A.F.T. Urges Halt to 'Full Inclusion' Movement
The American Federation of Teachers last month called for a moratorium on the "full inclusion'' movement, prompting an outcry among special educators and disability-rights advocates who support the goal of educating students with disabilities in regular classrooms.
"We have great problems with the movement that says, 'Start by putting all the kids in the [regular] classrooms,''' Albert Shanker, the president of the A.F.T., said at a news conference here.
Citing reports from their members that students with disabilities were monopolizing an inordinate amount of time and resources and, in some cases, creating violent classroom environments, the union urged that inclusion initiatives be halted until policies are developed to deal with such problems.
"This reaction did not come from the leadership'' of the A.F.T., said Marcia Reback, the head of the A.F.T.'s special-education task force and the president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers.
"Teachers ... turned to A.F.T. and asked A.F.T. to do something about what was happpening in their schools,'' she said.
Union officials also noted that some parents and advocates have expressed concern that the services disabled children once enjoyed in separate educational settings do not always follow them when they move to regular classrooms.
Educators who support the inclusion concept agreed that it has not been successful in all cases, but argued against a moratorium on moving disabled children into the mainstream.
Going Too Far?
Instead, they argued, educators and administrators should support the programs that work and reform the ones that do not.
"We appreciate their concerns, but we don't think a moratorium is in order,'' said Martha Fields, the executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education.
"There are instances where there are problems, but I also think that there are instances where inclusive schooling is working very well, and to the benefit of the whole school,'' Ms. Fields said.
When inclusion efforts are unsuccessful, supporters contend, the problems are often the result of a lack of appropriate training for teachers in mainstream classrooms, ignorance about inclusion among senior-level administrators, and a general lack of funding for resources and training.
Some also say some special-education advocates place too much emphasis on placing all children in integrated classrooms as quickly as possible.
"I don't think anybody should look on inclusion as the end-all and be-all, but, in some instances, people think it is,'' said Bob Chase, the vice president of the National Education Association.
"We're not talking about wholesale dumping of kids'' into regular classrooms, said Virginia Roach, the deputy executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education.
Ms. Roach said that a moratorium on inclusion initiatives would hurt efforts to racially desegregate schools where children from minority groups are placed in special-education classes in disproportionate numbers.
"Rather than throw out the baby with the bathwater, we should highlight those places that need help,'' Ms. Roach said.
While many school districts once rejected inclusion because they thought it too costly, Mr. Shanker and others now say that some districts have rushed to bring all students into regular classrooms, regardless of their ability, in an effort to save money.
"It's a budget-cutting device in many cases using the fig leaf of altruism,'' Mr. Shanker said.
Mr. Chase of the N.E.A. agreed, "There's no question that the inclusion movement is being abused in some places.''
But supporters argued that, while administrators may see inclusion as a means to save funds by lumping together all students in the same facilities, inclusion rarely costs less than segregated classes when the concept is implemented responsibly.
"To do it correctly, it will be somewhat more expensive,'' said Patrice Hall, the district manager of special education for the Denver public schools.
Special-education advocates expressed concern that disabled students could become the scapegoats for the failings of the entire educational system.
"What's important here is not to villainize children with disabilities,'' said Gary Warrington, the director of special student services for the Minneapolis public schools.
Mr. Warrington took issue with what he perceived as Mr. Shanker's assertion that the presence of students with disabilities hurts other students' learning opportunities. In the Minneapolis schools, he said, some parents of non-disabled students had requested that their children be placed in the inclusive classrooms, because they believe they have greater resources and the classes are better organized.
Witnessing the struggles and triumphs of their disabled peers can prove to be an inspiration to other students, Mr. Warrington added.
"[Some] teachers ... say that all kids become gentler and kinder to one another,'' he said.