California Moves to Reintegrate Special Education Students into Mainstream Education
California is moving to re-integrate special education students into mainstream education after having relied on a completely separate system of special education from classrooms to administration to testing. Let’s look at the reasons why they are doing this and what the results of this reform will be for special education students.
Ending the Abuse of Special Education for Administrative Benefit
There has been a disturbing trend to shuffle low-income students, whether or not they have learning disabilities or are simply unprepared for school, into special education programs. Special education students aren’t held to the same academic standards. Move a percentage of your worst performers to special education and your average test scores go up.
A second perverse incentive for schools to put as many as possible into special education is the increased funding available since the school receives more money when a child is classified as special needs. Parents often went along with the classification because they were told it makes more tutoring and resources available for the child, though the school doesn’t necessarily deliver on that promise.
By mainstreaming as many special needs students as possible, children who are behind academically for any reason cannot be hidden in the special needs classrooms, whether for the financial benefit of families and their schools or simply to increase test scores. The Director of the National Center on Educational Outcomes says 80% to 85% of special needs students are capable of the same academic achievement levels as other students if given support and instruction. Mainstreaming is intended to ensure this occurs while bringing them into the same accountability system as other students.
When children are never exposed to special education students, they don’t learn about these conditions or how to support them. Instead, they see the special cases as ones who should be excluded, learning intolerance instead of acceptance for the disabled. By integrating special education students as much as possible into mainstream education, the hope is for the general population to learn at an early age about these conditions and accept disabled individuals instead of demanding they be segregated and hidden from sight.
Improved Outcomes for Disabled Students
Disabled children tend to have better performance and outcomes when kept in a regular classroom as much as possible. By mainstreaming children with disabilities, those who have physical impairments but not mental ones are able to access full programs and enrichment activities instead of a classroom tailored to the needs of the mentally disabled students. Less gifted students gain access to sports and the arts they wouldn’t in a siloed educational environment, giving them additional incentives to maintain their grades and good behavior.
What California Will Be Doing
California intends to merge special education and general education for accountability purposes and it will alter the accountability standards that schools must meet. It will merge administration for both programs, though this may not actually result in reduced administrative headcount. Individualized education plans (IEPs) for students do not change. If you’ve completed a master of education in learning or cognition and development degree, demand for your skills will not change – you’ll only see a realignment on the organizational chart.
Re-integrating special education students into the main student body increases their odds of better educational outcomes. It leads to better socialization between them and the rest of the student body. It also ends the ability of administrators to send students with chaotic family lives, dire poverty, or insufficient prior schooling to special education so that they don’t pull down average test scores and generate more funding for the school.