It has been twenty or so years now since the common wisdom came to be that fully including children with disabilities into general ed classes was a good thing. We were so very sure it was a good thing that we suspended common sense. Although granted that is one of the world’s greatest oxymorons. The notion that time spent on integrating children with special needs into a general ed classroom would take time away from the teacher teaching the rest of the class was simply swept away as the ramblings of people who were bigoted against kids with disabilities. Or even worse, people who did not believe in the potential of children with disabilities. We even preached the notion that special classes with specially trained teachers who actually wanted to work with these kids was a bad thing and should be limited as much as possible. Instead the PC view was that children with disabilities would rise to the challenge of chronological peers regardless of being taught by teachers with no special training and by people who didn’t really want to be there.
Now data from an extensive study in more than three dozen countries and regions of the world, including the US, shows that the time spent teaching goes down as the number of students with disabilities in a class goes up. IMAGINE THAT! Shocking!
The survey asked 121,000 teachers in 38 countries how inclusion impacted their teaching day. It appears that one of the issues interfering with instruction is student misbehavior that is treated as a separate issue from the disabilities of the students. No one seems to make the connection that kids misbehave more if they are struggling to learn. Most students would much rather be bad than dumb. Bad carries some prestige with it; dumb does not.
Other issues that interfere with teaching is the problem that the newest and sometimes least trained teachers are assigned to classes with the largest number of children with disabilities. Union rules allow more experienced teachers to have more say over where they will teach so as soon as they are able, teachers ask for a transfer as they gain seniority.
The differences between classes with few to no children with disabilities included and those with many children with disabilities was striking. The former group said, on average, that they spent 81% of their time teaching. The teachers with the most kids with disabilities said they spent 69% of their time teaching. The rest of the time was spent maintaining order. Overall, teachers without special needs children in their classes had 3 years more experience than teachers with special needs children (17.6 vs. 14.6). You would not think that the three years at this level of experience would make that much difference.
When inclusion was first introduced as a good idea, teachers were severely criticized if they said that was not what they signed up for. Parents of plain kids who suggested that having special needs children in with their typical kids would slow down their child’s learning were also quickly silenced.
Now we find out that this is not a zero-sum game. When we give something to some kids we are taking something away from others. Funny how we never noticed. Imagine That!!