Since the inception in the US of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in the 1970s, there has been much debate as to how to effectively educate children with special needs. Some argue that special education students should spend their school days in a special resource room designed specifically for them, while others argue the best option for special needs students is inclusion, which places the student in the regular education classroom during all of the school day. Proponents of inclusion argue that it allows the student to socialize with the appropriate age level, reduces social stigma, and allows special education students the same educational opportunities as regular education students.
The idea of full inclusion — special education students staying in the regular classroom for the entire school day — has been met with skepticism from many people. Critics argue that full inclusion takes away valuable resources from the special education student, such as resource rooms and special educational aides like computers and other accommodations. The regular education classroom often will not be equipped with those valuable resources, putting the special education student at a disadvantage. In addition, regular classroom teachers are often underprepared or unequipped to handle the needs of many special education students for the entire school day. By putting a student in a fully inclusive setting, that student may not have access to special education faculty best equipped to handle their needs.
Proponents of inclusion argue that the special education student has the right to spend their day in the regular classroom and should not have to "earn" their way out of a special education classroom. An alternate theory called mainstreaming places the student in the general education classroom for certain subjects only, or for part of the school day but not others. Proponents of inclusion argue that mainstreaming does not go far enough to allow special education students the same education as regular education students, and further argue that this technique enhances social stigma. Inclusion would avoid such a scenario, allowing the special education student normal socialization and access to an equal education.
The debate as to how to best educate special education students still exists today. Both mainstreaming and full inclusion techniques are used in schools throughout the United States, and each method can be used effectively, provided each individual special education student is evaluated correctly and assessed regularly. Schools must develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for special education students, and the best method for including the student in the general classroom is discussed at the IEP planning meeting.