Debunking the Myths of Mainstreaming and Full Inclusion [IEP 006]
What’s the difference between full inclusion and mainstreaming? In this episode, we discuss some of the differences between the two in hopes of offering insight for parents who want to ensure their child(ren) receive the proper curriculum suitable for their needs.
Full show transcript available at the bottom of this post.
What You’ll learn in this Episode:
- The meaning of full inclusion and mainstream education and how to tell the difference between the two
- What does LRE (Least Restrictive Environment) have to do with full inclusion and what do parents need to look for?
- How a child with special education needs can still be fully integrated into a general classroom while still addressing his or her needs outside of this classroom
- How can positive behavior of peers in a general education class affect the overall learning experience for the child with special education needs?
- If a child is being integrated into a general education program but at a slower pace year after year, are they really being integrated properly?
- Fully integrated Education systems versus Segregated Education systems
- How the cost-analysis often plays a big part in whether or not a child is going to get fully integrated
- How can making this decision affect the community as a whole?
- How mainstreaming should be carried out and what subjects in the curriculum should be mainstreamed and what should not
- The top 5 benefits of either mainstreaming or full inclusion and how to achieve them
“Meeting the Needs of Special Education Students: Recommendations for the Race-to-the-Top Consortia and States” research report by Martha Thurlow, Rachel Quenemoen, and Sheryl Lazarus.
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Full Show Transcript
Vickie Brett: Welcome to the Inclusive Education Project. I’m Vickie Brett.
Amanda Selogie: I’m Amanda Selogie. We’re two civil rights lawyers on a mission, to change the conversation about education, civil rights and modern activism.
Vickie Brett: Each week we’re going to explore new topics which are going to educate and empower others and give them a platform to enact change in education and level the playing field.
Amanda Selogie: Hey guys, how is it going? Thanks for coming back and listening to us. This is Amanda Selogie.
Vickie Brett: This is Vickie Brett.
Amanda Selogie: Today we’re going to talk about inclusion, full inclusion versus mainstreaming opportunities and what are the top five benefits of either of those opportunities. So this is a topic that hits real close to home for me, because part of the reason I got into Special Education Law and being a … even going to law school in the first place is that, I was a Child Development major in college. I thought I was going to go into teaching and I worked at a full inclusion school.
Vickie Brett: So what does that mean? What does full inclusion mean?
Amanda Selogie: So full inclusion means, that a child is fully integrated into the general education classroom and they receive all of their supports for the most part in the general education class. They’re not in a separate segregated special day class.
Vickie Brett: And so, does mainstreaming mean that they are in that type of class?
Amanda Selogie: So [inaudible 00:01:34], but we’re going to get into that. We’re going to get into that. Look, inclusion and mainstreaming in IEPs, there’re some teams that think they mean the same thing and others-
Vickie Brett: That’s what I was getting at.
Amanda Selogie: Right, so that’s the important part, is that when I talk about full inclusion, I talk about the inclusion that I worked with. I worked at a school called Chime Charter in the Valley. Shout out to them because they’re an amazing school that … It’s one of those, one in a million schools that does it the right way. When talk about full inclusion and we talk about what could be done, doesn’t mean that it’s always done. So we have kids that are fully included and it’s not working and people are very quick to say, “Full inclusion doesn’t work.” But it only doesn’t work if you don’t do it the right way.
I’m very spoiled in the sense that I worked at school that it worked very well. We had a general education teacher and a special ed teacher in each classroom. Each kid’s IEP was truly geared towards their special needs and they were fully integrated into the classroom. And it doesn’t always happen that way. So when we look at, what does full inclusion mean, we look at the legal standard of LRE, or the least restrictive environment. That means that children are educated in the least restrictive environment to the maximum extent possible.
So when we’re talking about what placement should a child be in, we’re first supposed to look at the general education classroom first. Can we integrate all of the support and services they need into that population, and if so, let’s do it.
Vickie Brett: And that might mean like …
Amanda Selogie: Right, right. An aid, modified curriculum, support and services, speech and language, OT. Like they can still be pulled out for selected services but their main course of education is through that general education classroom. And so when we look at whether or not it’s possible for an individual child to be educated in that least restrictive environment or LRE, we’re going to look at a number of factors. One, access to typical peers, do they have that access to the positive role models? The role models of the kids that are acting, behaving appropriately, following directions, following school rules, taking initiative and participating in group conversations. Are they doing the assignments that are necessary, all of that.
