Mainstreaming vs. Inclusion
My husband and I recently returned from our second-to-last Parents As Leaders conference, a series of conferences dedicated to teaching Wisconsin parents of children with special needs how to be leaders in their communities for their children. It's for parents of children who are currently in Birth-to-3 or, as in our case, who were recently in Birth-to-3. It's a great program, and I highly recommend participating if you are offered the opportunity.
As always, we learned a lot at this conference. One was clarifying a common misconception, one that school districts tend to encourage. Mainstreaming and Inclusion are NOT synonymous. Even Wikipedia (cited above) treats them as equivalents with this statement:
Mainstreaming in education, also known as inclusion, is the process of grouping disabled students with general education students in the classroom.
However, this statement:
In the 1980s, the process of mainstreaming became popular after the requirement of a Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) (Clearinghouse, E. 2003). Students with minor disabilities integrated into classes of normal students while students with major disabilities were secluded to special classrooms, with the opportunity to be among normal students for a few hours each day.
Followed by this description of inclusion:
An Inclusive Education refers to schools, centres of learning and educational systems that are open to all children, and that ensure that all children learn and participate. For this to happen, teachers, schools and systems may need to change so that they can better accommodate the diversity of needs that pupils have and that they are included in all aspects of school-life. It also means identifying any barriers within and around the school that hinder learning and participation, and reducing or removing these barriers. Inclusion in education is a process of enabling all children, including previously excluded groups, to learn and participate effectively within mainstream school systems. Placing excluded children within a mainstream setting does not of itself achieve inclusion. Inclusive Education must be underpinned by key principles and practices...
...belies that notion.
I feel this distinction is important. Mainstreaming is, in essence, about a child with a disability earning his way into a regular classroom by not being too disabled. While those who cannot earn their way into such a classroom are segregated into special education classrooms. As per my recollection of history, which I've checked for accuracy, the legal concept of "separate but equal" was struck down in 1954.
From the Opinion of the Court:
We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.
Because these are class actions, because of the wide applicability of this decision, and because of the great variety of local conditions, the formulation of decrees in these cases presents problems of considerable complexity. On reargument, the consideration of appropriate relief was necessarily subordinated to the primary question -- the constitutionality of segregation in public education. We have now announced that such segregation is a denial of the equal protection of the laws.
I guess, nowadays, if you just take out the "equal" part, it's somehow okay? Mainstreaming is now widely accepted, though some still fight it because of the cost involved. However, inclusion is still all too rare.
As recently as 2000, the National Council on Disability found none of our states, none of them, were in compliance with IDEA, which is federal law.
More recently, the National Council on Disability (2000) released similar findings. Investigators discovered that every state was out of compliance with the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and that U.S. officials are not enforcing compliance. Even today, schools sometimes place a student in a self-contained classroom as soon as they see that the student is labeled as having a disability. Some students enter self-contained classrooms as soon as they begin kindergarten and never have an opportunity to experience regular education. When families of students with disabilities move to a different district, the new school sometimes moves the student out of general education environments and into segregated classrooms.
This is unacceptable. Inclusion isn't easy, it's not cheap, but segregation is wrong. For a nation that cherishes freedom and equality, this is totally absurd. Parents, school faculty and our communities need to work cooperatively to ensure all children get a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment, as required by federal law.
There are many resources out there: just Google "resources for inclusive schools" and you'll find a bunch of them. None of us have to be in this alone. The risks are too great to fail. The successes too precious to ignore. Please remember, all children deserve a quality education. All children deserve to learn with their peers. All children should be equal under the law.
Support inclusion for every child!