In the previous blog on inclusive education, you learned all about how the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) resulted in free public education for all students, regardless of variability, but often, disabled students were educated in separate settings. Clearly, this was not what the nation wanted for its kids. Inclusion became a social justice issue and one of fairness.
Researchers argued that being fully included in the general education classroom would ensure that the classroom environment “more appropriately reflects mainstream society and establishes a supportive, humane atmosphere for all students.”[i] That is a statement that few, if anyone, would argue, but a barrier still stood in the way of successful inclusion: the fact that teachers didn’t have a framework that provided them with specific strategies to teach the same rigorous standards to students with great variability.
In 1990, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) replaced the Education of the Handicapped Act (EAHCA) to reinforce the right of every child, regardless of disability, to be educated with their peers who were not disabled in the least restrictive environment available to them when appropriate. Because of IDEA requirements, schools and districts began to rethink how they could offer supplementary aids and services to students in the general education classroom. Although inclusion was an important step for social justice, it became clear that successful inclusion was still far more complicated than just moving students together.[ii]
The goal of IDEA was to have all students, even those with significant disabilities, attend the same schools and the same classes, when appropriate, but in many ways, this still allowed schools to separate students because teachers were often unprepared to meet the needs of all students. As a result, when students with disabilities were placed in an inclusive classroom there was “almost no specific, directed, individualized, intensive, remedial instruction of students who were clearly deficient academically and struggling with the schoolwork they were being given.”[iii]
The concept of “least restrictive environment” became a hot topic because when all students were included with their peers, teachers were not prepared for the variability. Teachers did their best to “fit the child into a program” instead of “delivering an effective education to each unique child.” This practice had two results. First, students were often separated again from their peers because an inclusive education was not deemed appropriate to meet their needs, and second, perhaps most importantly, education researchers began to identify the strategies that were most effective in meeting the needs of all students in the classroom to begin to develop the framework for an educational system that would support its most important resource: the nation’s teachers.
Inclusive classrooms were in our reach in the 1970’s and they are in our reach today. When schools aren’t able to meet the needs of all students in an inclusive classroom, it’s because they haven’t received the support and training necessary to do it well or they aren’t aware that there is a scientifically-based framework which provides the structure that teachers need to meet the needs of all students. So, maybe your school isn’t meeting the needs of your kids yet, but it will with the right support.
In the next blog in this series, learn about the frameworks that provided a foundation for teachers to begin to educate all students together in an inclusive environment.
[i] Daniel, L. G., & King, D. A. (1997). Impact of inclusion education on academic achievement, student behavior and self-esteem, and parental attitudes. Journal of Educational Research, 91, 67-80.
[ii] Bricker, D. (2000). Inclusion: How the Scene Has Changed. Topics In Early Childhood Special Education, 20(1), 14.
[iii] Martin, E. W. (1995). Case studies on inclusion