Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Illusion of Full Inclusion with James Gallagher part 2

The Illusion of Full Inclusion is a series of essays about inclusion edited by James M. Kauffman and Daniel P. Hallahan. In it, James Gallagher penned The Pull of Societal Forces on Special Education. He discusses the social setting of PL 94-142- civil rights and racial discrimination being in the forefront of our collective conscience. One of his concerns is that full inclusion equates with equal outcomes. He states that
Few children with disabilities will go to law school or medical school, or even to college, so somewhere in the developmental progression in education these children should be separated from their nondisabled peers. How and when should this be done?  p. 75

His premise is that when we look at a 6 year old with significant cognitive challenges, we recognize that they are not going to law school or med school so providing an education that ideally prepares students for that setting is wrong. Students with low functioning levels need functional skills and we do them a disservice by not providing them. Most students benefit from more inclusive environments at an early age, but that may need to change as they age and the curriculum becomes more academically strenuous.

In full disclosure, I have a multiply disabled brother. He has cognitive and daily living skills between those of a 1 and 2 year old. In addition, he has cerebral palsy and a visual impairment. I remember my mother talking about when he became old enough to enter the junior high and the school sent a letter with a proposed schedule and locker number. She called school and asked if they wanted her to bring his diaper bag in separately or if it could be sent in with him. It was a tongue in cheek suggestion; everyone was on board with him attending a special school with a class ratio of 12:1:4 (students: teachers: aides) in which he had an individual one-on-one aide. Although class size would have permitted it, I do not think there were ever more than eight students in the class, usually fewer than six. They focused on communication, dressing, eating, physical therapy, occupational therapy, functional reading, motor skills, preschool educational goals and direction following. Until age twenty-one he attended this program, learning how to dress, developing his motor and communication skills. Would his life have been enhanced by letting him look at microbes through  a microscope? No, but several microscopes would have likely been damaged. Would he have been better off sitting in a class covering algebra? No, and it would have been disruptive to those around him. My brother was never going to be employed. Exposing him to the standard curriculum would not have benefited him. Other students would not benefit from being in a classroom where one student either was sidelined to different activities or needed constant care of others for basic needs and behavior maintenance. Admittedly he represents the extreme end of the spectrum of disabilities.

I attended a study abroad program in Denmark in the early 90's. They had been a country of full inclusion. I will never forget going to a classroom with moderately functioning students and talking with the teacher. He said, yes, they had been able to teach his kids to read, but giving them the mindset of equal opportunity was a fallacy. Denmark had a 10 % unemployment rate at the time. Employers with that much choice in employees were unlikely to pick one who needed extra support and training. The students were increasingly depressed upon graduation about their failure to be gainfully employed. Now they separated the students; different outcome expectations left students happier. I am not saying that we should condone blanket placement of anyone, but careful assessment of placement is important. Outcomes need to be considered.

In the beginning of my career, I interviewed for a job in a district that used full inclusion. At the time, I was teaching summer school in a special school setting with a maximum of six kids and one paraprofessional because of extreme behavioral needs. I was asked if I thought that all students could be successful in the mainstream with "the proper support and behavior modification plans." My answer of "no, everyone cannot have their needs served in the mainstream classroom" probably cost me the job. Professional organizations like CEC, NCLD, and NAD for example all argue for a spectrum of placement options. I still believe this.

I have heard countless parents moan that their child who has tried so hard at high school just cannot pass the exit exams and so will not be able to earn a diploma. Both the parents and the students are devastated. While I applaud the increase in graduation rates for students with disabilities, not all students will pass the tests and be able to earn a diploma. Would these students be better off in separate classes that allow a focus on functional classes and vocational skills? Would job shadowing, job coaching and school to work programs not be better than sitting in algebra class and algebra support class one more time? The decision to shift students to functional pathways cannot occur too early, but it is an individual decision. My brother did not need any Common Core ELA or math. He is not alone.

We need to think carefully about the paths we put our students on. We need to be realistic about outcomes, but since we cannot predict the future, we cannot give up too early. This decision should not be made by the state saying all kids need to have meaningful interactions with the Common Core. Nor should it be made by parents who refuse to see the hideously painful struggle their children experience on a daily basis. It needs to be made by a team of professionals and  family members working in concert, looking at both the data and the subjective experiences of the child. It should not be an all or none decision at the beginning, we should gradually reexamine the situation on an at least annual basis. We need to think about realistic outcomes for our children and provide an education to help them realize this. If this means how to put on pants, then that is what the curriculum should entail, not the major economic products of the Midwest states.

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