General Education Classroom Environments
March 21, 2001
Being included, being part of a larger group, and part of the whole are some phrases that come to mind when I think of students who have disabilities in general and special education. At the same time, in the field of geology, the term inclusion is used to describe how new rock “intrudes” into old rock. Likewise, when one reads the current studies about inclusion for students with disabilities into the general education setting, both positive and negative views are found.
Some reports show benefits to students with disabilities in social and academic areas, whereas other reports show more benefit to students with disabilities occurs in the more traditional special education service delivery models (Salend & Duhaney, 1999). As a future special educator, I see that my own views regarding inclusion have been similarly ambiguous as of late. However, reflecting on my own experience with inclusion placements, my mentor teacher, observations, course studies, and research I am able to form a more complete personal philosophy about inclusion.
Inclusion can be a positive experience. During my employment as a Head Start teacher, full inclusion with adequate supports was the standard model. I supported students with a wide range of disabilities in my classroom. I also worked toward and received support of families, administration, the student’s family, peers, coteachers, and therapists. Through a team approach, all adults were responsible for the children. Overall, the experiences were positive for everyone involved.
With a full inclusion program, positive outcomes require a variety of supports. For example, a student with autism and severe disabilities was successfully included into a general education 8th grade classroom. Supports consisted of natural supports, “philosophy, policies, people, materials, technology and curricula” (Ryan & Paterna, 1997).
Conversely, inclusion can be a less than positive experience. As an intern, I am currently placed in a general education classroom of thirty 4th grade students. Eight of these students have disabilities. On the first day that I observed some of the students were participating by just sitting in the class. The general educator has very limited support. He often feels frustrated, although he is a veteran teacher. These hardly seem appropriate placements. After 20 years of inclusionary practices, full inclusion is often considered as the only least restrictive environment. My mentor’s situation is becoming a common problem (Hewitt, 1999).
As an IEP team member, I have also felt the frustrations of inadequate support. Our team placed a student with moderate disabilities in the general education kindergarten. The kindergarten teacher had observed the student in the Head Start classroom several times prior to placement. After seeing the child progress, the teacher willingly looked forward to having the student in her class. Unfortunately, the teacher had a large class and was not assigned a paraprofessional. In fact, a change in placement was necessary, and the student was placed in a self-contained classroom and mainstreamed out for a portion of the day.
Would full inclusion with supports, such as a well-trained paraprofessional, benefit this student? Research findings put the most seemingly optimal situation up for question. In-depth interviews of paraprofessionals working with students with challenging behaviors showed that the primary responsibility of the paraprofessionals centered on one student. This role included conducting activities to deal with the student’s behavior, academic progress and curricular adaptations. This caused the paraprofessional to become the expert about that child. When considering this, the researchers found that the program could not be viewed as acceptable for supporting inclusive practices (Marks, Schrader & Levine 1999).
Whether or not inclusion programs are truly beneficial to students with disabilities is an argument that is an on-going one. As recently as 1997, after lengthy litigation a case concerning inclusion was heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit handed down a ruling based on the least restrictive environment. In this case, the parents of a student with autism and significant behavior challenges disagreed with the school board’s decision to remove the student from a full-inclusion program due to aggressive behavior. The judge’s decision regarding the Hartmann v. Loudoun County Board of Education case upheld the position that although IDEA favors full inclusion, for some students a more restrictive or segregated setting may be appropriate (Yell, 1999).
Prior to my undergraduate experiences as a special education intern, I was a strong proponent for full inclusion. Even with some negative experiences regarding inclusion, I held this view because of my positive experiences with full inclusion. Indeed, my positive experiences propelled me to become a special educator. In retrospect however, I see that I was quite uninformed of the litigation revolving around placement, as well as the complex issues involved in offering a continuum of services. My stance echoed the moral and ethical statements made by those who insist on full inclusion. In other words, I felt that, “It’s the right thing to do” (Guetzloe, 1999). Currently, I have a much wider perspective of the history behind special education, and the laws and litigation regarding placement of students with disabilities. My understanding of appropriate placement comes from my personal, hands-on knowledge, course work and past employment.
My philosophy of inclusion is based on this aggregate of knowledge and it reflects what is stated in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, following the provisions of the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) The law states that students with disabilities be educated alongside nondisabled students in the general education setting to the maximum extent appropriate, and that removal of the student with disabilities occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes, even with supplementary aids and services, cannot be achieved satisfactorily. (IDEA).
The key term here is the, “appropriate.” Whether or not a placement is appropriate is based on the student’s Individual Education Program (IEP). Placement is a decision made by consensus between the members of the IEP team. The team should consider a continuum of services, based on the student’s individual needs, and select the placement that will best serve those needs. Placement does not supersede appropriateness. That is, the “what” must come before the “where” (qtd. in Yell & Drasgow, 1999).