Vickie Brett: And I think it’s important to note that, about 85% of special education students are capable of the same achievement levels as other students. And this is based on a research report by Martha Thurlow and Rachel Quenemoen, I’m probably messing that up, and Sheryl Lazarus, which is, Meeting the Needs of Special Education Students: Recommendations for the Race-in-the-Top Consortia of States. It’s one of those things where, once you have that statistical data in your mind, you’re like, “Oh, wow! 85% of the students can be in a general education setting?” Like when I’m looking at my child’s school, I feel like they’re so many students that are in a special day class, like why are they not in the general education class?
Amanda Selogie: And I think part of the problem is that when the kid is first found eligible for a special education IEP, a lot of these kids are at the age of three, and they’re put in a special day class. And when we talk about … Okay, so Sally our neighbor has a friend that has a kid with Autism, who has a lot of behaviors. And they go, “Oh, this kid couldn’t be in a general education class.” My answer to them is, “How were they when they were three?”
Had we integrated them into a full inclusion classroom when they were three, they would have had the positive role models of being able to achieve in that classroom. Maybe they would need support and accommodation which is what the purpose of the IEP is, and they would be able to benefit from that classroom later on. But because we segregated them for so long, it’s more difficult later on. Because, instead of being integrated with those positive peer models, they have peer models that have behaviors just like them, that they’re modeling.
Vickie Brett: And I think you’re getting into the factors, right? That we look at in order to move a child from a general education setting to a more restrictive environment. So those factors are, one of them is the access to typical peers, so you just kind of touched on that, right?
Amanda Selogie: Yeah.
Vickie Brett: So the next one would be, the access to the general education education curriculum. So sometimes when a child is placed into a special day program, they’re indicating, “Oh no, they’re still accessing the fifth grade curriculum, it’s just at a slower pace.”
Amanda Selogie: And what happens with that?
Vickie Brett: If you have a slower pace each year for five years, are you really accessing the same curriculum?
Amanda Selogie: Absolutely not.
Vickie Brett: Right. And the third factor that you’re going to get into is the educational benefit of an integrated setting versus this segregated setting which we see a lot of our kiddos get into.
Amanda Selogie: Right. So when we look at the case on what the law says in what we’re supposed to be looking at, if the child can make educational benefit from that inclusion program, that general education program, they should be integrated into that program. So we’re not talking about what’s best. Like maybe if the child had one on one services, if the child had one on one support, they may be able to span a grade level and half in one year versus if they’re in a general class, they can only span a half a year. But the law says, if they’re able to make good progress in that least restrictive environment, that’s where we should be educating them.
So a lot of times schools will say, “Oh yeah, they can make some progress in gen ed, but they will make more if they were segregated. If they were given one on one.” Well, what kind wouldn’t do better one on one? But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about, we want to look at what kind of access do they have? And the school districts often look at these other two factors? They look at, what is the effect that child has on their peers and teachers? So is the child having maladaptive or disruptive behaviors that impedes the learning of others?
So the instances where a child may not benefit from mainstreaming or full inclusion is, if the child is having maladaptive or disruptive behaviors that go on a regular basis, so we’re actually disrupting the learning of the other students. That’s a factor that the school districts can look at in terms of, maybe this child needs to be in a more segregated setting. And the school districts are allowed to look at, what are the … In whole totality, what supports are needed to make this child successful in this general education classroom.
Under the law they’re not supported to say something is more expensive but they can look at like, if we had to put in $100,000 worth of supports into the general class for this one student to make benefit, yeah that’s exorbitant. But the majority of the time we’re looking at kids who, maybe they need an aid, maybe we need to modify some curriculum, maybe we need to put in some supports like visual supports, and they would be successful.
Vickie Brett: Yeah, I had a client once that was in particular school district in the Los Angeles County area and they had equestrian, like as a therapy. So you’re like dealing with horses. And then they moved inland, like really inland into California and a school district is supposed to give comparable services to that child but they didn’t have a horse, that they could provide those services too. And so it’s that cost analysis benefit where it’s just like, “Well, we don’t have horses that we’re going to give you.”
