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Inclusion vs. Self-Contained Education

In 2014, 2.4 million American public school students were diagnosed with a learning disability, according to the U.S. Department of Education. This number accounts for five percent of our nation’s public school population. Many of these students also have a secondary disability.

Special education teachers work tirelessly addressing these students’ needs. There is no “one size fits all” solution. From teaching methods, to support techniques, to classroom models-special education is a nuanced field.

Evaluation Process and IEP Designation

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), each student with a disability is entitled to a “free and appropriate public education” in the “least restrictive environment.” In other words, these students have the right to receive necessary adaptations.

In order for a student to receive special education services, he or she must qualify for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Special education teachers, parents, school administrators, general education teachers and counselors all play an important role in the IEP process.

Special Education Classroom Models

The type of special education classroom model to which each school adheres impacts the implementation of these individualized plans. The two primary models are inclusion classrooms and self-contained classrooms.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 95 percent of students with disabilities are served in regular schools and 61.2 percent of those students spend 80 percent or more of their time in a general education classroom. Neither inclusion nor self-contained classrooms perfectly address the needs of special education students. Both models have noteworthy benefits and drawbacks.

Inclusion Classroom

In schools that rely on the inclusion classroom model, students with special needs attend class with their general population peers. In a full inclusion classroom, services are brought to the students. Some inclusion schools use a less absolute model called partial inclusion. Under partial inclusion, students spend a portion of their day in a resource room, working with a special education teacher.

Potential Inclusion Classroom Benefits:

  • Strong peer-to-peer interaction, development of meaningful friendships and increased diversity
  • Special needs students are given greater access to the school’s general curriculum, as special education and general education teachers work in tandem
  • Higher expectations may be placed on special needs students
  • Students are not labeled in a way that could decrease their self worth

Potential Inclusion Classroom Drawbacks:

  • In full inclusion classrooms, general education teachers may receive little input from special education teachers
  • The class’ overall academic achievement testing scores may be affected
  • General education and special education students may be deprived of important individualized attention and assistance
  • It may be difficult for a teacher to adequately address the needs of a classroom comprised entirely of special needs learners
  • Special needs students may only encounter their general education peers at lunchtime and recess
  • Social interaction difficulties could become exacerbated
  • There may not be a path available to return a student to a general education classroom

Blanket inclusion classroom policies are not appropriate for severely disabled students

Self-Contained Classroom

Self-contained special education classrooms are typically smaller in size and are led by a teacher with special education certification. Students in self-contained classrooms also receive special support and intervention in adherence with the terms of their IEP.

Potential Self-Contained Classroom Benefits:

  • Some students require more intensive intervention than can be offered in an inclusion classroom
  • Small class sizes foster individualized attention
  • Self-contained classroom special education teachers are uniquely able to account for individualized learning styles
  • Students form close relationships with one teacher

Potential Self-Contained Classroom Drawbacks

  • It may be difficult for a teacher to adequately address the needs of a classroom comprised entirely of special needs learners
  • Special needs students may only encounter their general education peers at lunchtime and recess
  • Social interaction difficulties could become exacerbated
  • There may not be a path available to return a student to a general education classroom

Do you believe one classroom model is superior? Do you find benefit in a hybrid approach? This topic will be one of the many you will explore in greater depth as you embark on your special education career.