Last night, I went out to have supper with a couple of friends who work in Special Ed. While there, of course, they started talking shop. Special Ed is not my forte so I just listened and I learned something I did not know. No child left behind initiated inclusion in Tennessee. However, Tennessee does not implement inclusion the way other states do . Here, in Tennessee, a decision was made to replace most of the self contained classrooms with inclusion models.
The problem with inclusion is that it excludes some of the students in Special Ed. For example, one of the students attends a music class where the other students are playing instruments. Due to the pace of the class this child cannot keep up. If his assistant tries to help him it disrupts the entire class. This child is unable to transition quickly. To stand up and sing and then sit down and do an activity is very difficult. Or consider the child who is learning how to feed themselves. Should that child be in the cafeteria with all of the other students in his grade who can watch him struggle. How about a newly verbal autistic child who is placed in a gen, ed. classroom where they are expected not to talk. This child needs to be encouraged to talk or he could lose his small but significant gains. It seems we have taken a one size fits all approach to something that should be custom tailored for the needs of the child.
We are all wondering what the original intent of NCLB is for Special Ed students. Did the legislators who drafted this consider the wide variety of needs which must be addressed? Is Tennessee approaching this correctly? What are other states doing? Although I realize inclusion is cheaper, it sounds like there are student falling through the cracks who need greater support. Are we producing citizens who can join the workforce when they are sitting in a gen.ed. class coloring pictures?
The issue is not with the teachers. There needs to be more tools available for them to provide the support the children need. The issue is not with the students. Many of them have their own gifts and they need to be honed. They also need the opportunity to socialize with their peers. The fault, once again, is with a policy which is disconnected from the realities of the classroom. These misinformed policies are putting so much extra strain on good teachers. When I hear people discuss the need to retain good teachers, it's easy to see that one of the first things that needs to happen is our policies need to line up with the reality of actual schools.
We would love to hear how your district is addressing Special Ed with inclusion, especially related to students with co-morbid conditions such as blind students with auditory processing issues or situations where inclusion has the potential to humiliate the exceptional ed student.
Co-written with current education professional