Amanda Selogie: In that case they would have to buy a horse, then is that cost analysis appropriate or right?
Vickie Brett: Right, and that they could give that. But it’s one of those things where, yes there are certain districts that have different types of services provided to their children that this part of the least restrictive environment analysis, that is something that they could take into consideration.
Amanda Selogie: Right. And what happens often times is these districts, they have this perception of, a kid being fully integrated is going to cost a lot of money. But then they’re not thinking about that individual child, they have … The situation that Vickie just explained possibly is more costly. They have that situation in their head versus, maybe if you just put an aid that can provide some accommodation and modify assignments, would be fine. So we really need to look at the totality, the circumstances to figure out, “Is this child going to be able to benefit from being fully included?
So when we look at full inclusion, we’re not only looking at the benefit to that individual child of the IEP, but one thing I can say from my experience of full inclusion is that, the benefit to their peers is still great. I mean, when we talk about a child, other children, a group of students from a school that has students fully integrated with them from kindergarten on, who are just other students, they’re not, “Oh, this is a child who’s in a special day class.” No, this is their peer. They are learning tolerance, they are learning that this is a peer just like you. It’s no different.
Vickie Brett: Everybody learns to know one another as a human being, with certain strengths and certain challenges. And I think that’s just implicit for any child and as the Inclusive Education Project we’re not just focusing on the needs of children living with certain disabilities, we’re talking about how that implicates to the rest of society.
Amanda Selogie: How does that impact society as a whole? Are we looking at becoming an inclusive society? So when look at, why are there adults out there right now that think that people living with disabilities are not equal to us? Well, how did they grow up? If you’re an adult right now and you think back to your childhood, do you remember a child with special needs in your class? You may not be able to think about someone in particular. You may think about, maybe it was a special education class, maybe you think of kids that you thought of as slow or weird. Maybe those are kids that should have been eligible.
Vickie Brett: Or you’re operating from a place of fear because you don’t understand what’s happened. It wasn’t explained, they were in your class, they were already separated.
Amanda Selogie: Well, I can say, when I was in elementary school I actually had, when I was in second grade there were twin boys who had Autism. One of them was in my class and one of them was in the neighboring class, but I can tell you 100%, they were in a special day class but they integrated and were going to get in mainstreaming in a minute. They were mainstreamed into our class. I knew them as being mainstreamed as, they were in our class for probably … I want to say, it was like one hour a day or one day a week because they were only there part-time, it wasn’t all-time. So I remember that scenario from my schooling but that’s about it.
Vickie Brett: But that built a foundation of where you’re like, “Okay, I’m developing this knowledge and it’s designed to encourage children that are typical general education peers to say, “Oh I understand that this is a child, they may have special needs, I’m not afraid of them or for them.”
Amanda Selogie: Oh, absolutely.
Vickie Brett: “I here to help them.”
Amanda Selogie: Right. So the twin boys were Sean and Jock and they were just like us, I mean they were peers. Like to me growing up, they were peers of mine. They weren’t, “Oh, these kids that happen to come in our class every once in a while.” No they were just our peers. That’s how we thought of them. And so I think me growing up I never thought of kids living with disabilities as being any different, but I had that experience, and I don’t know that everybody has that experience. So when I was an aid in the classroom at Chime, that I have explained, I got the benefit of seeing the other kids working all together. Like they were all equal. That just level of tolerance, that level of, “You’re just my friend. It’s nothing different.”
I think it’s so important because when we talk about politics or we talk about anything in our world, where people think that they’re better than each other or not equal to other people, I think that’s important. It stems from our childhood, so why aren’t we teaching our kids the tolerance at their early age? So that’s full inclusion. That’s classrooms that are geared towards, “We’re going to fully include children with all abilities because we’re going to teach them as a whole not this one individual child.”
Vickie Brett: Well, it’s a sense of belonging for any child. And what we’re trying to teach all children and what we believe with the Inclusive Education Project is that we’re trying to include all. Have that opportunity, at least the opportunity-
Amanda Selogie: The opportunity, right.
