The Advantages of Inclusion/Mainstreaming
According to Bruder the research findings over the past thirty years demonstrate that it is beneficial for children with disabilities to interact with children without disabilities. Many teachers further concur in finding that inclusion has a beneficial affect on children during preschool years. They believe that the children with and without disabilities learn from each other and this learning and being together enhance their social development. As a result of the increased stance towards inclusion, many teachers have developed positive attitudes toward inclusion and this then has led to increased student learning. The teachers have claimed that not only is exclusion a violation of the part of the special education law that mandates a least restrictive environment, but it is also unacceptable to them. Those who have a negative attitude towards inclusion can be affected by a lack of sufficient knowledge about inclusive practices and not having enough support.
Huang and Diamond also demonstrated that teachers are more likely to have a positive attitude on inclusion. This positive attitude they believe is very important for inclusive programs to succeed. The researchers were able to explain some of the factors that were necessary in order for teachers to be willing to implement inclusive practices in their classrooms. When teachers were not required to make too many adaptations to their curriculum it was easier for them to accept inclusion. It was also reported that when teachers felt more competent and knowledgeable about special needs and were satisfied with the amount of education and training that they had received their attitudes to inclusion were more positive. On the other hand teachers in the general education classes who did not have a lot of training in special education and had limited experience teaching students with disabilities were less confident in their understanding of inclusion and therefore in their ability to embrace inclusive practices. Another factor was the extent of the disabilities the child suffered. Teachers’ attitudes were more positive with children with milder disabilities than with children with more serious emotional and behavioral issues and other severe disabilities. The amount of support that teachers received in their classroom was another factor that was shown to influence the teacher’s perception of inclusion.
One of the issues Huang and Diamond noticed was that even though teachers had a positive attitude to inclusion it did not necessarily mean that they were actually implementing it in their classrooms. Their beliefs in inclusion did not always match what they were practicing in the classroom. Huang and Diamond noticed in an earlier study that many early childhood program directors did not have a policy regarding inclusion and some had even declined to offer services to children with disabilities, even though they reported a positive attitude to inclusion. It is not enough to believe in the concept of inclusion or to simply place children with disabilities in a regular education classroom. Huang and Diamond therefore set out to survey teachers to find out how they viewed inclusion. They surveyed 155 pre-school teachers. The results of their study matched previous literature that said that teachers were more comfortable accepting a child with mild disability or physical disability in their classrooms. The teachers’ level of education and years of experience also correlated with willingness to accept child with disabilities, as in other previous studies. However, the researchers did address the fact that these were attitude surveys and the research did not include observations of what the teachers were doing in their classroom. Therefore, it is difficult to determine whether a positive attitude towards inclusion translates to teachers practicing inclusion in the classroom.
The Disadvantages of Inclusion/Mainstreaming
Although many educators believe that inclusion is a successful strategy in educating students with special needs, some have argued that this strategy has not been shown to be completely effective. According to Weddel the effects of including students with special needs into a traditional classroom have not been definitively proven. Weddel further outlines that the decision to move towards inclusion is a difficult prospect that is influenced by three main factors. These issues include identifying children with disabilities, deciding whether they should learn the same curriculum, and whether the students with severe disabilities would learn in the regular classroom. Whether or not all children with disabilities can effectively master the same curriculum taught in a traditional classroom is heavily contingent on the individual child and the extent of their disabilities. However, in arguing against inclusion, many believe that children with severe disabilities will not be able to master the skills taught in a traditional classroom.
Others argue that the training the teacher received may not be sufficient in working with children with special needs. Huang and Diamond further identified that not all schools are able to afford trained special education professionals. However, in schools that were, many teachers that did not have a background in special education believed that special education teachers had more resources and support for educating children with special needs. The lack of teacher confidence and training when dealing with children with disabilities directly affects how these children learn. Furthermore, it could be argued that children without disabilities suffer academically when children with disabilities are introduced to a classroom in which the teacher lacks the training and skills to handle the needs of these students.