During a period when the country’s public schools are experiencing dwindling state education budgets and increased unfunded mandates from the federal government, the search for optimal approaches to providing high quality educational services for students with learning disabilities has assumed new importance and relevance. In an attempt to satisfy the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, a growing number of special educators agree that full inclusion is the optimal approach for providing the individualized services needed by young learners with special needs. Known as “mainstreaming” in the past, full inclusion means integrating students with special physical, cognitive or emotional needs into traditional classroom setting. Practices that promote full inclusion for students with special needs assist educators in focusing instruction in innovative ways to help meet the educational needs of an increasingly diverse student population with a wide array of specialized needs. Critics of full inclusion argue that in many if not most instances, young learners with special needs fail to receive the specialized training they are going to need to succeed after they leave school. Proponents of full inclusion counter that all students can benefit from inclusive practices and resources are available in the community to assist with daily needs training. To determine the facts, this study uses a review of the relevant peer-reviewed and scholarly literature and a qualitative meta-analysis concerning these issues, followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.
The full inclusion of special needs learners in the general social, educational and occupational contexts of the mainstream student population represents a worthwhile goal as well as the optimal approach for gaining academic skills. Indeed, this issue remains a hot topic among many educators and policymakers alike. As Hughes, Saumell and Sinagub (2007) point out, “Discussions about where students with disabilities should be instructed have received more attention and generated more controversy than any other issue concerning the education of students with disabilities, including how or what these students should be taught” (p. 25). The research to date provides growing evidence of the need to integrate young learners who are physically, emotionally or learning disabled into full inclusion schools. This trend has been overwhelmingly positive, with legal, economic and educational strategies combining to provide an effective and productive shift in the manner in which educators contend with the specialized educational needs of special need students. The inclusive practices mandated by law require that educational institutions are delivered in a fashion to accommodate the needs of special needs students to fully assimilate into non-disabled population classroom settings.
Prior to the 1950s, the federal government was not actively involved in the provision of educational services for special needs students in the United States to any significant degree. For instance, Horn and Tynan report that before 1950, “A few federal laws had been passed to provide direct educational benefits to persons with disabilities. These laws, however, were in the tradition of providing residential arrangements for persons with serious disabilities, services that had existed since colonial times” (2001, p. 36). Moreover, there were some significant geographic differences involved in the types of educational services that were provided special needs students, even after 1950. In this regard, Horn and Tynan emphasize that, “Although some public schools undoubtedly provided exceptional services to children with disabilities, others did not. Indeed, as recently as 1973, perhaps as many as one million students were denied enrollment in public schools solely on the basis of their disability” (2001, p. 36). Indeed, in a number of...
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