This may work for some students, but not for all. We must carefully rethink the changes we are making to special education.#
Marjorie Aug lives and works in Maryland.