There is still some evidence that “total inclusion” has yet to be realized in most schools in the U.S, mostly in regards to students with disabilities, including learning disabilities. Although the movement toward “total inclusion” is on in the realm of race, learning disabled and even physically disabled students are not completely mainstreamed even today. In every school I have worked in (and that now totals five), there was either a “self-contained” model for ELLs, Learning Disabled students, or a “pull-out” model within the mainstream school setting (which is what I do as an ELL “Resource” teacher).
There is evidence that this is also the case in some, if not most, middle schools and high schools. In an effort to make schools more racially diverse, many middle schools and high schools are moving to “magnet” status. The rationale for magnet schools is to give “school choice” and focus on “specialization”, and to increase diversity. Some of these magnet specializations include Fine Arts, STEM, and Bilingual (or Dual Language) Education. It remains to be seen if this method of desegregation and school choice will result in more diverse school populations. The quality of education at these magnet schools varies, but it is becoming increasingly evident that thorough “inclusion” and diversification is still a long way off.
In the article Vestiges of Segregation in the Implementation of Inclusion Policies in Public High Schools (McCarthy, Mary Rose, et.al. 2012), even after laws passed to racially desegregate public schools, like Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), and legislation passed in 1970, where funding was provided to meet the needs of children termed “handicapped” (McCarthy, et.al. 2012), students continued to be “segregated” within desegregated school districts, even as their civil rights to a public and free education were guaranteed by this legislation—in the form of “special classes”, or even separate schools. In 1974, the reauthorization of the Education of Handicapped Amendment (PL 93-380), Congress had ordered states to develop procedures to ensure that children with disabilities, including children in public and private institutions or private care facilities, were to be educated with their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent possible (McCarthy, et. al. 2012, p.310). After several amendments to provide more resources, provide an appropriate education in “the least restricted environment” as possible, and to protect their rights to due process, these amendments resulted in the 1990 law renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 1990). Although IDEA had a profound impact on the education of disabled students, now public schools had the responsibility to educate
In 1974, the reauthorization of the Education of Handicapped Amendment (PL 93-380), Congress had ordered states to develop procedures to ensure that children with disabilities, including children in public and private institutions or private care facilities, were to be educated with their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent possible (McCarthy, et. al. 2012, p.310). After several amendments to provide more resources, provide an appropriate education in “the least restricted environment” as possible, and to protect their rights to due process, these amendments resulted in the 1990 law renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 1990). Although IDEA had a profound impact on the education of disabled students, now public schools had the responsibility to educate all children…which led to a dual system within schools emerging to deal with disabled populations (McCarthy, et. al. 2012, p. 310). This led to a disparity in how much time these students spent in a mainstream classroom, versus a segregated or separate, setting. According to the Dept. of Education (2005), 50.1% or 5.9 million students with disabilities spent some, if not all of their school day in such settings (McCarthy, et. al. 2012, p.311). So, in essence, under IDEA, these segregated classrooms were not only allowed under law, but required by mandates that multiple placement options be “available and considered for each student with disabilities… (which) resulted in distinct administrative structures, unique certifications for teachers, specialized curriculum and instruction, different assessments, as well as unique graduation requirements and diplomas” (Gartner & Lipsky, 1987 via McCarthy, et. al. 2012, p. 311).
Because of this definition of making fully inclusive education available to such populations “whenever possible”, a slew of deviations and reinterpretations of the law affected how these students eventually received their educations, and much was left up to local education teams within the schools to decide how to implement them. Rationales for how these decisions were being made for the benefit of these and other students, and not merely the convenience of the schools, continue to this day. In one such case, the differences were the “physical and cultural characteristics socially constructed as “race”; in another, they were the physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral characteristics socially constructed as “ability”… leading to a sense of Otherness” within the school populations (McCarthy, et. al. 2012, p.312). It has been suggested, in this article and in other similar studies, that with this mindset came the trend of profiling certain races being identified for learning disabled services more and more frequently.
So what can we, as a society, do to stem this trend? We have to change our view of “disability“, of “Otherness“, and our tendency to profile students as being “potentially less successful” because of race, socio-economic circumstances, and cultural divergence. First, students with physical, mental, or learning “disabilities” should be monitored for what they are able to do, not what they are not able to do. Find their strengths, and you teach to those. Hire more one-on-one aides for mainstream classrooms, so these students can integrate with their peers while still getting support. Do not “dumb down” their curriculum, but teach the same curriculum, with alternative delivery methods and adapted text. As for the race issues, these are more deep-seated. This must be addressed at the societal level, starting at home. Parents need to teach tolerance and appreciation of other races and cultures. Society needs to begin to look at the reasons for poverty and racial disparities and fix the problems outside the schools, and this will eventually address the issues spilling over into the school culture. This would mean a real commitment from all public and private sectors, and most especially our leaders and policy-makers. Until this is done, it is unlikely any real, lasting change will be affected in the school culture…because that culture is modeled on the Dominant culture of our present society.