Mainstreaming special needs students is a big step in the right direction for our public school systems. No matter how forward thinking one is, however, there are negative aspects to the way mainstreaming is handled in most of our public school systems.
The FAPE, (Free and Appropriate Public Education), Act of 1973 guaranteed all students, special needs or not, to an appropriate public education if so desired. However, it failed to address issues such as teacher training, cost of special services or adequate space. It did not take into account that students from all walks of life must be trained and led to accept differences of all natures, whether physical or mental. These things need to be learned and taught, but are expensive to mandate on a large scale or quickly.
Mainstreaming special needs students gives them the opportunities to be treated as fairly and consistently as any other student. The idea is great; the realities are more difficult to manage. There are only so many hours in a school day. Lack of time in the classroom to address the needs of each and every student is an issue that needs more consideration in our governing of the public school system. Most children are not ready for an extended school day, (which would not be truly addressing the issue either). This lack of time produces teacher and student negativity by putting too much pressure on success too quickly.
Lack of training for teachers to address the particular disabilities, and the variety of those disabilities, in the classroom has become a negative in the mainstreaming of special needs students. Many teachers just do not have the abilities needed to oversee and instruct such a diverse group of students. This is especially true when we throw into the mix the NCLB Act. (No Child Left Behind Act of 2002) Teachers are supposed to teach ALL students within time frames and have those lessons be learned in such a way as to enable our students to be proficient in those subjects taught. It is asking a great deal of our instructors in the classroom to be able to teach such a diverse group of students with the positive results expected of them.
Though we don’t always like to discuss it as a negative result of mainstreaming our students, the amount of money that public schools need, but are not getting, in order to aid teachers in achieving desired results is a negative aspect. The programs for changes are good ones, but the the budgets are cut continuously and the funds are just not there for the tools needed to instruct all students from all walks of life. Many challenged students can be helped with computers or other technical aids that would help them in the daily classroom. But those items take money and, though the instigators of new programs mean well, that money is not always available. This is a simple case of putting the programs in force before being aware of where the funds will come from to produce the desired results. Our public schools are going broke. (Note that this is not merely because of mainstreaming but it does add in the rising costs.) The negative result is not the lack of funds themselves, but the lack of proper tools and instructions needed due to the lack of funds.
The degree of disability for the special needs student also must play an important role in the mainstreaming process. There are students who cannot thrive in the school environment. Placing them into that environment on a daily basis is not only not aiding them, but may place their personal “balance” into jeopardy. A student with severe disabilities faces ridicule every day, whether we as adults see it or not. One must take into consideration what is best for their student and whether his needs might be better met somewhere other than a public school. In order to negate the negatives of mainstreaming, another program needs to be in effect that teaches our students how to work together, be compassionate and accept that differences are a norm of life.
Mainstreaming the special needs student is, in most cases, a step in the right direction for their educational needs. Parents who consider this option alone must also be aware of the negative aspects mainstreaming may cause to their student. Parents should be an active advocate for their own child’s educational rights. There are options for education that are inclusive in public schools such as IEP’s, 504’s, TAT meetings. There are also options a parent can turn to such as correspondence schools, home schooling programs, Internet sources, private education facilities, or mixtures of all of the above. There are negatives to all of those mentioned. Research and being an active part of a child’s education will make a world of difference to a child no matter where he is educated.