I'm still on a quest for making inclusive education successfully happen for Kayla. We changed schools this year and have her at her neighborhood school; and I still feel confident that was the right decision to make. She should be at her neighborhood school riding the same bus as the other kids on our street.
However, just switching schools and getting the school to agree with her placement in the general education 3rd grade classroom doesn't mean things are going as well as I'd like them to be, or that I hoped they would be.
It's hard to be the first one to ask for something of this magnitude to be done differently. It's hard asking not just a school, but the school district, to do things differently. It's hard when the mindset has been one way for so long. It's hard when it's just you (and your spouse) who are the only ones on your child's team who feel like this can work.
There is a difference between inclusion and mainstream. Mainstream is when the child with a disability is in a special education as their placement; that is their main classroom ... and they get to be with their non-disabled peers in the regular classroom during certain times. Usually those times are fine arts, lunch, recess, and in most (I think) cases, history (or social studies) and science. The bulk of the time spent on the core courses happens with math and language arts; so the bulk of the time is in the spec ed room with the student visiting the general ed classroom.
We tried that in the last school. She was in the special ed classroom for the bulk of instruction in math and English Language Arts. We don't feel like she made much progress in that setting. For us, the biggest issue with that setting is she wasn't on the same general education curriculum as the students in the general ed classroom.
I'm not delusional about Kayla's present levels; I know she isn't on a third grade level - I know there are many obstacles she faces in the 3rd grade class. But I also know it's a misconception that students with disabilities need to be at or near grade level to be in the general ed class. With the proper supports and modifications she can be in the classroom engaging in, participating in, and making progress in the general education curriculum.
The Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education has several great resources on their site including this one on Inclusive Education Research and Practice: Inclusion Works! In 2004 research showed “No studies conducted since the late 1970’s have shown an academic advantage for students with intellectual and other developmental disabilities educated in separate settings.”
If no studies having shown an academic advantage for students with intellectual disabilities educated in separate settings then why are the vast majority of schools still educating students with disabilities this way? I know IDEA states there has to be a continuum of services offered; however these separate settings should not be where the majority of students with disabilities are educated.
It's not enough for Kayla's placement to be in the general ed classroom with no real change to how things are done in this district. I'd like to see a true willingness to think outside the box; I'd like to see the schools here make changes to move towards a more inclusive educational platform instead of automatically placing students with disabilities in 1 of 3 types of special ed classroom - Mild, Moderate, and Severe (but more commonly referred to as they have been for years here before the classification was changed - Educable, Trainable, and Profound.); I'd like to see the district bring in inclusion experts and have trainings for the general education teachers because its not entirely fair to them to have a child with an intellectual disability in their class and they haven't received any special education training. I'd like to see collaborative planning between special education teachers and general education teachers on how to make the general education curriculum accessible for those with disabilities.
I'm not asking for too much, am I? Ha! Seriously, I wish I knew how to get some true changes to how students with disabilities are educated here, but I don't know how to make those changes come about.
In the meantime we prepare for yet another IEP where I leave feeling defeated and wondering if I really know what is in the best interest for Kayla. I know what I want for her, but so far I feel like I've failed in her educational experience. It just shouldn't be this hard; parents shouldn't still have to be advocating for the least restrictive environment to be the general education setting when study after study after study, for years and years, show more positive gains and academic progress for students with disabilities educated in the general education classroom.