Early Childhood Education



In 1975, Congress passed a law, the Education for All Handicapped Act (now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA]), which specified that children with disabilities were entitled to a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. This law ended the isolation of students with disabilities who were denied access to public schools or attended isolated settings. This meant that students with disabilities were to be educated in the general education classroom.

Through the 1970s, the term mainstreaming was used to describe the placement of children in classrooms with typically developing children. This meant that students with disabilities who were placed in special classes should be exposed to the general education classroom for at least part of the day. For instance, they could participate in art and music with their typically developing peers. Advocates for children with disabilities set the goal that exposure to and engagement with typically developing peers for at least part of the day be interpreted as a positive educational experience for all children, not just those with disabilities. As concerns grew about the need to be more mindful of environmental and curriculum decisions as they might better support the learning of all children, the term integration began to replace the term and concept of mainstreaming. Although attitudes were changing about children with disabilities, sometimes there was an expectation that children with disabilities needed to demonstrate their abilities and skills, thereby convincing others that they could earn the right to be in the general education classroom at least some of the time.

During the 1980s, “inclusion” became the term used to describe the education of children with disabilities in the general education classroom. Along with this change in vocabulary was a significant change in attitude regarding children’s rights and teachers’ responsibilities. Although students could receive some instruction in other settings, their education would be the responsibility of the general education teacher. One of the major differences between contemporary practices and those associated with mainstreaming is that the general education classroom is now considered the placement for the student with disabilities. In other words, students with special needs are not assigned to a special education classroom; rather, their placement home is the general education classroom.

The term “full inclusion” (also known as the Regular Education Initiative of the 1980s) is used to refer to the practice of serving students with disabilities entirely within the general education classroom. Special educators and other specialists may provide services, but the child would be present in the general education classroom at all times. During this period there were also proponents of the concept of a continuum of services by those who believed that full inclusion would unnecessarily cause some services and special education classes to be eliminated. Such a constriction of special education programs would, they feared, limit options for parents who might wish to choose some placement other than an inclusive setting.

Stainback and Stainback (1994) articulate a number of goals for inclusive schools. Chief among them is that they “... meet unique educational, curricular, and instructional needs of all students within the general education classes.” In addition, IDEA now asks that Individualized Education Plan (IEP) teams explain clearly the reasons why a child should not be placed in the regular education classroom, thus, favoring the notion of inclusion.

Inclusive schools emphasize valuing each community member, equitable community participation, a sense of belonging for all children. A strengths/needs approach to education is taken as opposed to a deficit orientation. This approach represents more than mere compliance with the law. It can mean improved education for all children. These principles are reflected in the endorsement of a position statement by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children. Tensions remain around issues of placement, finance, and social inclusion.

Further Readings: Anderson, Peggy L. (1997). Case studies for inclusive schools. 2nd ed. Austin, TX: Pro-ed Publishers; Bauer, A. M., and T. M. Shea (1999). Inclusion 101: How to teach all learners. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.; Clough, P. and J. Corbett (2000). Theories of inclusive education. London: Paul Chapman Publishing Ltd.; Mastropieri, M. A., and T. E. Scruggs (2007). The inclusive classroom. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall; Stainback, S., and W. Stainback (1990). Inclusive schooling. In W. Stainback and S. Stainback, eds., Support networks for inclusive schooling. Baltimore: Brookes Publishing Co., pp. 3-23; Wolery, M., P. S. Strain, and D. B. Bailey (1992). Chapter 7: Reaching potentials of children with special needs. In S. Bredekamp and T. Rosengrant, eds., Reaching potentials: Appropriate curriculum and assessment for young children. Vol. 1. Washington, DC: NAEYC, pp. 92-111.

Web Site: NAEYC/DEC, http://www.naeyc.org/about/positions/pdF/PSINC98.

Betty N. Allen