I am far from an expert on this topic. My teaching experience barely involved my participation in this turn-of-the-century program that I would now like to open to discussion. With that as an opening for this post, readers may not be interested enough to read any further. The fact that I haven’t mentioned what program I would like to discuss, is the only thing that may keep readers hanging in. As Social Security is the third rail of politics, I believe that Inclusion Programs may be a third rail education issue. Anyone looking to explore this issue, or a possibility for alternatives, may be burned beyond belief.
I understand, and, for the most part, agree with the philosophy, that students should learn in the least restrictive environment. It is this belief that has removed students with special needs from small classes working with special education teachers specifically trained to address the specific needs of those students’ and placed them into mainstream classes. The idea is to have special-needs students as active participants and beneficiaries of mainstream classes, and working within an academic class along with the academic subject classroom teacher, as well as the special education teacher, and any required aides, if indicated by a student’s IEP. In the ideal situation the number of special needs students would be limited and the overall class size should also be small.
Educators often consider fairness to all as a primary consideration in any program for education. It is truly a noble endeavor, but sometimes fairness to all, means unfairness to some. The Irony of course is obvious. Staffing programs like this with effective teachers is the problem. Academic teachers are educators with expertise in content areas and little concentration on special education. Special Education teachers are educators with expertise in Special Education methods and little concentration in content areas. Sometimes an educator comes along with expertise in both areas. They are not in the majority. I do not know if there is a Secondary Inclusion certification. The best models of inclusion involve: collaborative teachers, common planning periods, small classes, limited number of special needs students, and participating teachers in complete and enthusiastic support of the program. It can be a very costly program.
Many believe that the inclusion programs are better alternatives to the small special education classes that often separated special needs students from their fellow students. Including them in a general academic setting is seen by many to be more beneficial, as long as all of the students’ IEPs are being addressed in the overall setting.
As a methods teacher in higher education, many of my students do observations in inclusion classes each and every week. As a supervisor of student teachers, I observe many of my students doing their student teaching assignments in inclusion classes. I am in a position to look at many inclusion programs in many schools. The problem I have observed is that there seems to be many different models of inclusion in place, and they seem to vary greatly. It is understandable when one considers all of the variables in such programs. Multiple teachers for one class, small class size, required aides, scheduling considerations for common planning, these are all money considerations. These were very important when the programs were conceived and implemented. Under today’s climate of cutbacks and reductions however, their import has been reduced. Education considerations are taking a back seat to monetary considerations.
An Inclusion program, to be successful, requires a delicate balance of components. It is not a cheap way to go. Many believe that it is the best setting and the most effective way to meet the needs of students who require special methods and considerations to learn. That may very well be true. My point is asking if anyone is questioning if these programs, under the current conditions, are still meeting their intended goals. Can schools provide the same quality of education while scaling down all of the components necessary to make it happen? Are schools even trying to assess the effectiveness of these programs in their current forms?
My fear is that these programs will become a shell of what they should be. I fear administrators will not call for needed assessments to determine if these programs are still viable with less money invested. I fear that questioning these programs, even for the purpose of assessment; will be deemed as an assault on students with special needs. If we can’t fund education the way it must be funded to succeed, should we not reconsider what, and how we do things. If it is not important for us to fund things properly, how do we best deliver what we can with what we have? How do we do what is needed, as opposed to what we can afford. I fear I have too many questions with too few people even trying to seek real answers. I do not oppose these programs. I do oppose doing things half-assed and then looking to blame someone for the failing result. We all may benefit by assessing how we are teaching, as opposed to what we are teaching.