Mainstreaming Debate
Supporters of Mainstreaming
Successful Case Examples
Opponents of Mainstreaming
Problematic Case Examples

The most recent and controversial debate regarding the education of physically handicapped and learning disabled children surrounds the issue of mainstreaming. At the heart of this debate is the issue of how inclusion affects the education of non-handicapped students as well as how separation affects the education and socialization of physically handicapped and learning disabled students. More specific issues arise in the context of this debate such as: Should students with severe physical handicaps or severe learning disabilities be mainstreamed in the same way as those students with mild physical handicaps and mild learning disabilities? The problem is how to determine which physically handicapped and learning disabled students will benefit from which type of classroom.

"Inclusion can be defined as the practice of serving students with a full range of abilities and disabilities in the general education classroom- with appropriate in-class support" (Roach, 1995). The term 'mainstreaming' can be used to mean several different things- full inclusion for all subjects and all day, inclusion for only certain subjects or certain parts of the school day (known as restrictive or appropriate inclusion), and inclusion for social activities. Because there are so many different meanings and associations attached to the term 'inclusion', it has created at least three distinct positions- those for full inclusion, those for appropriate/restrictive inclusion, and those for separate special education.

Supporters of Mainstreaming

While special education programs and services are not being denied to physically handicapped and learning disabled students, the ultimate goal is to put as many handicapped children in non-handicapped classrooms and settings as is possible.

The support of the school administration, especially the principal, is key to the success of mainstreaming. The principal plays a crucial role in framing the school's educational environment. A principal that creates opportunities for physically handicapped and learning disabled students to mainstream demonstrates that he/she is concerned with eliminating the stigma attached to those students. The principal is responsible for ensuring that teachers are adequately and appropriately trained for mainstream classrooms which include physically handicapped or learning disabled students. Additionally, the principal must continually assess and update programs and services, and must orchestrate school events that bring everyone together.

In order for a physically handicapped individual to be placed in the least restrictive learning environment, he/she must be posses the following skills:

Thus, a physically handicapped individual's self-concept and determination are two of the most important characteristics in achieving the goal of mainstreaming.

Once determined that a physically handicapped individual has the capabilities to be integrated into the least restrictive learning environment, then the school and teacher must take certain steps to facilitate the social and emotional development of the individual. Along with special instruction, the physically handicapped student should be provided with appropriate materials because most "deficiencies that interfere with the child's learning potential can often be compensated for with adaptive equipment and/or methods" (Greer, 1980, p.146).

Successful Case Examples of Mainstreaming

Kids on The Block:
In 1977, the program "Kids on The Block" was created in order to accomplish successful peer acceptance and social interaction of handicapped and non-handicapped students within a mainstreamed school setting. Kids On The Block uses puppet shows to inform children about different types of handicaps. In each skit there are two life-size puppets, one is handicapped and the other is a non-handicapped friend. Through the puppets' interaction and discussion, children are able to learn about the handicap. The non-handicapped puppet continuously asks the handicapped puppet questions about his/her disabilities that children might want to ask. Furthermore, the children are allowed to ask the puppets questions themselves. This program has proven effective in establishing a comfortable setting where children can confront issues and learn in an effort to ultimately eliminate the stereotype associated with handicapped individuals.

The belief behind the creation of The Kids on The Block program is that the key to "effective mainstreaming lies in the strategies which guide children toward healthy attitudes and responsible decision making regarding the handicapped" (Palaestra, 1991). The questioning non-handicapped puppet demonstrates to the children that it is okay to ask questions or be curious about a handicap. At the same time, the love and affection that the non-handicapped puppet demonstrates provides the children with a model for their own behavior. By simulating a possible interaction between a handicapped and non-handicapped student, the program addresses fears and clarifies possible misconceptions.

The Case of Bangor School Department, Maine:

In compliance with the Least Restrictive Environment provision, the Bangor School Department has mainstreamed many students with disabilities. A vital part of the success of this mainstreaming is the existence of a special education resource room which provides instructional support to disabled students. While some instruction in this resource room may be unique to disabled students, many students identified as having mild 'impairments' require instruction that differs little from that needed by students who do not meet federal and state standards for being labeled 'disabled.' As a result of this discovery, the Bangor School Department has done what could be considered a reverse mainstreaming by including non-disabled students in the resource room which was originally intended to help disabled students who were mainstreamed (Shulman and Doughty, 1995). This action represents a move to treat students as individuals rather then making assumptions about a person based on his/her membership to a certain group.

