The Pros and Cons of Mainstreaming Students with Disabilities

Mainstreaming students with disabilities into the regular classroom remains a topic of hot debate. Depending upon the type (learning, physical, mental) and severity of the disability, mainstreaming holds certain advantages and disadvantages for students and educators alike.

Section 504

In the United States, the battle for including students with disabilities in the regular classroom truly began in the 1960s, later resulting in The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. Section 504, Title 34 states that all students’ academic setting should be inclusive within the regular classroom for “the maximum extent appropriate to the need of the” student (104.34). Translating this governmental definition of appropriate education setting regarding students with disabilities into practice creates friction between the opposing sides of the mainstreaming issue.

Pros of Mainstreaming

When considering the advantages of incorporating students with disabilities into the regular classroom, one must keep in mind all parties affected.  Mainstreaming may be advantageous for the student while creating other problems for his/her peers and even the teacher. All factors should be equally weighed on an individual basis.

* Labeling: Students who have been identified as disabled carry with them the stigma of their label. Isolating these students within a self-contained special education classroom only intensifies this stigma among their peers. By mainstreaming these students, the label can be separated from the student instead of defining the student within their educational environment.

* Self-Esteem: Coupled with labeling, the self-esteem of students with disabilities is thought to increase when they are allowed to learn alongside their peers rather than being excluded. As the student’s self-esteem rises, so will the expectations they set for themselves – along with those set by their teachers.

* Academic Performance: Studies show that the self-predicting prophecy psychology plays a major role within education. If a student believes that his/her disabilities hinder success and the environment only reinforces this belief (i.e. self-contained classroom), then the student will have academic failure. If, on the other hand, the student learns to work with others within the regular classroom setting, regardless of his/her disability, then that student will succeed academically.

Cons of Mainstreaming

Opponents to mainstreaming students with disabilities into the regular classroom put forth a strong argument as well.

* Educator Training: Those who oppose mainstreaming point out the lack of special education training of regular classroom teachers. Certain disabilities require specialized training beyond the general education certification offered through most college curricula. The cost of training those teachers who would be in charge of mainstreamed students with the disability then falls upon the school system. Budget cuts in today’s economy only hinder this necessary training further.

* Classroom Management: Some behavioral disabilities can be quite disruptive to the regular classroom environment. Unlike the self-contained classroom, the number of students per class can be up into the 20s or 30s. Even with a veteran teacher in charge, it only takes one disruptive student to make classroom management a nightmare and the planned lesson a waste.

* Lack of Resources: Another con about mainstreaming is the lack of resources available to students with disabilities while in the regular classroom. Self-contained classrooms are equipped with such resources as visual and hearing aids for physical disabilities, as well as for various learning and mental disabilities.

An Individual Decision

Weighing out the pros and cons of mainstreaming students with disabilities really comes down to an individual decision. While some of those students would benefit greatly from being academically incorporated with their peers, others’ disabilities would only hinder their educational success within the regular classroom. So as long as mainstreaming remains an option and not a requirement, parents, students and educators will work together to determine what would be the most appropriate educational setting for each student.