The question of what to do with special needs students has been in issue for a long time. Many different perspectives have been brought into this argument. Some believe that since the child’s needs are so much different than “normal” students the child must be placed in special classes so their can be educated properly. However, many question whether this avenue of thought is best for the student or the student’s best learning environment (Weitzel, 2004). Another perspective is to put special needs children in with the same program he or she would normally be in had they not been labeled as special needs.
When coupled with additional support services, many believe this model is a better way to education these children (Smietana, 2001). This perspective is commonly called Inclusion (Schwartz, Odom, & Sandall, 2008). There is also the concept of Full Inclusion which is the same as inclusion except a special needs child will join the regular classroom no matter how much support that child needs (Weitzel, 2004). Inclusion has come about as a result of several federal laws. The first, in 1958, provided funds for training educators to work with mentally disabled children.
More funding was added in 1965 with the passing of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (United Partners, 2008). However, anti-discrimination legislation that passed in 1973 that would not allow federal funding to go into any program against disabled people. As a result the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was passed two years later (United Partners, 2008). That law was later renamed Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1990 (Smietana, 2001). IDEA brought forth the concept of teaching special needs children in their least restrictive environment (LRE).
The idea is some students need more help than others in overcoming their individual special needs. Consequently, grouping all special needs children into one program may help some students, but hurt others who do not need as much support. As a result the concept of LRE inclusion was born. If a student is to be taught under an LRE model, then in some instances a special needs child would be better suited to attend a regular class, with some special support, than to be placed in an entirely special needs curriculum (United Partners, 2008).
Nevertheless, the concept and application on inclusion is constantly evolving. The debate of how to best educate special needs children still rages on 50 years after the first law was passed and it will continue (AAP et al, 2002). The current debate is around inclusion itself and its effectiveness. Some believe it benefits the special needs student while others say it hurts the other students who do not need the extra support. This study will look into this debate and determine the impact of inclusion. Formal Statement of the Problem
How much impact do the policies of inclusion have on the education goals of special needs students? Furthermore do the inclusion policies benefit the special needs students or ultimately hurt them in achieving educational goals? Definition of Terms Admissions and Release Committee (ARC) – A meeting that determines the special needs a student will receive. This meeting is the result of the parents, guardians, or school making a recommendation for an initial evaluation for special education. The result of this meeting is an education plan called an IEP (United Partners, 2008).
Full Inclusion – Similar concept as inclusion except it disregards the special need status of the student and places him or her in the class he or she would normally attend as a regular student. The student’s remove would only occur when “appropriate services cannot be provided in the regular classroom” (Weitzel, 2004). Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) – This right guarantees under IDEA that children between 3 and 21 public education at no cost to the family (United Partners, 2008). Inclusion – Commitment to educate a child in the classroom that he or she would normally attend if the child was not considered special needs.
Supportive services for the student would be given at the school (Weitzel, 2004). Individual Education Program or Plan (IEP) – An education plan for special needs children. It is designed around the LRE principle and it lists “the things the student is to work on, how they will do this, where they will work, and goals to determine the effects of the work (United Partners, 2008). Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 (IDEA) – Originally called the Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, it was reauthorized in 1990 under IDEA and amended in 2000. It was again reauthorized in 2004 (United Partners, 2008).
The purpose of the law is to “provide free appropriate public education regardless of disability or chronic illness to all eligible children, ages birth through 21 years, in a natural and/or least restrictive environment” (AAP et al, 2002). Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) – This right is guaranteed under IDEA. It means children with disabilities “should be in classrooms with and studying the same materials as the children without disabilities as much as possible (United Partners, 2008). Mainstreaming – Placement of special education students in one or more regular education classes selectively (Weitzel, 2004).
Significance of the Study This study will evaluate the effectiveness of the inclusion policy of special needs students. It is important to review this topic is it relates to the education needs of those who can struggle with learning. Despite the struggle to learn, these students cannot be abandoned and under federal law those students cannot be neglected. The question remains as to how effective are those federal laws and policies that are related to inclusion. This study will address this question by evaluating the current data available presented by many different sources.
Each of these sources can have their own bias towards or against inclusion, but an overall picture of how well inclusion works will be painted through the many sources. This issue can be sensitive in nature because it involves the future learning of children who many believe cannot be taught alongside “normal” students. Parents of these students are often very passionate one way or another based on their own individual case. Educators can also be equally adamant towards this topic. Teachers and administrators must adapt to the ever changing policies aimed at helping special needs students.
However, many educators see themselves as the experts in field since they ultimately must find ways and methods to teach special needs students on a daily basis. Since this study is a neutral evaluation of the available data, conclusions as to the effectiveness of the inclusion can be made. Through these conclusions, policies regarding inclusion can be altered, enhanced, or eliminated. It is the goal of this study to bring information regarding inclusion so others may see whether this policy is truly beneficial to the students, both special needs and those who are not. Assumptions
It must be assumed that any child labeled special needs is indeed a special needs student. Experts who have come to this conclusion regarding a particular student must be trusted and their evaluations deemed valid. A failure to assume this would break down the entire system from the root. For a child to qualify for special needs programs, they must first be referred for an initial evaluation. From there an ARC meeting or IEP meeting will determine where the student goes from there (United Partners, 2008). However, if the expertise of the evaluator is questioned everything from the point of the initial evaluation and beyond cannot be trusted.
