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One major controversy in special education today is whether or not students belong in inclusion or pull-out classrooms. While most would agree that inclusion has the most benefits for students, many do not weigh in the benefits of pull-out programs for students how need that extra attention. There are multiple factors that go into the decision of where students should to be placed based off of the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) for them. There are different types of classrooms that provide education such as segregated, pull-out, and inclusion classrooms. Although school is meant to be an academic environment, the need for socialization is also a concern when it comes to special education programs. What is best for one student may not be the best for another in the long run. Those who consider themselves inclusionists have the belief that all students should be in a general education classroom. All of these factors come with benefits and disadvantages but in the case of educating young minds the individual student must be first priority when it comes to their placement in a classroom.
Within a segregated classroom students are in a self contained classroom where their classmates could have a particular disability or a variety of disabilities. This type of classroom is where students are receiving instruction from a special educator away from the general education classroom. This type of classroom can be beneficial because, "Advocates of segregated classrooms claim that students with special needs require teachers who are trained in the area of special education- trained to work with students who have a variety of disabilities" (Dixon, 2005, p.35). When considering the student to teacher ratio in a pull-out classroom many students are able to build a strong relationship with the instructor and feel comfortable participating inside the classroom. This could also provide students with a sense of belonging and importance in the classroom when being integrated into a general education classroom could give fewer oppurtunities for students to participate or feel that their input is important. Another benefit in segregated classrooms would be that "â€¦students with disabilities are not pressured to 'keep up' with typical students" (Dixon, 2005, p. 36). If students are placed in a general education classroom they would be required to keep up at the pace of their peers which could sometimes prove to be overwhelming for students. On the opposite side of this scenario, general educators could spend more time on material where students who are typically developing could become bored or not be as challenged as they should be within the curriculum.
The use of pull-out classroom would almost combine the uses of segregated and inclusion settings where students with disabilities spend of their school day with their typically developing peers and another part of the day in a special education classroom. In these integrated classrooms students with disabilities have the individualized attention from a special education teacher while still sharing experiences with their peers. One major disadvantage within a pull-out classroom would be that students with disabilities do not truly belong or feel as though they are different.
Dixon (2005) stated, "When the philosophy of a school or a classroom is that a student needs an aide, it's assumed the aide is responsible for the student: academically, behaviorally, and in many other ways. The classroom teacher is responsible for the twenty-something other students in the classroom, but not that kid. He belongs to the aide" (p. 39).
Student may see this individual in their classroom setting but because of the aide or other accommodations might separate students from becoming a crucial part of the classroom environment. Advocates for pull-out programs would say that this is a great program to prepare students with disabilities for the next level of education. This poses the question, "Why do they have to be ready for anything? Because they don't meet artificial standards for readiness or normalcy set by experts, professionals, parents, and society in general" (Dixon, 2005, p. 40). Those who share this belief would be advocates for inclusion because they believe that all students are capable of be successful while placed in a general education classroom for the whole school day.
Through inclusion classrooms all students are educated in the same setting. The journal article, Making Inclusion Work in General Education Classrooms states, "inclusive education means that all students within a school regardless of their strengths and weaknesses, or disabilities in any area become part of the school community" (Obiakor, Harris, Mutua, Rotatori, & Algozzine, 2012, p. 477-490). For an inclusive classroom to be successful the learning environment must include teamwork, problem-solving, and independent learning.
Dixon (2005) states that in an inclusive setting, "It also allows (a) students with extraordinary gifts and talents to move at their natural learning rate, (b) students who progress slower than the average to move at the best of their ability (gaining learning strategies as well as remaining part of the exciting content of the themes and lessons), and (c) students with specific learning challenges to receive creative and effective supports to maximize their success" (p. 41).
With this in mind are students really benefiting from inclusion classrooms that are considered to be successful if every student is participating? Are all students really participating in these environments? Many students that could need extra attention on material may be afraid to ask or feel overwhelmed while not conveying their thoughts to the educator. A major disadvantage in an inclusion setting would be that the learning pace of students could vary dramatically. This could prove difficult for the general education teacher when presenting new material or when having to review material multiple times. Proper supports and training for the general education would be needed for a full inclusion classroom so that every student can benefit from the learning environment.
A major argument when considering inclusion or pull-out programs is the thought of socialization among peers for both the students with disabilities and without. Educators must be aware of the fact that social interactions with peers and access to the curriculum both have an impact on the lives of their students while in school. An advocate for inclusion would agree that, "not only do the students with disabilities lose out on many of the activities of childhood experienced by typical children, typical students lose out on what their fellow students with disabilities have to offer them" (Dixon, 2005, p.37). This thought is both genuine and accurate in the context of social interactions. Both students with and without disabilities can learn a lot from each other and in order for this type of social learning to occur students need to be provided an environment where they can interact with one another. An argument can be made that this belief for social interactions in education has become more important than the individual students needs in their academics. Advocates for pull-out programs would agree that socialization for students with disabilities and their typically developing peers is important but should not be the deciding factor in the process of making the decision of which program is the least restrictive environment (LRE) for students.
Inclusionists are those who believe that special education students belong in general education classrooms where support services are brought to the student rather than students being pulled out to receive support services. One main argument that inclusionists use is that students with special needs have the constitutional right to be in the regular classroom. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) permits alternative placement that is the least restrictive environment consistent the needs of the children (Smelter, 1994, p. 3). Inclusionists would have to agree that this legislation is in violation of an individual student's rights under the constitution. If this is the case "â€¦most gifted programs would be illegal, valedictorians would disappear or be chosen by lot, cheerleading squads would disappear, and no student would ever receive a detention slip. After all, these practices also use a variety or criteria to differentiate children from their peers" (Smelter, 1995, p. 3). This concept that a student's right is to be in a general education classroom is great but when thinking about other programs inside of schools that differentiate students from their peers the argument does not hold validity.
Within secondary schools legislation such as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) have increased the number of students with special education classifications in the general education curriculum (Casale-Giannola, 2012, p. 28). This means that general education teachers are now expected to be a part of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings, planning instruction, and evaluating of inclusion students. According to Voltz and Collins (2010), "Wigle and Wilcox (2002) surveyed 240 special education administrators, asking them to rate their levels of competency with respect to each Council for Exceptional Children's (CEC's) standards for special education administrators. Administrators indicated that they felt highly skilled in less than half of the CEC standards, with assessment and collaboration competencies being in the lowest-rated quartile" (p.71). These areas are what are most important for the implementation of inclusion in a general education classroom. Public schools have a diverse group of students, "About 14% have identifiable disabilities. Of those with disabilities about half spend 80% or more of the school day in general education classrooms" (Collins & Voltz, 2010, p. 70). Inclusion in secondary schools poses significant challenges for their students, "These challenges are: (a) high-level pace and content, (b) high expectations and weak student study skills, (c) increased content area instruction, and (d) increased demands for high-stakes testing and scheduling" (Casale-Giannola, 2012, p. 28). With these high expectations students are held accountable for what they are learning and are pushed to their full potential. Some students might feel most comfortable in this situation because they are not self-conscious about being pulled out to visit their special education teacher. Others may feel distracted by their peers or more comfortable in a smaller student to teacher ratio setting. In this case pull out programs would be the most beneficial.
Overall the decision of which is the least restrictive environment (LRE) for a student, such as inclusion or pull-out, is all based on the specific needs to that individual. Inclusion provides students with socialization and access to the general curriculum while pull-out programs provide students with individualized attention and more in depth instruction of the general education curriculum. An educator's main focus should be that of what is the best environment for their students to succeed to their full potential and feel the most comfortable.