"Inclusion doesn't work unless class sizes are greatly reduced."
"Children are suffering due to lack of support."
"We need more help!"
These quotes are from classroom teachers in the Scranton, Pa., public school system, where two-thirds of 750 teachers surveyed listed the inclusion of special education students in mainstream classrooms as their top concern. The quotes are included in a June 25 front-page article in The Wall Street Journal entitled "Mainstreaming Trend Tests Classroom Goals," which lays out why the trend of including disabled children in public school classrooms is creating problems and why experts believe it is a key factor behind teacher turnover and a shortage of qualified teachers across the nation.
If a student in your family with an autism spectrum disorder is in a mainstream classroom or may have this opportunity in the future, this article would be good to read. The article uses stories from Scranton to illustrate that:
* Teachers don't get enough training to know what to do with children who have a wide range of disabilities, including autism. Without the right kind and amount of training, they can't educate these children effectively to help the entire class progress.
* There aren't enough special education staff to support disabled students and the classroom teacher. Among staff who are in place, special education aides typically are high school graduates and receive little training.
* The results not only create problems for the classroom. They create tension between parents and educators, and potentially among families who share a classroom. The "regular education" students feel neglected, even as the special education students fail to make much progress. So while the policy of mainstreaming, the idea of including disabled kids in mainstream classrooms fulfills goals laid out in federal law to provide every child with a qualified teacher in the least restrictive setting possible, the effect is to burn out teachers who don't have the training and support to make it work.
The bottom line message: while inclusion is a worthy goal -- mainstreaming has the potential to teach kids with all kinds of abilities important lessons they can learn from each other -- it's hard to see how inclusion can work well without the necessary resources. Districts like Scranton -- and one can see how there are many Scrantons across the U.S. -- need to hire more people, train them properly and support them. The people on the front lines of our education system need to be put in positions where they can succeed.
The Journal is a subscription-only publication, but if you can find Monday's newspaper at the library, or have a friend or colleague at work who can share this story with you, it would be worth your time.