Special Education & Mainstreaming

Kelly Gorski

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In the district I work in, just like others across the United States, special education departments have been dismantled and special education certifications have been debunked.

Because special education certifications no longer carry the same weight as other teaching licenses, said educators no longer have the right to teach their own classes. This has lead to most special education students being taught in regular education classrooms.

This type of inclusion does not always work.

In theory, this form of mainstreaming may seem ideal for special education students, since they are now in an environment with their peers and have the support of another teacher in the room that will adhere to all IEP requirements, including test modification and extended testing time. In practice, however, this only furthers the euphemism of the dreaded No Child Left Behind Act, which seeks to dismantle the public education system through unattainable goals of proficiency for all students by 2014. This can also further isolation of the aforementioned students and distractions to regular education peers, resulting in stagnated social development and more frustration.

Money and Education

Some mainstreamed students do very well in a regular education classroom, provided they have assistance in implementing their IEPs, but not all special education students work well in this type of environment.

Most districts hope to save money by placing disabled children out of the small, specialized classes that many of them need to succeed, and instead educate them in a classroom where they will compete with non-disabled peers. About 5 1/2 million children — 11 to 12 percent of the average public school’s population — are categorized as having special needs. The U. S. Department of Education estimates the cost of educating the students is at about $30 billion annually, up from about $1 billion 20 years ago. This 22 percent of total education spending is then educating less than 13 percent of the children, with about three times as much spent on each full-time special-education student as on each regular-education child.

On the other hand, some parents and teachers see this as beneficial, because it allows the special child to interact with other “normal” children and therefore learn at the same pace; however, this mentality about special needs students implies that disabilities are due to a lack of motivation rather than caused by biological imbalances or mental disturbances.

Mainstreaming is being justified by the notion that segregation is damaging, since it promotes isolation and stereotypes, and that diversity is an undeniable social good. However, if this is the rhetoric we are forced to adhere to as teachers, we and the other special education teachers we work with can offer all the support and help we have access to, but some students who are developmentally delayed will not be proficient, no matter how much support is laid at their feet.

Why does everyone get it but me?

Mainstreaming does not always produce efficient results. Parents who have seen their special student flourish in a special environment, one that is small, equipped, and lead by a certified instructor, are now seeing their students in a classroom where they feel they are competing rather than learning. For example, some mainstreamed students will speak with me personally about how they “just aren’t getting it” but cannot ask questions during class for fear of being branded an “outcast” by peers who are moving at their normal pace. Other special needs students, especially ones with violent tendencies, also put other students as obvious risk, even with two support teachers in the classroom.

While mainstreaming may seem appropriate as per the parents, mainly because this means the state and federal governments are giving their child a free education, this act is taking away from “normal” students, even gifted ones. In my old high school, for example, we had an ADHD student in our classroom mainstreamed over from the special education department. This student exhibited all the signs of ADHD, including constant fidgeting, inability to concentrate on the main lecture of the class for too long, and made constant interruptions throughout the class, making it nearly impossible for the educator to teach other distracted regular education students. We, as teachers, cannot slow down a classroom’s pace if 89% of the students are comprehending the material while another 11% is struggling and distracting others.

Tricks of the Trade

Some students who are mainstreamed can learn in a regular education environment and then seek external assistance through learning support teachers; other students, however, with more immediate needs, cannot or will not be their own self-advocates and therefore, help will be given too little too late.

In media, the kid in the wheelchair has become a kind of mascot, beloved by all in his gang, but this is only a fragile and idealized image. In a real-life classroom where all of the children are non-disabled except the one who drools uncontrollably, who hears voices, blurts inappropriate statements out, or who can't read a simple sentence when everyone else can, further isolates himself, becomes secluded, will not ask for aid, and eventually close up to any other assistance offered since he/she is already branded “stupid. ”

If these students feel the world is against them, and that if they open their mouth they will be ridiculed, it is easier for them to escape by pretending to be invisible and only look as if they understand. Regular and special education teachers can only do so much for a disabled student who will not open up, or who are smart enough to fake comprehension.

Options and Conflicts

By placing said type of student into a regular education classroom, an environment that may seem threatening at times, the student may feel the content of the class is too overwhelming. If there is no other place for the student to go except an alternate setting, which might not be the most suitable environment, but also since the education facility lacks any other transitional curriculum, which used to be the special education department, the student is faced with two less-than-perfect options: a regular education class that “goes too fast” or an alternate setting that “goes too slow. ”

Another concern that was recently been brought to the attention of administrations across the States is the issue of diplomas. Is a special education student, one who receives extra testing time, testing modification, and learning support entitled to the same diploma as a student who went through the process without such aides? For example, students who needs tests read to them because they lack the reading level required for that class will graduate high school with the same honor as regular education students, only to have that support pulled from them as they lead a life post-graduation. This is an injustice to both types of learners since one is being “pushed through” while the other earns the right to proceed to the next grade or graduate.

Conclusion and Analogy

To remove the special education department from public schools does not give all students the ability to reach their potential. Placing idealized goals on teachers and students will not only hinder student development, it will also foster more frustration and anxiety for teachers. All students can learn, but every student learns differently. Placing students with a similar peer group in a classroom that fits the students’ differing learning styles will promote more comprehension and learning, which leads to a sense of accomplishment, rather than lumping all together into one big pot and hoping the teacher can handle it all.

As an analogy: no one would ever expect a dentist to cure all patients of cavities, regardless of what they ate, and yet all teachers are expected to have their students testing proficient or higher by 2014, regardless of external factors, including disabilities and parental influence. There are other factors that help or hinder a student’s education, just as there are other factors that cause cavities, and just as dentists cannot cure everything, a regular teacher cannot teach all special education students, especially since said teacher does not have control over external factors. There needs to be a learning environment for all students that will take their needs into consideration and offering the latest equipment to do so. Not all special education students will flourish in a regular education classroom, so we need to place them in environments that meet their needs just as we do with all students.


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