Special education is not a place.
In the first of a series of articles whose topics will be inspired by each letter of the words SPECIAL EDUCATION, self-contained classrooms will be discussed in the context of the continuum of placement options for students who receive special education services and supports.
A free appropriate public education is the legal right of students identified as having a qualifying disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). "Free" is a discussion for another day. But, what is an "appropriate education" and where does it happen? Because seasoned folks know that what is best for the child has no bearing on the legal expectations placed on public schools, let's drill down a little further to get to the intent of the law as it pertains to an appropriate education.
An appropriate education is one that allows the child to make progress towards the general education curriculum of non-disabled peers. It is whatever combination of services and supports is necessary to see measurable progress, strides towards the mastery of IEP goals, and the gap in present levels of academic achievement and functional performance decrease in relation to the general education curriculum over time.
Before I had my son, I always assumed special education was a place a few kids go. It was the small white trailer detached from the main school to the side of the campus. It was the room at the most distant corridor. It was a separate school. Those short yellow buses took kids to special education.
Not so, says IDEA. A child should be educated with appropriate services and supports in the least restrictive environment (LRE). Plain as day. Clear as mud. Here is a list of the various placement options for students who qualify for special education with general descriptions of each:
* Inclusion - students typically receive all education alongside non-disabled peers, receiving services and supports including accomodations and curriculum modifications in the classroom to gain full access to the general education curriculum.
* Mainstreaming - students receive much of their education in a self-contained classroom, but are included in select academic and elective classes as determined by the IEP team.
* In-class resource center - students spend some classtime at a separate resource area in the classroom to focus on IEP goals/objectives and to receive any related services, such as physical therapy.
* Pull-out resource center - students leave the classroom to work on a particular aspect of instruction or therapy.
* Self-contained classroom - a classroom located in a school where students receive instruction, usually without significant access to their non-disabled peers or the general education curriculum.
* Special school - a school where only students with disablities attend. Access to the general curriculum is oftne very limited, if it is available at all.
It is beyond the scope of this article to put forward all of the research that has been done to compare student outcomes based on placement. The general consensus has it that students who have limited access to the general education curriculum do not make the academic and/or functional progress that students who do have access demonstrate consistently.
That said, each placement option is valid and is the least restrictive environment for some students. The challenge is to determine what placement your child will most benefit from based on the vision you and your child have of his or her post-school goals. There are philosophical perspectives that influence decision-making. There are biases, too. Financial constraints sway choice.
There are wonderful articles online to continue your research on least restrictive environment and placement options. Please see the category links on the home page to learn more.