Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Least Restrictive Environment vs. Mainstreaming

The federal special education law does not mention the words "mainstream" or "inclusion." IDEA does require that students with disabilities be educated in the "least restrictive environment." See the post on this blog from June 2, 2008 for more details on this requirement.
Despite the requirements of the law, many folks continue to believe that the law requires inclusion. A recent very good poll falls into this trap. The Hoover Institution survey of public attitudes on education provides a wealth of material. For example, the poll finds that with regard to the No Child Left Behind law, the country is strangely divided: 21% want NCLB renewed as is; 29% want it renewed with minor changes; 27% want it renewed with major changes and 24% don't want it renewed at all. Now that is a lack of consensus! You can read the whole poll report here: http://www.hoover.org/publications/ednext/26380034.html
Concerning children with disabilities, however, the poll is less enlightening. The following is a quote from the Hoover Institution report which implies that mainstreaming is required:

"Mainstreaming the Disabled Approximately 15 percent of the country’s elementary and secondary school population have been classified as needing special education, which is partially supported by federal funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).Diagnoses can range from minor learning problems to autism and severe mental retardation to a range of emotional and behavioral disabilities. Whatever the disability, the law mandates that a disabled student be educated in the “least restrictive environment,” a phrase that implies differential treatment depending on the disability, but increasingly has come to mean the “mainstreaming” in standard classrooms of all but those with the most severe disabilities. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the share of disabled students considered to be “fully mainstreamed” has risen from a little more than 30 percent in 1989 to over 55 percent in 2005. Between 1995 and 2005, the share of “emotionally disturbed children” who spend more than 80 percent of their time in a regular classroom jumped from 17 to 35 percent. Neither teachers nor the public as a whole express much support for the practice of mainstreaming emotionally or behaviorally disabled children. When asked whether students “who have been diagnosed with emotional and behavioral disabilities should be taught in regular classrooms with other students,” only 25 percent of teachers, and 28 percent of the public, favor the idea. The rest say they should be “taught in separate settings instead” (Q. 15).
15. Some people say that students who have been diagnosed with emotional and behavioral disabilities should be taught in regular classrooms with other students. Other people say that these students should be taught in separate settings at the school. What do you think should be done with students with emotional and behavioral disabilities?"
In answer to this question, 28% of the nation said regular classroom to 72% separate settings. All racial and ethnic groups and teachers gave similar answers. My problem is the preface.


  1. It's interesting to me that in many school districts, you have to "earn" your way up to general ed. What I've seen is that the standard isn't general ed and if that doesn't work, a less restrictive environment will be tried...it's start at more restrictive and "see" if they can move up. I honestly think this is driven by costs. It's easier to place the special needs class at one location so that PT, OT< Speech only have one place to go, not to mention the costs a school district would have if it had to place on-on-one aides in a general ed classroom. Just my experience...I'm sure some are better and some are worse.

  2. Thanks for the comment Jeremy.


  3. I certainly agree with Jeremy with regard to the perceived need for students with special needs to "earn" their way into the regular classroom. I have heard this for years. But the reality it, that while I am being told that my child is not yet "ready," it is the regular classroom that is not "ready."

    I don't know if cost is the driving force, so much as some basic prejudices with regard to students with disabilities--equating them with "problems" and over-users of scarce resources. In my district there are two primary barriers. One is the resistence of teachers in regular classrooms (if they wanted to work with that population they would have gotten certified to do so) and the other is the pattern of pulling all kids into "resource rooms" (which really function as self-contained classrooms). As long as the certified special education teachers are busy teaching their own classrooms, they cannot be available to provide support to students in regular classrooms. So the available choices are regular classroom without supports, or resource room--with limited access to content.

    I was also disappointed the way the (single) question was asked. It did not allow respondents to consider conditions underwhich the education of students with disabilities in regular classrooms might be appropriate. Nonetheless, the response was very disappointing.

  4. Thank you for your thoughts. I appreciate hearing from people about their experiences.

    Jim Gerl

  5. I am at this moment in a dispute with my son's school regarding this issue. My son started 7th grade last week and can only attend mainstream Social Studies, Science and PE due to school's wanting placement in a self contained special education classroom due to his learning disabilities. He also has autism, but is very high functioning and in fact since taking him out of his previous SDC placement (K-4) he has made amazing progress. Most of the stems he had disappeared like endless passing and zoning out not wanting to play with friends, extreme reaction to change. He was a changed boy when put in mainstream class. He now surfs, rides a skateboard, has friends and I can move things around the house without him becoming upset. School notes he has made huge gains socially.

    The dispute started when we requested 1:1 remediation in reading and math due to his LD. Now the school says he must be placed in SDC due to SDC being less restrictive than 1:1. Our argument is 1:1 is less restrictive because he needs the remediation in order to particpate fully in mainstream classes, SDC did not work for him this method has been proven to work. Our ulitmate goal is to be fully mainstreamed. So until we can work out solution with school - school is not providing my son with reading, writing and math instruction. The reading program he was in last year he regressed and then was teased and bullied on top of that so he became emotionally upset hearing the school wanted him back in that class. The school has no behavior plan in place at this momement so they can not assure us of his safety. Now, due to all this we are seeing regression back to Autistic behaviors. In conclusion, I guess my point is as parents it seemed an easy fix for the school to give him 1:1 remediation (which has proven to work in the past) so he can read his school books and not require assistance and it turned into a huge battle with the school and now resulted in no instruction in those areas at all.

  6. Having a son that is now going on 22 and still reads at the 3rd grade first semester level, I have to say that all the "special education" classes did not help. He got tired of repeating the exact same work with the exact same teacher and decided to quit trying. He now is trying to go back and get his diploma (3 credits shy) but finds it too boring to sit in classes that are moving slow. I attneded all the IEPC and complained when they were not following the plan we had discused. My advice, keep fighting for the programs that work...write every newspaper...and go to state repersenitives/congress with e-mails showing them the diffrence that this teaching style has made.

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  8. Thanks Anon,

    It's good to hear from people in the special education world.

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