Mainstreaming in the Public Schools
Mainstreaming is a term used in public schools to describe ways in which educational strategies are utilized to provide appropriate special education services to disabled students assuring the least amount of disruption in routine, while maximizing relationships and contact with general education peers. In its inception, mainstreaming, was derived from the Civil Rights desegregation movement. Mainstreaming and desegregation assured students with diversity or disability the same rights to equal educational opportunities (Ritter, Michel, & Irby, 1999, p. 10). The role of general education teachers in public education environments in relationship to special education is one of the most challenging obstacles general educators indicate they experience. One of the main concerns that general education teachers express is in carrying out mainstreaming and inclusion is in making appropriate accommodations for special education students.
Keywords Curriculum Accommodation; Custodial Environment; Inclusion; Least Restrictive Environment; Mainstreaming; Individual Education Plan; Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
Mainstreaming is a term used in public schools to describe ways in which educational strategies are utilized to provide appropriate special education services to disabled students assuring the least amount of disruption in routine, while maximizing relationships and contact with general education peers. Mainstreaming has also been described as "the act of returning previously removed students back to regular classrooms (Lilly, 2001, p. 86).
A complement to mainstreaming, inclusion can best be described as the "full-time education of students with and without disabilities in regular classroom settings" (Denning, 1995). Inclusion has been described as a total integration process with special education support given according to the special education student's needs provided primarily within the general education classroom (Ritter, Michel, & Irby, 1999, p. 10). Villa and Thousand (2003), described inclusion as the "principle and practice of considering general education as the placement of first choice for all learners" (p. 20). This approach further encouraged special education teachers to offer services, supplemental intervention supports, and other appropriate educational interventions within the general education environment, instead of removing students from the general education classroom for services. At its root concept, inclusion is about valuing everyone's ideas and beliefs and treating everyone equally in such a way that is not excluding others in any capacity (Messiou, 2006, p. 41). Schwartz (2007) described special education supports provided in a general education environment as "adaptations, differentiated instruction, and universal design strategies" (p. 39).
The Least Restrictive Environment
Central to understanding purposes for mainstreaming and inclusion, "least restrictive environment" can best be described as the general education classroom (Schwartz, 2007, p. 40). Villa and Thousand (2003) interpret the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) as a federal law that mandated that children with disabilities have the right to an education in the least restrictive environment. They reported ways in which the interpretation of least restrictive environment has changed over the last thirty years. At the laws' inception, educational professionals most likely interpreted IDEA to mean that only individuals with mild disabilities like those eligible for speech would be mainstreamed, because their presence in the general education environment would produce minimal impact. By the 1980s, the interpretation of least restrictive environment evolved to include the practice of mainstreaming students with more moderate and severe disabilities. As the interpretation of least restrictive environment has evolved, many more students have been served in general education environments. However, the methods by which disabled children are served in "mainstreamed" environments remain disproportionate depending upon the interpretation of what constitutes the "least restrictive environment" (Villa & Thousand, 2003, p. 20).
In its inception, mainstreaming, was derived from the Civil Rights desegregation movement. Mainstreaming and desegregation assured students with diversity or disability the same rights to equal educational opportunities (Ritter, Michel, & Irby, 1999, p. 10). From a historical perspective, former President Gerald Ford signed a special education bill called the Education for All Handicapped Children Act that established a federal mandate designed to allow "free, appropriate public education for children with disabilities" in 1975. Presently, approximately 6.8 million children are served under what is now called IDEA (Davis, 2007, p. 21). The Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA), PL 99-457 (1986, 1991) was enacted in response to the need for early intervention services for families of young children with disabilities. Part H of the statute directed states to develop and implement statewide, family-centered, community based, comprehensive, coordinated, multi-disciplinary interagency programs of early intervention services for disabled children. In 1997, amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act added language that required Individual Education Plans (IEP) for special education students to define how the student would be included with and progress from the general education curriculum. Later in 2004, IDEA amendments, titled the Individuals with Disabilities Improvement Act (IDEA 2004) retained and augmented access to general education by requiring that a student's IEP would specifically designate accommodations and curriculum modifications to guarantee student involvement with and advancement in the general education curriculum (Soukup, Wehmeyer, Bashinski, & Bovaird, 2007, p. 101).
Literally, the idea for changing special education began with IDEA as it was originally described by the federal government 1975. The federal government not only influenced special education through the law, but it also influences states and districts through federal monies directed to the states and districts aimed at upholding the law. This money ensures continuity in delivery of service, but also allows the federal government to dictate, to a certain degree, how special education services are delivered to students in educational environments (Soukup, Wehmeyer, Bashinski, & Bovaird, 2007). States are more willing to comply with governmental regulations when money is involved.
At the state level, money is also generated through taxes that are directed to individual districts and schools depending on the numbers of students served through special education services. In most districts, roughly 12 to 15 percent of the overall school population receives special education services. These districts and schools receive a specific allotment from tax monies aimed at providing students with appropriate special education services. These monies are utilized to support districts in providing special assistance and accommodative supports such as paraeducators, interventionists, and specialized equipment to improve opportunities for special education students by allowing them to access the least restrictive environment (Davis, 2007).
Impact on Students
Students are most deeply impacted by how these laws are upheld. Before mainstreaming, children with disabilities were often segregated from general education environments and sequestered into special classes, or custodial environments. These custodial environments were not designed to be educational environments, but rather safekeeping environments where little preparation to live actively in a democratic society was offered. With little or no training in real life, individuals housed in these environments were permanently segregated from society (Lilly, 2001, p. 83). It was only after the desegregation movement that the drive toward inclusion was integrated into how we now know public education.
Schwartz (2007) described special education supports provided in a general education environment as "adaptations, differentiated instruction, and universal design strategies" (p. 39). Appropriate and consistent integration of these mandates insures more appropriate and inclusive behaviors on the part of general education students in relation to their interactions with special education students, as these students receive much of their instruction in the same classroom. As general education students witness the inclusive policies dictating interactions with special education students, they also adopt...
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