Inclusive education refers to educational practices that integrate students of different learning styles and abilities into the regular education classroom. Inclusion is largely related to special education and national legislation that requires all schools to provide free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to all students, including those with learning differences.
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History of Special Education
In 1975, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was passed by the U.S. Congress. This act, later called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandated that every student, including those with learning difficulties, must be provided a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). The law went into effect in 1977 once all the regulations had been solidified.
Special Educaiton Students
Part of providing appropriate education meant determining what each individual student needed. Individual Education Plans (IEPs), legal documents that detail the needs of each student determined eligible for special education, were required under IDEA and have become the foundation for special education. The idea that every student could learn, and must be provided with the opportunity to learn under the IDEA legislation, gradually revolutionised the way education was structured.
Before 1975 few special education students attended public schools. Because of this, very little was in place within public school systems structurally to provide for the specific and varied needs of special education students. After the passing of IDEA, more students began attending public schools and capitalising on the access to education afforded by IDEA. With IEPs, these students were able to become involved in the public school system and still receive instruction tailored to their needs as outlined in their IEPs.
Inclusion and 1997 IDEA Reauthorization
In 1997 IDEA was reauthorised and amended. The act was expanded and clarified to outline specific requirements of regular educators with regard to special education students. Standardised testing--in the form of state and district-wide assessments--was now expanded to include special education students. Regular education teachers were also required to participate in the construction of specific student IEPs. These changes naturally called for regular educators to become involved in special education practices, and regular education classrooms to begin to become open to students identified for special education services.
Diversity in the Classroom
Many schools across the United States have implemented inclusion. Students with disabilities, cognitive or physical, are integrated into regular education classes. Regular education teachers are expected to address a variety of different learning styles and needs within their classroom population. Regular education teachers and special education teachers often work together to provide the highest level instruction possible to all students within their care. The vision behind IDEA, particularly that of equity and access to free and appropriate instruction, have become a reality in many school districts as inclusion continues to redefine education.
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