Miriam Kurtzig Freedman's August 4, 2013 WSJ article entitled "'Mainstreaming' Special-Ed Students Needs Debate” – certainly does need debate.
The article by Ms. Freedman wholly disregards both the law and science. Her erroneous proposition that educating children with disabilities alongside their non-disabled peers is harmful to students without disabilities has no basis is science nor legal precedents. Not only is this claim based on stereotype, but this viewpoint disregards decades of legal and scientific developments and undercuts a quarter of a century of progress in remedying widespread discrimination against children with disabilities.
Ms. Freedman claims that when teachers focus on students with disabilities, the other students will be shortchanged. This notion is wholly unsupported by scientific research, in fact studies have shown just the opposite.
Research has shown that academic performance for students without disabilities is equal to or better in inclusive settings (i.e. settings with disabled and non-disabled students) than in non-inclusive settings, and that the presence of children with disabilities in the classroom has no effect on the time allocated
to instruction or levels of interruption. Contrary to Ms. Freedman's claims, scientific research also shows that students with disabilities have higher levels of academic achievement in inclusive settings. On this point, the research is clear: students, both with and without disabilities, do better academically when they are educated side by side.
Research also supports the significant social and emotional benefits that all students receive in inclusive classrooms. Ms. Freedman minimizes the importance of these social and emotional benefits, which is unfortunate, as these benefits can be life altering for both students with and without disabilities.
Ms. Freedman correctly states that students with disabilities have rights to a free appropriate public education and an individualized education program, which allows for parental involvement. However, she then states "that no other group of students or parents enjoys such rights. "
All children have a right to education. Brown v the Board of Education, the seminal Supreme Court case mandating racial desegregation in schools, established education as a right to which ALL children are entitled. Individualized programming is a necessary component of the education of children with disabilities because their educational needs are individual. One student might require Braille while
another might need extra help with speech. Ms. Freedman's claim that no other group of students enjoys these rights is akin to saying "People who can't walk get to use wheelchairs. Nobody else gets to use wheelchairs!”
Ms. Freedman states that "this policy [of inclusion] is generally based on notions of civil rights and social justice, not on ‘best education practices' for all students.” Not only does she ignore a body of scientific research that contradicts her viewpoint, but she does so while discounting the importance of civil rights and social justice. Historically, students with disabilities were excluded from mainstream education, warehoused and denied an appropriate education which would enable them to hold a job and contribute to society as adults.
With changes in the law over the past 35 years to protect the civil rights of children with disabilities, millions more individuals are now able to enter the workforce, pay taxes and live productive lives as a
result of receiving an appropriate education.
Ms. Freedman speculates that including students with disabilities in regular classrooms is driving parents to remove their children from public school. She then,incredibly, comments that "our schools thrive only with a diverse student population and engaged parents—not with the departure of those who choose to leave.”
She is correct in stating that our schools thrive with a diverse population and engaged parents. However, the idea that removing children with disabilities from regular classrooms will
promote diversity, defies comprehension. A return to segregation and exclusion of children with disabilities will hardly promote diversity and is definitely not the way forward.
It is imperative that we engage in thoughtful debate on how to improve educational outcomes for all children, both with and without disabilities. However, it is crucial that this debate take into account scientific research, the law and evidence based educational practices, as well civil rights and social justice. Only with a fully informed and nuanced perspective can productive, creative and intelligent discussion about education take place for the benefit of all students.