Mainstreaming In Education
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In today's classroom environment, mainstreaming is becoming the norm. This refers to the inclusion of students with special needs in the general education classroom as appropriate given their abilities and skills. When general education classes and special education classes are combined, the students in either group are able to learn from one another, honing their abilities to collaborate with individuals of diverse skill sets and learning basic principles of tolerance and acceptance.
However, there are many who contend that students with special needs are deserving of special attention because of the following:
- Their mental or physical capabilities are so different from traditional students, they need the one-on-one attention that only the special education classroom can provide.
- Mainstreaming them, it is argued, will detract from this personalized attention, and thus, from their overall educational growth and development.
- Mainstreaming causes a distraction that harms students without developmental delays.
The most accurate response to these arguments can be found in the true principles of mainstreaming. In such a practice, students are not just removed from the special education classroom and placed with general education instructors. To the contrary, students are wholly assessed to determine when, if at all, they are capable of working within the general education classroom. Some students may only be mainstreamed in such subject areas as music and home economics; some may be mainstreamed in mathematics or physical education. By gauging a student's ability to work in the same environment as their non-disabled peers, mainstreaming ensures that the classroom environment is wholly beneficial to all students, providing those with special needs the one-on-one attention they require in some areas and allowing them the opportunity to integrate with their peers in others.
The History of Mainstreaming
At the start of the mainstreaming evolution special education students were only subjected to curriculum that did not require a certain intellect. This included art, music and physical education. Research termed the program insufficient and these special needs students received virtually nothing form the specific classes. There was also considerable doubt on whether there was any group interaction with these children.
Another look into what the special education student takes away from his or her experience in a mainstreamed environment must be considered. The premise for mainstreaming after all is for the least restrictive environment for these children and if they feel the least bit inhibited the program is not beneficial. One study done on this particular topic evaluated eight low achieving third graders in a cooperative mathematics program. The study showed the lower achievers to take a passive role to the more dominant higher achievers. The same conclusions have been found in the study of students with disabilities in a cooperative reading program. These students offered less participation than their general counterparts. The study concluded that only 40% of disability students experienced successful group participation.
Mainstreaming a special education child should provide satisfactory results that show complete benefit for the student. The expectations of the Education for all Handicapped Children Act far outweighed the actual outcomes of testing special needs children in mainstream situations. In fact the reality of the program has been a big disappointment. It appears that any mainstreaming done thus far has been to appease legislators and administrators and not the children or their parents.