Vickie Brett: To try and be with typical peers, because you can learn a lot from typical peers. You can learn how to answer questions, how to behave, how to sit at a table, how to do all these things. I mean, realistically if the idea behind the IDEA which we alluded to in our previous podcast that I love to say is that we’re trying to gain members of our society that are independent and functional and this is exactly where we want them to be. We want them to be fully included and we want other members of the society to recognize them and as I’ve said previously, is like we’re only as strong as our weakest link. And if you were to categorize a person with a disability as a weak link which I do not, but if you were to categorize them, then how are we binding together to try and lift ourselves up as a society?
Amanda Selogie: The idea of segregating a child with special needs into a special day class for the entirety of their learning career and then pushing them out into a full inclusive society, it makes no sense. Because eventually whether it’s when they’re 18 or when they’re 22 they’re going to go out into the community and how are they going to get prepared for [inaudible 00:16:16] to the community. So we talked about inclusion, full inclusion.
The next step is talking about mainstreaming, because I think a lot of schools often confuse inclusion with mainstreaming. We talk about IEPs, we often say, “Oh, we have mainstreaming opportunities in X, Y and Z.” And how often Vickie have you heard an IEP team say, “The mainstreaming opportunities are going to be P.E., music, computer lab, and art or recess-
Vickie Brett: Or gardening time.
Amanda Selogie: So a lot of times these schools will say these like just general-
Vickie Brett: Minimal.
Amanda Selogie: Minimal opportunities that to be honest are not real opportunities because what happens at lunch?
Vickie Brett: At lunch all the children in the special day class go out with each other, they sit at a particular bench-
Amanda Selogie: With their aids.
Vickie Brett: With their aids and they have no interactions. The districts would love to say that they had the opportunity to interact with the other students.
Amanda Selogie: Or they say, the other or the general education kids are at the next table and they absolutely integrate. But who’s enforcing the integration? Who is encouraging the integration? No one is, we have music, art and P.E.. Well, again these are opportunities where … Let’s say we have a special day class that has 12 kids, they’re all being integrated together, that’s not what we talk about mainstreaming. When we talk about true mainstreaming, we’re talking about, let’s say we have a child who is in a special day class because maybe they have … They’re several grades below grade level and they have some behaviors and being in a general education full inclusion classroom is not working for them.
They’re not making progress and so we go to a more restrictive environment of a special day class, but we say, “Look, this child is having difficulties with reading and so to be in an English lesson is going to be difficult in third grade, but they’re brilliant in math. So let’s mainstream them into math.” When we talk about mainstreaming, we typically want to talk about, good beneficial mainstreaming opportunities that are quantitative and substantial. So if the child is good at math, they should be mainstreamed in math.
They should be in there during that math period, because maybe during math they can have the benefit of, well math is their strongest subject, they can gain that knowledge on the general education curriculum and they can still benefit from their peer relationship during that time. So it’s a period of time in their day, not a full day but a period of time. And it’s important to look at actual substantial time and not just that what we talked about that, P.E., art, recess time.
Vickie Brett: Right, those are are all typically preferred activities, so yeah the kid is going to be in a better mood when he’s going out for P.E. or for music but how are we challenging that child? If the child can be challenged. How is that child reaching their potential if we’re just giving him opportunities which are kind of slam-dunk opportunities? Like the benefits of having a mainstream child or a child just in special education outnumber the seclusion with which the child is placed in a special day program. And that’s what we are trying to reach and that’s what the Individual Disability Education Act is trying to reach out to, is, “Hey, these benefits outweigh everything else that we could for a child in a restrictive environment of a special day class whether that be a moderate class or that be a more severe class,” it just benefits the child so much more than what you saw when you were at Chime.
Amanda Selogie: Right. And what I see all the time is, let’s say we have a kid who has severe behaviors and if we put them in a classroom with kids that also have behaviors they’re more likely to have those behaviors. It is not gone get extinguished.
Vickie Brett: 100%.
Amanda Selogie: But if they’re in a classroom where they have positive peer models and they are working on there behaviors they are more likely to extinguish those. Because if a child is having behaviors no matter what setting they’re in, they’re going to have those behaviors and that’s going to impede their ability to make educational progress so we want to look at, how can we extinguish those behaviors?