Since this study is determining how students labeled by these evaluators work under the inclusion policy the opinion of these evaluators must be trusted. Another assumption is that the parents or guardians of the student are following the recommendations of the IEP meetings. This assumption is necessary for accuracy of the data. The data given is under the premise that the student is following along with his or her educational plan. If a student were deviating from his or her plan the data may be skewed because of this. Therefore the assumption must be made that the student is following along the guidelines of the IEP recommendations.
In conjunction with the prior assumption, it must also be assumed educators are following the guidelines of a student’s IEP and the laws of the IDEA. This assumption more so than the former is important since the success or failure of inclusion can be based upon how well the educators can teach the special needs students. Furthermore, if an educator deviates from the inclusion model the data of policy’s effectiveness is completely lost. For the sake of this study, the effectiveness of IEP plans must be considered good. Since the inclusion policy is dependent on the students IEP, this aspect cannot be questioned for decent data to appear.
Limitations Mentioned as an assumption, the effectiveness of IEP plans for special needs students is a limitation to this study. In IEP meetings the parents, therapists, educators and other professional experts design an education plan for the special needs student. These frequent meetings are also used to evaluate the child’s progress and modify the plan as needed (United Partners, 2008). The problem is the plan and its results can be subjective. Any time a group of people get together to find a common solution there will be differences of opinion.
In this difference a consensus may be reached to the child’s education path, but the compromise may hinder the child’s development. Since every child’s educational needs are different, an issue only exemplified with special needs children, no one single path can be set out for every different label on a child (ADD, autism, etc). Consequently, the child’s educational plan is left to the best educational guess of the professionals and parents. A similar study on how effective IEP plans are for special needs students should be conducted.
However, for this study on inclusion, the IEP meetings are assumed accurate but also considered a limitation since these plans directly affect any results for inclusion. Another potential limitation is the data itself. It has to be assumed that all the research conduction is done from a neutral perspective. Unfortunately, this is an unrealistic assumption especially given the sensitivity of the topic. Statements such as “special education has become a drain on human and financial resources in districts across our country” are very bias and indefinable (Weitzel, 2004).
Although Weitzel could qualify the financial argument with data the human aspect is very subjective especially when joined with the “across our country” statement. From Weitzel’s perspective, inclusion is not necessarily a good policy. His data will most likely be skewed to make his argument more solid. However, his information is needed for this study since it is a research article on the impact of inclusion. With this in mind, the bias arguments must either be put in perspective and recognized as bias or countered as to not show favoritism towards one perspective or another.
To complete this study with solid conclusion information such as Weitzel’s is included but noted as a limitation since it is very discriminatory. Although most of the information on this subject matter, aside from raw data, can be considered bias, it needs to be used to create a idea of the effectiveness of inclusion. Organization of the Study This study will be attempt to answer the question of how the inclusion policies impact special needs children. To accomplish this, the study is organized into four major sections: definition and application of inclusion, proponents of the policy, opponents of the policy, and its impact.
Review of the Literature A review of the existing literature is necessary to form a foundation for this study on inclusion. By reviewing other writings, it builds a context for which the inclusion policies can be evaluated for its impact on special needs children. Without the literature review, any conclusions in this report can be made out of context of the actual situation. Also, the literature review provides the framework for which further research can be made both for this study and beyond this study. In reviewing the literature, several aspects of inclusion are reviewed.
First, the history and definition of inclusion is examined. Second a look at the arguments made by inclusion proponents are evaluated. Their arguments will also include some impact analysis as it is available by the proponents. Lastly, in this review, the opponent’s argument and data is examined. A summary of each of these sections is made in one summary section. This will briefly review the data presented. With that summary, a hypothesis and research questions arise. These are made based on the summarized and are designed to focus the research of this study.
It this through this last section that the entire framework of this study is made. Inclusion For the past 50 years the federal government has tried to find a good solution for educating children who require special needs. There are a variety of conditions that can be considered special needs. This list can include but is not limited to autism and its derivatives such as asperger syndrome, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), down syndrome, and mental retardation (SpecialChildren, 2008).
This attempt was made to address the problem of how to properly educate children who are challenged in their learning abilities. This has not been an easy road as “parents of children with disabilities have had to fight for the right to have their children educated in public schools for many years” (Smietana, 2001). Prior to any established special education program, asylums, also called residential institutions, emerged to accommodate those with any impairments. Access to these facilities was difficult, but this was the method of education for special needs children up until the early 1900s (SEDL, 2007).
The first such law to be designed as an aid in educating special needs children came in 1958. Its purpose was to provide funding for training teachers to work with mentally retarded children (Smietana, 2001). Parents followed the coat tails of the Civil Rights movement and approached getting legislation passed under the guise that this was a civil rights matter (SEDL, 2007). Later the Elementary and Secondart Education Act which provided more funding for disadvantaged children (Smietana, 2001).
In 1973 the Rehabilitation Act passed which “prohibited discrimination against and demanded accommodation of people with disabilities in federally funded programs” (LRE Coalition, 2001). In combination with Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) which passed in 1975, funds were set up for the “entitlement of children with disabilities to a free, appropriate public education” (LRE Coalition, 2001). EAHCA was later renamed Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1990 (Smietana, 2001).