In Education, what is Mainstreaming?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 19 May 2020
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The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandated that all Americans with disabilities had the right to a free public education. Since the inception of IDEA, much debate has taken place regarding the best way to provide that education to special needs students. One practice aimed at providing a positive educational experience for special education students is mainstreaming, in which special education students are placed in the regular education classroom for part of the school day. The aim of mainstreaming is to give special education students the opportunity to gain appropriate socialization skills and access to the same education as regular education students while still allowing them access to resource rooms and special education classrooms.

Mainstreaming has become a regular practice at many schools. Special education students can be mainstreamed into a regular education classroom for part of the school day -- for example, spending English class in the regular education classroom but spending the math class in the special education classroom. Mainstreaming is customizable and often relies on the judgment of the regular classroom teacher and the special education teacher, both of whom will keep in constant communication to clearly evaluate a student's progress. When used correctly, mainstreaming allows the special education student to take full advantage of all resources available to them.

Critics of mainstreaming argue that it places an unnecessary stigma on special education students by drawing attention to the fact that they do not spend their entire day in the regular education classroom. Opponents maintain that special education students should be placed in the regular education classroom full time--this practice is called full inclusion. Spending the entire day in the regular education classroom would reduce the social stigma associated with being a special education student, according to opponents. However, full inclusion restricts special education students from taking advantage of resources available to them in the special education classroom that may not be available in the regular education classroom.

Reverse mainstreaming was born from the concept of mainstreaming. In reverse mainstreaming, regular education students are brought into the special education classroom either part-time or for the full school day. This encourages social interaction, allows special education students to glean information from regular education students, and gives regular education students a better understanding of different special needs. Reverse mainstreaming is often done in preschool and kindergarten classrooms to develop acceptance and tolerance while children are young enough to be less aware of social stigma.

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Post 8

Wow! Some of you have the wrong idea about this. Reverse mainstreaming should be used as a tool to benefit all students in that class. So if that class has special needs, then the general education students placed there should be tier 3 (RTi). They are students who may not qualify for Special education because they are too high, but they are too low to be in general education.

There is no way or purpose to reverse mainstream a student performing at benchmark. The idea behind it is that the general education student will get the accommodations that we know some general education teachers do not provide!

Post 7

@anon107976: You may know of a situation where the special ed. specialist are not doing their jobs, but what about all of the others that go great lengths for these children? It is unfair to generalize this. Modern teachers are taught tolerance these days and if they are not willing to move forward and advance the education children receive then maybe they weren't cut out for the job.

Post 6

As a special education early childhood teacher I can attest to the benefits of reverse mainstreaming. Not only do all of the students get the benefit of a small class size and also a greater student to adult ratio, but the typical peer gets to experience learning from many different modalities because the special education teacher is trained to reach students using many different strategies.

We use visual supports, kinetic supports, hands-on experiments, we teach through movement and song and we incorporate real life learning opportunities such as cooking in the classroom, field trips and play groups at local parks.

In the seven years that I have been teaching early childhood special education I have not had one unhappy “typical

peer” parent. My usual comments from my typical peer parents are similar to, "My child progressed academically beyond what their siblings or relatives did in a regular education environment".

Also, and most important to me is that my "typical peer/regular education" parents are amazed at the compassion and tolerance their child developed in my class.

Post 5

@107976: I agree with you, at least in part. While special education students can benefit from mainstreaming (or "inclusion" as it is now commonly called), especially socially, this really only applies to higher-functioning students.

Considering some of the unique medical and behavioral needs some lower-functioning students have, there's no way a teacher in a classroom with 20 other students can teach those students and also attend to the needs of the mainstreamed student. Not to mention the mountains of paperwork that are generated for special education students. My dad taught special education and I used to help him with the Individualized Education Plans (IEP). The amount of paperwork alone is enough to drown any teacher.

In some subjects, such as health or P.E., higher-functioning students can benefit from mainstreaming, and their presence is rarely a burden on the teacher.

Post 4

I think that it is totally preposterous to expect a classroom teacher who chooses to teach regular students to take on the whole responsibility of a special education student.

I know of a situation where the teacher is doing all the teaching, grading, planning, etc. and the special education specialist and her helper are sitting on the sidelines doing nothing. Talk about burnout.

Post 2

Sunny27-I agree with you. Mainstreaming allows a balance between properly educating and socializing the special education student.

What I don’t understand is this idea of reverse mainstreaming? I realize the theory of having children accept those with disabilities is noble, but I am unsure how it helps the deserving child as well as the regular student.

Children with learning disabilities need extra attention that a typical student does not need. I think this format puts both sets of students at a disadvantage. Young students do not have the patience necessary to wait for the disabled students to catch up, nor should they be expected to.

Post 1

Great article, I agree that mainstreaming offers the best balance for special education students. Special education students need extra attention in some subjects that might seem somewhat accelerated in a regular classroom.

These children need to learn the subjects that they are deficient in a relaxed setting conducive to learning.

Placing them in a regular classroom overwhelms the special education student if the subject taught happens to be the one the special education student is deficient in.

There is no point in including special education students in that type of setting. However, subjects like art and music offer the special education student an opportunity for social interaction.

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