The full inclusion movement in my district definitely evolved from three separate trends that coalesced in a perfect storm, so to speak. It didn't arise out of a belief system about inclusion or discovery-based learning or any of that. I followed the process very closely at the time (between about 1992-2002) because I was then teaching special ed (LD) and had a keen interest in providing appropriate programming to kids with reading disabilities, other LD or language impairment. The impetus came from above and had three prongs:
(1) Cost. There was a major effort to cut costs in some areas (senior administration not one of them, coincidentally), and Special Education was a target -- small classes, highly trained teachers, aides, paraprofessionals et alia were all very expensive. The research data (longitudinally) on self-contained sped programs for most students was also very disappointing. Inclusion was seen as a way to save money and still look egalitarian, socially equitable and all that. Our CEO had a public meeting about the issue where he was very frank that this was about money, but opined that our wonderful teachers would make the new inclusion work. We did not share his optimism (and still don't). Naturally, some SPED programs remain but they are very limited and the hoops to jump through for parents or teachers to refer students for these programs are daunting and endless. Currently, I'm told, a student has to be 4 years below grade level in all areas to qualify for a LD class.
(2) Change in parental attitudes, overall. At one time parents of children with disabilities were happy to see their children enrolled in a program geared to their needs, and in my district at least the teachers of many of these programs were specially trained and the programs well-resourced and effective. More and more, there has been a shift in attitudes. At least, we are now seeing a majority of parents refusing SPED services or classification, and insisting on their right to have their child in the general ed classroom. There are quite a few powerful and well-organized parent lobby groups that are politically active and support full inclusion, even for severely disabled students. To answer Steve H's question, can they demand full inclusion in high school, the answer is yes, they can in many cases. They can refuse to let their child be enrolled in a lower track or ability-level class even when the student clearly cannot possibly do the work and will fail. In effect, they have the right to ensure their child will fail. Which s/he does, and eventually either does go to a lower track or drops out (I have seen this phenomenon so often I have lost count).
We have students who in an earlier era would certainly have been placed in SPED whose parents refuse sped classification and services. The school cannot, except under extraordinary circumstances, place a child in sped without the parent's consent. Having a child with an exceptionality in my extended family, I have some idea of how the parents often feel: it may take them years to come to grips with the child's needs and limitations on a realistic basis. Even the parents of children with developmental disabilities (and very low IQs) in my former school were often uinwilling to accept that Junior would not be going to college, and should perhaps focus on learning life skills. In my family I saw the progression (somewhat like the phases of the grief process) whereby denial and magical thinking gave way to desperate search for "cures," to hope for a sudden breakthrough, to gradual acceptance and more realistic planning for the child's future. This can take years, however. And the child may be in an inclusive setting all this time, whether it is best or not.
3) Legalities. Although courts have occasionally upheld the rights of school disctricts to place students in a special setting over the parents' objections, this can take years and whopping legal fees. Most often, the parent wins. My district has lost several major appeals regarding sped placement, based on allegations of cultural or racial insensitivity and discrimination. Thus, there is no eagerness to press for segregated programs for minority children. Even with very violent and disruptive students, the process and documentation required to remove them from the least restrictive environment is daunting and very time-consuming. It can take YEARS.
In our case, the requirements for differentiation and inclusion flowed from the top down, and were a response to the gradual dismantling of sped services and offloading to the neighborhood school. I don't hear any chorus of believers here that this is a system that works better for most children -- especially where teaching of foundation skills and sequential mastery is required -- but we are obliged to do our best with what we have. "Differentiation" is constantly trumpeted as the solution, but I have yet to meet any school-based staff who think that it is the answer. Inclusion could work much better if it allowed for "Joplin plan" -type flexible grouping by achievement or instructional level, and adequate staff (aides, paraprofessionals, resource teachers) to provide targeted instruction to the high-needs kids. There never has been a golden era when everyone was better served, but I think that both our most vulnerable kids AND our potential high-flyers are disadvantaged by the current model. "Every classroom a one-room K-8 schoolhouse" doesn't seem like a worthy 21st century model to me.
Do teachers believe in full inclusion and differentiated instruction or is it just a big front?
From what I learn from teachers in different states and districts, it is quite possible that many in your district (and certainly in some others I know of) are totally gung-ho on differentiation and inclusion. There are "true believers" out there.
But there's also an incredible range of opinion, beliefs, knowledge and skills among K-8 teachers across the country. I wasn't aware of it myself until I got active on listserves for teachers starting in the mid-90's. That was a revelation. There are vast differences in practice, philosphy, organization, attitudes.
I don't see any rah-rah support of full inclusion or differentiation, in my area, and I've been in both middle and k-8 schools over the last 15 years or so. In general, teachers - like most parents I talk to - support inclusion in principle, but with reservations. Inclusion for whom? For what purpose? With what support? With what assurances that the needs of other students will not be compromised?(etc.) As for "differentiation," so far it is perceived as just another top-down mandate that must be complied with. Teachers have always individualized to some extent, at least in the elementary grades; this is just a more formal and paperwork-intensive way of doing that. To the extent that it deflects attention from providing special needs kids the services that really are needed, we are skeptical, even suspicious, of it.
Because of the financial climate, we don't really anticipate any improvement in services to the sped kids in the immediate future, so we get on with it. Stupid mandates have been part of the ed biz for as long as I can remember; most of them die a natural death over time only to be (as Catherine pointed out) reincarnated with a different moniker.
On some of my teacher discussion groups these issues get bruited about a lot, and those who post tend to be more critical of these trends than not. But there are some who wax prolix in their enthusiasm for inclusion and differentiation -- so your local observation is probably quite accurate. It isn't necessarily similar in other districts, though.
Recently I had an extended conversation with a teacher in a district quite similar to mine and was amazed by the totally different attitudes, ethos and philosophies informing the teaching staff and administration, given that phenotypically the school milieux were similar. Instead, the differences were staggering.
I'd like to see a mix of inclusion for the less-academic subjects combined with focused, small-group instruction for the special needs kids at their instructional level. I know from my experience in LD back in the day that many of these kids could be effectively taught and eventually reintegrated into general ed classrooms without IEPs, but that will NOT happen in the present scheme of things. As for keeping our opinions secret -- in our contract, it specifically states we may not publicly criticize the policies of the district (as individuals). We can -- and I have done this -- join with others and make submissions to the school board, etc. to address our concerns about poicies such as sped, inclusion and the like, and suggest modifications or alternatives. This works about as well as parent input -- sometimes an effect, often not.
When asked (by parents, generally) I try to point out the limitations of inclusion and look for ways the parent can make the system work for the child, or what resources they can access outside the system if need be. I also encourage them to let their elected representatives know about the issues. One problem is it sounds like motherhood and apple pie -- who can be "against" inclusion? You have to reframe the issue as one of providing effective instruction for all students, not just a seat in the classroom.
Thursday, July 5, 2012
palisadesk on full inclusion
On the subject of full inclusion, palisadesk writes: