|Full Inclusion or Full Immersion? (Image from Flickr, by Gui Seiz)
One of the latest trends in Special Education is “Full Inclusion.” The idea is that all students benefit from being in the “least restrictive” environment. Special day classes (SDC)—where many special needs students were traditionally exposed to much of their curriculum—segregated them from the general student population and relied on special education (SPED) teachers who were not necessarily credentialed in the subjects which they were teaching.
Many schools are now placing these same students in regular education classes (e.g., science, English, social studies, math). In California, this means they are sometimes in classes with 35-38 students. In the past, most SDC students would have been in small classes of 7-14 students, with a SPED teacher and another 1-3 paraprofessional aides to assist them. Thus, SDC students had very low student to adult ratios ranging from 2:1 to 15:1.
While I don’t wish to argue the merits of full inclusion in this piece, I think it should be obvious to most observers that this is a bastardization of the spirit and goals of the program. Throwing 3-5 SDC students into a class of this size, especially without any aids to assist them, is like throwing a beginning swimmer out of a boat without a life jacket. These are students who generally require additional support. They are often reading far below grade level and may have a range of disabilities that challenge their abilities to access the content.
With budget cuts plaguing school districts throughout the nation, schools are looking for any sort of trick that saves them money. Increasing student to teacher ratios is one way of doing this. More students per teacher means fewer teachers need to be on the payroll. Mainstreaming SPED students without providing paraprofessionals or other aides to assist them also saves districts money.