The Case of Vermont:

In Vermont, 83% of school children with disabilities are mainstreamed. The high percentage can be attributed to Vermont's progressive efforts early on. In 1968, unlike other states, Vermont did not set up separate programs for disabled students. Instead, they focused on staff development and support for schools. The Consulting Teacher Program set out to accomplish this goal in association with the Vermont Department of Education, local schools, and the University of Vermont. In response to the 1975 PL 94-142, Vermont founded the I-Team, which sought to support handicapped children in staying at home and attending local public mainstream schools instead of new separate public schools for the handicapped. As a result of these efforts, the University of Vermont received federal funding to develop a "model to bring home students from regional special education programs and prevent other students from ever being paced in them" (Thousand and Villa, 1995). As a result of the success of this project, called "Homecoming," Vermont educators and policy makers cited five criteria critical to the successful transition and maintenance of disabled students in local educational settings:

The Case of Ian Ferguson:
The benefits to partial mainstreaming are evident in the case of Ian Ferguson. Ian is severely handicapped and has spent the vast majority of his educational experience in a self-contained, separated classroom. After much effort by his parents to mainstream him, Ian's mother, Dianne, finally persuaded the fifth grade teacher (of non-handicapped students) to allow Ian to visit her class for free times during the day when students could choose their own activities. The first day in his new classroom, a small group of kids were playing Parcheesi, a game Ian could not comprehend. Without any adult intervention, the students found a way to include Ian; he was in charge of emptying the cup of dice. Ian benefitted greatly from this experience because he was actively involved in the game. Ian soon began joining this class for lunch, and after a while began playing with these kids outside of school. IanÕs situation is one example of restricted mainstreaming where all involved parties benefitted (Ferguson, 1995).

Project PRIME (Programmed Reentry into Mainstream Education):

Project PRIME was a correlational study of mainstreaming done in Texas in 1975. Project PRIME was conducted following the passage of P.L. 94-142 in an attempt to assess the effects of mainstreaming. The researchers hypothesized that teacher attitude has a direct influence on classroom learning, and that positive teacher attitude toward mainstreaming would eliminate a lot of mainstreaming problems.

The researchers found that teachers were mainly concerned with their ability to teach mainstreamed classrooms competently and effectively. Examples of such services that would be beneficial for these teachers included the following: in-service training, resource room services, special education in-class consultants, special materials, and teacher's aides. Among these services, in-service training for non-handicapped teachers was the most highly demanded. In-services would provide a teacher with knowledge about a student's specific disabilities and needs so that the teacher would be able to adapt his/her instructional methods more effectively. Researchers also discovered that many teachers wanted teacher aides to increase the amount of individual interaction with each child. While Project PRIME was conducted in 1975 and now much of this information has been updated, teacher training and attitude are still a vital component of successful mainstreaming.

Intervention Program for Disabled Children: Example performed by Project L.E.A.D.-short term movement toward integration:

The underlying theory of L.E.A.D. is that prejudice can be reduced even with minimal interactions and the students and teachers can learn from one another. Furthermore, studies have shown that the self-esteem of physically handicapped and learning disabled children improves when they interact with non-disabled children. The rise in self-esteem can be attributed to the removal of the stigma traditionally attached to the handicapped. Pragmatically speaking, the purpose of Project PRIME was to determine how much contact should exist between non-physically handicapped and non-learning disabled schools and physically handicapped and learning disabled schools.

Project L.E.A.D. ran five years in the Southern California school, La Cadena - a multi-functional school for both disabled and non-disabled children. Prior to this project, the disabled and non-disabled children were completely separated, however by the end of the program, both teachers of disabled and non-disabled students were encouraging playground interaction, some joint physical education classes were conducted, and a "buddy system" was established for lunch periods and recess. The following are some examples of how the two groups began to interact as a result of this project:

The project showed how beneficial the minimal interaction was for the disabled students in developing certain social and cognitive skills, and for the non-disabled students in teaching them about difference (1989 Council for Exceptional Children). Intervention would eventually lead to the acknowledgement that physically handicapped and learning disabled students have many similar interests and abilities, along with differences that non-physically handicapped and non-learning disabled students should learn. The study done by Project L.E.A.D. found that a significant increase in planned intervention is necessary for most separated school systems.

The Hill Center, Durham, North Carolina: A Co-Education Program:

The Hill Center in Durham, North Carolina was founded in 1977 to provide handicapped students with a co-educational system of academic and social learning. Students attend intensive academic programs for one half of the day at school, and are then integrated into a public school for the second half of the day. At the Hill Center, students receive personalized, skill-structured attention. The Hill Center is continually evaluating the students' development, introducing new programs, and using technological alternatives for learning. At the same time, the students are benefitting from the second half of the day's integration into a regular classroom.

The Hill Center's daily structure allows handicapped students and non-handicapped students learn to socially interact with each other. This social interaction provides non-handicapped students with the opportunity to learn about difference, and allows handicapped children to experience the 'real world'. The public school classroom provides the best atmosphere for this development and social learning to occur (Mallory, 1995, p. 215).

Opponents of mainstreaming

There are several opponents of mainstreaming:

Problematic Case Examples of Mainstreaming
In his article, "What's So Special About Special Education?", John Merrow lists several problems with mainstreaming:

Teacher Concerns:
Many teachers who had already undergone the training and in-services felt unprepared and inadequately knowledgeable about the disabilities themselves as well as possible teaching strategies. (Betancourt-Smith, 1994, p.448-450): "Can I learn how to support students with all types of disabilities? Am I really qualified to address learning, emotional, and physical challenges? What additional supports and resources will be provided for these students? Will those supports be available to all students in my class? Will I be cheating the students with disabilities? Will I be cheating my other students, academically or socially? Is my classroom truly a place for all students? These questions exemplify the personal dilemma that teachers face as they embrace the philosophy, but struggle with implementation." (Fisher, Sax, Pumpian, 1996, p.580)

Greenwich, Connecticut:

Legal costs for Connecticut's public schools tripled between 1991 and 1994 because the school districts decided they would rather pay for several dozen learning disabled students to attend private school than battle in court when the parents of these students threatened to sue over the district's alleged failures with their learning disabled children (Merrow, 1996). Under P.L. 94-142, the State of Connecticut is required to provide free appropriate public education for all handicapped children, regardless of whether the children's individualized education program mandates attendance at a public or private school.

American Federation of Teachers:

Since the 1990 re-authorization of P.L. 94-142 reinforced the Individualized Education Program, the American Federation of Teachers, in 1994, stated that they could not fully agree with the idea that all students, regardless of their abilities and disabilities, be placed in mainstream classrooms. The AFT asserted that inclusion must depend on the following: the studentÕs ability to function in a classroom and profit from inclusion, the impact on the other students, and the extent of the student's disability. The assessment of these aspects acts as a precaution to avoid possible negative effects of inclusion (Vital Speeches, 1994).

Learning Disabilities Association (LDA):

The LDA argues that inclusion is a violation of the 1990 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act because more students are being mainstreamed than should; a least restrictive environment, as mandated by the Individual Education Program, is not being fulfilled by the mainstream classroom (Jobe, Rust, Brissie, 1996, p.148-153).

What happens when inclusion turns out to be an inappropriate educational setting for an individual physically handicapped or learning disabled student?

When a physically handicapped or learning disabled student is placed in an inappropriate learning environment, rather than automatically assuming that he/she can not succeed in a mainstreamed classroom, the student's IEP must be reexamined and restructured so that he/she is either placed in another educational setting or provided with additional aides or services. The rewriting of an IEP requires that both the school boards and teachers are in agreement that a change must be made to benefit the individual physically handicapped or learning disabled student. It is interesting to note that most teachers/principals advocate 'appropriate inclusion' over full inclusion even if additional funding and special education services are provided for the handicapped students. (Aufsesser, 1991, p.31) (Dyal, Flynt, Bennet, 1996, p.32)

Statistics of Mainstreaming:

Based on annual data reported by the states to the United States Department of Education, 39.81% of all students with disabilities (age 6-21) were mainstreamed during the 1992-1993 school year. This data compares to only 28.88% of all disabled students being mainstreamed during the 1987-1988 school year. The percentage of disabled students educated in separate buildings dropped from 6.4% in the 1987-1988 school year to 4.5% in the 1992-1993 school year. These figures exemplify a trend towards mainstreaming (Roach, 1995).
Government 375: Educational Reform and Ideology