So maybe in a one on one setting they’re learning 20% of the education and in a general class they’re learning 10%, well that 10% is still better than nothing. And we’re also extinguishing the behaviors. That’s an important concept to look at, because when we look at, why do we want full inclusion? Why do we want mainstreaming? We want it because it’s going to benefit that child. I think we’re getting into our third section of this episode of, what are the top five benefits of either full inclusion or mainstreaming?
Vickie Brett: Run through them.
Amanda Selogie: So the first is equal access. We talk about, each child should have equal access to their education, to general education peers, to opportunities. We talk about equal opportunities, equal access. The second is, the benefit that, that individual child is going to get, both the educational benefits so like academic gains from being accessed to the general curriculum and also the non-academic. So the peer relationships, the positive peer models that we’re getting. The third is, the benefit that the typical peers are getting, that they’re learning about tolerance. That they’re learning about inclusion. They’re learning about these peers as being peers, not special education kids.
The fourth is the benefit that we have to society. The more we can integrate these children into general education environments, the more they’re going to be prepared to enter society as a full included member of society and be able to benefit from their society. And the fifth is really, I think one of the most important things that we started this podcast with, is trying to reduce this stigma of special education or of disability. It’s something that we talk about all the time. We say, “Why do we focus on their disabilities when we talk about a person?” It’s that person first language. We talk about what they’re good at, not what they’re bad at.
Vickie Brett: And overall it’s a positive and healthy learning environment for other children. It’s the right number of children versus adults in the mix of like general education classroom, being able to support appropriately the child with special needs, it’s being able to train and support that personnel in that program. It’s that developmental focus, that early intervention on the child living with special needs. And it’s that parental treat as an equal participant in this whole process.
Amanda Selogie: Or it’s that these children are just children. They’re kids and they deserve the same treatment that any other deserves. They deserve an equal opportunity to be educated.
Vickie Brett: At least to start out.
Amanda Selogie: Well, we talked about early in our podcast about the constitutional right to education. And it’s important to know that these kids deserve an equal opportunity for education as well and I will say, the more … Look, Vickie and I, live, eat and breathe special education. We’re in it all the time and we have colleagues that are in it all the time. And so when we get together with them it’s very easy for us to talk about. But we have family and friends that are not as involved in the world of special education and maybe have never been. And we have friends and family that have come around, and the more that we’ve talked to them, the more they’ve been like, “Oh, I understand.” Because it’s that idea of the perception, is something that needs to be changed. And we hope that with this podcast we really get people to start thinking more about people first.
Vickie Brett: Well, I think it’s not like educational but like just experience. Like you don’t understand a child living with special needs if you don’t know a child living with special needs. And that’s what we are trying to come across in this podcast with, “Hey, we deal with all those people all the time.” I’ve mentioned my cousin Ken several times on this podcast but like I grew up with him, so I have firsthand experience of a child living with the Autism Spectrum Disorder. And it’s one of those things where, yeah if you don’t know somebody with a type of disability, you might not necessarily know.
And so that’s why we wanted to have this podcast, because this is just our experience. You could have a completely different experience with your district. You can have a child with Down’s Syndrome and and they were totally 100% receptive in saying that, “Yeah, we have a general education preschool program. We’re going to put your child in this program. They’re going to get 20 minutes of speech. They’re going to get 20 minutes of occupational therapy. They’re going to get all these services and you could be in like a really great position.” Unfortunately for Amanda and I, we don’t see those people because they’re not thinking necessarily they need an attorney at that point because-
Amanda Selogie: For those people, things are going well.
Vickie Brett: Yeah, things are going well. We see people where things are not going well. So this is all based on our experience. And you could be in a different than California, you could be in a different county than Orange County that Amanda and I are in, and you could be having a completely different experience. But at the end of the day, hopefully something that we can all agree to is that, not even necessarily mainstreaming, I’m getting in the rhetoric of my IEP meetings, but just having that least restrictive environment that argument [crosstalk 00:26:07], including, right.
Amanda Selogie: Inclusive.
