This article originally was published at www.tommihail.net.
When it was passed in 1975, what is now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act became the most sweeping legislation in the history of United States education. No law, before or since, did more to change the landscape of our schools.
Four decades ago, there was a virtual system of educational apartheid. Today, 94.92% of students with disabilities, ages 6-21, attend their local neighborhood schools, 80.87% spending part or all of the day in a general education setting. Most (61.08%) are included in “regular” classrooms for 80-100% of the school day (http://www.ideadata.org/index.html).
Research conclusively demonstrates supported inclusive education is favored by most stakeholders: students with special needs, students who are developing typically, parents of students with disabilities, parents of students who are not disabled, general education teachers, special educators, other direct service providers, and educational administrators.
Yet, misconceptions remain a threat to understanding the least restrictive environment provision of the law. Myths develop because they sound intuitively correct and support stereotypical thinking. The facts, however, are clearly supported by educational research evidence.
Myth 1: “Inclusion jeopardizes the education of the ‘other’ students.”
The Facts: When it’s done correctly, supported inclusive education enriches the quality of education. Research has consistently documented the benefits for all students. Denying diversity diminishes the lives of students with and without disabilities.
Myth 2: “Full inclusion (placing all students with disabilities in general education regardless of the nature or severity of their disabilities) is mandated by federal law.”
The Facts: Far from mandating full inclusion, federal law mandates placement in the least restrictive (least segregated) environment that is most appropriate for all students on a case-by-case basis, requiring schools to make available six placement alternatives (full continuum of services). Only two of these options – a regular class with support services and a regular class with resource room support – directly involve general settings. Most students are integrated; some require more intensive intervention in separate classes, special schools, residential facilities, and home or hospital environments.
Myth 3: “Segregating students with disabilities has been effective.” (“If it’s not broken, why fix it?”)
The Facts: The outcomes of systematic, segregated special education are unacceptable: denial of civil rights, learned helplessness, social distancing, and diminished quality of life. Adults with disabilities are the least employed, poorest, least educated, most excluded of all Americans. Five decades of research demonstrated the benefits of integration. Consistent with the 1954 Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, “separate is not equal.”
Myth 4: “The cost of including students with special needs is prohibitive. We can’t afford it.”
The Facts: Schools recognized for successfully achieving supported inclusive education are (1) saving money (segregation is expensive), (2) spending the same amount as when serving students separately, or (3) reporting national average increases of 3%.
Segregated schools and classes are far more expensive than providing quality support services.
Myth 5: “I’m sorry, but they have nothing to do with me.” (The “THEM” and “US” mindset.)
The Facts: This is about all of us. We all become disabled due to aging, unless we die first. Any one of us may become severely disabled due to injury or illness. This is the one minority group we all get to join. What we do to improve quality of life for people with disabilities, we do for ourselves.
Myth 6: “Inclusion is another educational fad. The pendulum will swing back to segregated education.”
The Facts: A return to completely segregated special education would take the repeal of two constitutional amendments (5th and 14th), the repeal of nearly 40 years of legislation, and overturning nearly 50 years of litigation. This “fad” has been present for close to four decades.
Myth 7: “People with disabilities are an unfortunate drain on society.”
The Facts: Considering the ways society limits the lives of people with disabilities, it’s the other way around: society is a drain on people with disabilities. Significant contributions made by people with special needs to our communities are well documented.
Myth 8: “Don’t go into special education. It’s being phased out because of inclusion.”
The Facts: The number of segregated settings for students with special needs has decreased, not special education. There is a worldwide, nationwide shortage of special educators. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 20,000 new special education students a year (53% growth). Between 2008 and 2018, the number of special educators is expected to increase by 17%, “faster than the average for all occupations” (Occupational Outlook Handbook). Because of inclusion, we need more special educators than ever.