Courts and parents have created the move to widespread inclusion. Parents seeking to fulfill their dreams for their children have used the courts to force schools to put children in regular classrooms. By law, schools must now put students in the least restrictive environment that is appropriate to an individual student’s needs.
But what is that least restrictive environment? Frequently nowadays, it is the regular classroom. In my view, responsible administrators should have done a better job of making and documenting the case for special education classes, but they haven’t. I cynically believe that they are not likely to do so either.
Some administrators probably believe the current situation is for the best. Idyllic studies have shown benefits from inclusion, given conditions and staffing that often don’t exist in the real world. Inclusion does seem to work with a paraprofessional to help and a special education teacher in the background to modify materials and provide extra guidance. But I did not have a paraprofessional and the special education teacher could not spare hers. The special education teacher never did anything beyond sending my special education student to class. He sometimes he arrived late, missing the first few minutes explanation of the material, since he had to cross the school to get to my room and he did not much want to arrive there in the first place. That’s the real world. Poor districts always run as lean on staffing as they can possibly manage.
The most important reason why I think administrators support general inclusion is a financial one: Inclusion saves money. Special education teachers and their paraprofessionals are expensive. Bigger classes = fewer teachers. Four regular teachers can teach 150 students, depending on classroom caps for student load in the district. Four special education teachers can only teach 48 students, again depending on negotiated or legislated student loads. It would take three times as many teachers to teach 150 special education students if these students were all placed in special education classes. The benefit to the district is obvious. A district saves money every time it “mainstreams” a special education student. That district can easily justify itself to parents, who naturally want to believe their child can function adequately in regular classes.
One victim of this fraud regularly came to my class last year and drew pictures.
Eduhonesty: We did wrong by that boy. He should have been in a much smaller classroom being taught simple reading and writing. I don’t know if that boy can learn to read, but I know his only chance will be intensive small-group or one-on-one instruction, with a great deal of reinforcement provided. At its worst, inclusion may cheat that boy of his chance to learn even rudimentary reading.