Vickie Brett: Inclusive Education Project. Like that’s why we named it what it’s named. But being in that rhetoric of having and indicating that, look we get people are of different cognitive ability. People are different and we are just talking about that opportunity. We’re not talking about like this child with low cognitive ability is going to be the Einstein. We’re just talking about, giving that child the same opportunity that you would give a child of average cognitive ability the chance.
Amanda Selogie: Well did you see the article I recently posted on … I believe it was IEP’s Facebook that an adult living with Down’s Syndrome actually just got a job as the first lobbyist?
Vickie Brett: I did see it.
Amanda Selogie: With Down’s Syndrome ever. So the sky is limit for these kids if we give them that opportunity. Give them that opportunity is all we’re asking. We’re not saying that they … And this is the rhetoric that we get from other people is, “Oh, well don’t away from general education or don’t take away from these other peers.” It’s not what we’re saying. We’re not saying take away from anybody. We’re saying, these children deserve an opportunity just like any other kid. It’s that idea of equal opportunity. That everyone should have the opportunity to succeed.
Vickie Brett: Right, exactly. And for people that are conservative fiscally, it’s one of those situations where … Listen, early intervention, we have the child at three years old that we know that they need certain interventions. And if you’re able to put that money into that early intervention you may not necessarily need that money from 18 to 90 where you’re giving social security disability benefits to that particular child. Like this is just a very broad example. I’m not saying that this is what always happens, but for our fiscally conservative listeners out there, it’s one of those things where it’s like, “Why wouldn’t we want to put in a little bit more of an effort to try and mainstream these children so that they’re with typical peers as they understand what the terminology, language and just basic …”
Amanda Selogie: And they can have a job.
Vickie Brett: Exactly. They can have a job.
Amanda Selogie: I mean it’s that simple.
Vickie Brett: Yeah, it’s that simple and I think that, that is probably one of the forgoing reasons that we have started this podcast, is because that’s a pattern that we have seen. Maybe not all special education attorneys have seen that, but Amanda and I have. And so to be able to discuss that and have a really great conversation about it and to I’ve those parents that knowledge is why we set out to do this.
Amanda Selogie: Yeah.
Vickie Brett: So we hope that you guys-
Amanda Selogie: We hoped that you learned a little bit about-
Vickie Brett: Learned a little bit.
Amanda Selogie: … The difference. So if your kid has an IEP and you’ve been told that you’re receiving mainstreaming and you don’t think that anything we covered is included in what you receive in mainstreaming, it maybe time to evaluate what’s in your IEP. And really if you’re a teacher listening, we love you all. Vickie and I both have friends and family that are teachers. We have to clarify though, like most of the things that we say when we talk about school districts not doing what they should, a lot of the times it’s the administration and-
Vickie Brett: Oh, it’s all from experience and could not happen in your state, it could not happen in your city.
Amanda Selogie: And we really … We feel that they’re so many teachers out there that want to do the best for their kids and sometimes there’s red tape. So even if you’re a teacher and hearing this and you have a kid that you think might fall into this gap or maybe they can use a little bit more … It’s so hard because we get parents all the time that come to us and say, “Our teacher told us this and doesn’t want to get involved.” We get it. We totally get it because we want you to keep doing the great job that you’re doing and-
Vickie Brett: Yeah. Keep om fighting the good fight.
Amanda Selogie: And sometimes the tips that we can give may help all of your students, like not even just the kid with an IEP, like all of your students because you may have a kid that’s [inaudible 00:30:15], so we appreciate you listening and we appreciate you coming on board and being part of the Inclusive Education Project.
Vickie Brett: Yeah, so don’t forget to subscribe, review that’s very helpful.
Amanda Selogie: Yeah, tell us if you have any suggestions. If you’re dealing with a particular situation you want to learn more about a specific topic, we can say that in the next couple of episodes we’re going to get more in-depth into specific areas and we’ll posting on, as always our Facebook, Instagram and our Pinterest board of course. So please make sure to go and follow us on those social media platforms and we’re really excited to have you on board and keep listening. So until next time, have a great weekend. Thanks for listening. May not be their weekend but it is certainly …
Vickie Brett: Oh, it’s true. Bye .
Amanda Selogie: It’s our weekend.
Vickie Brett: Bye.