The key phrase here is, “based on the student’s individual needs.” The IEP must look at the individual student before suggesting any services. The full-inclusion movement seems to focus on the setting first, but an appropriate special education program always looks at the student’s strengths and needs first and foremost, before making placement recommendations. Others have also stressed a call to individualization. In focus group discussions about successful inclusion an emergent theme between the teachers involved was how essential it was to first view students as individuals (Stanovich, 1999). Without truly looking at the whole individual we are loosing sight of the meaning of the law. Individual needs vary widely even where the same-aged students have the same classification of disability. Hobbs and Westling make a valid comparison when they insist, “trying to force all children into the inclusion mold is just as coercive as trying to force children into the mold of pull-out special education instruction” (qtd. in Hewitt, 1999).
Furthermore, we need to consider carefully the educational implications for each individual student with disabilities when placing the student into the general education classroom full time. While research is replete with studies about the social benefit of inclusion, are we shorting the student when we sacrifice cognitive development in the name of inclusion? Chesley and Calaluce take the popular view of pro full-inclusion and suggest that it is a myth, calling it a situation similar to the “emperor’s New Clothes.” Educators need to take to heart the responsibility given them to ultimately prepare students to go out into the real world (1997). To me this means to find a balance between social and educational benefits according the student’s individual needs. My philosophy also includes a balance. I have balanced my formally biased opinion of inclusion to keep in mind three important points suggested by Kauffman.
1. Keep “place” in perspective.
2. Choose ideas over image.
3. Avoid fanaticism(qtd. in Kavale, 2000).
With this in mind, my philosophy for including students with disabilities in the general education environment draws from my aggregate of knowledge. I believe that students with disabilities should be included into the general education setting on an individual basis. The law supports this perspective. Because I believe this, I will make every effort to give students with whom I work an appropriate placement according to their individual needs. Because I believe in inclusion, I believe that full inclusion is a goal to strive for and support. It is something that as an educator I (still) choose to value. Because I believe in inclusion, I have a responsibility to maintain appropriate practices that have been proven by research, and to keep current through research. I believe we can move toward full inclusion, while continuing to offer a continuum of services. It is my responsibility to encouraging others, within the school and in the community, to strive to support persons with disabilities. I believe that inclusion is a philosophy; it is my philosophy.
Chesley, G. & Calaluce, P. (1997, December). The deception of inclusion. Mental Retardation, 34, 488-90. Retrieved March 12, 2001 from WebSPIRS database. (Journals Abstracts Full-Text): http://www.info.asu.edu.
Guetzloe, E. (1999, Spring). Inclusion: the broken promise. Preventing School Failure, 43(3), 92-8. Retrieved March 12, 2001 from WebSPIRS database. (Journals Abstracts Full-Text): http://www.info.asu.edu.
Hewitt, M. (1999, Spring). Inclusion from a general educator’s perspective. Preventing School Failure, 43(3), 133-4. Retrieved March 4, 2001 from WebSPIRS database. (Journals Abstracts Full-Text): http://www.info.asu.edu.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997, P.L. 105-17.
Kavale, A. & Forness, S. (2000, September/October). History, rhetoric and reality: analysis of the inclusion debate. Remedial and Special Education, 21(5), 279-96. Retrieved March 12, 2001 from WebSPIRS database. (Journals Abstracts Full-Text): http://www.info.asu.edu.
Marks, S.; Schrader, C. & Levine, M. (1999, Spring). Paraeducator experiences in inclusive settings: helping, hovering, or holding their own? Exceptional children, 65(3), 315-28. Retrieved March 12, 2001 from WebSPIRS database. (Journals Abstracts Full-Text): http://www.info.asu.edu.
Ryan, S. & Paterna L. (1997, November/December). Junior High Can Be Inclusive Using Natural Supports and Cooperative Learning. Teaching Exceptional Children, 36-41. [Dr. Kathy Harris. SPE 431 handout. ASU West, 26 February 2001.]
Salend, S. & Duhaney, L. (1999, March/April). The impact of inclusion on students with and without disabilities and their educators. Remedial and Special Education, 20(2), 114-26. Retrieved March 12, 2001 from WebSPIRS database. (Journals Abstracts Full-Text): http://www.info.asu.edu.
Stanovich, P. (1999, July/August). Conversations about inclusion. Teaching Exceptional Children, 31(6), 54-8. Retrieved March 12, 2001 from WebSPIRS database. (Journals Abstracts Full-Text): http://www.info.asu.edu.
Yell, M. (1999, Winter). Education and the law: inclusion and the courts. Preventing School Failure, 43(2), 84-5. Retrieved March 12, 2001 from WebSPIRS database. (Journals Abstracts Full-Text): http://www.info.asu.edu.
Yell, M. & Drasgow, E. (1999, Spring). A legal analysis of inclusion. Preventing School Failure, 43(3), 118-23. Retrieved March 12, 2001 from WebSPIRS database. (Journals Abstracts Full-Text): http://www.info.asu.edu