On Talk of the Nation, Jennifer Ludden discusses the struggles and successes of inclusive educational settings for students with special needs with Harvard professor and former U.S. Education Department Director of the Office of Special Education Programs Thomas Hehir and NPR educational correspondent Claudio Sanchez.
Hehir discusses the rights of students with disabilities to be educated in inclusive settings and of the obligations of the people running the schools to make sure both the students and the teachers are receiving proper support. Studies have shown when kids with disabilities are educated in inclusive settings, the classrooms are better for all of the students.
The goal has been to develop individual plans that focus on social interaction and intellectual stimuli rather than broad segregation. Support is then made available and allocated according to each individual’s needs. Operating under this structure, the child is provided with opportunities to succeed first, rather than limiting opportunities upon the assumption of failure.
Unfortunately though, many school systems have adopted inclusive practices solely out of fiscal concerns . This often impromptu decision typically leads to untrained teachers with little to no support staff. Even worse, the students involved are suddenly expected to adapt to regular classrooms after years of studying in a segregated learning structure.
Hehir does offer a ray of light at the end of the discussion. Even though we have numerous examples of poorly implemented learning structures, we have other school systems testing plans with hugely positive results. We may not get things perfect in one school year, but we must change the way we are educating student with disabilities.
On an individual level, belief in the student should always come first. Referring to its negative counterpart, Hehir adds, “It’s what I refer to as ableism… a kind of a prejudicial attitude towards disability.” Studies of highly successful young adults with disabilities have shown that their parents’ & teachers’ attitudes matter. “Do they really believe and act on assumptions of capability? Or do they focus all of their efforts on the symptoms of disability and negative approaches towards disability?”
Listen to the conversation.