Balancing General and Special Education Services

Historically, special education services delivery was on a pull-out model. This means that the child was removed from the general education classroom for separate instruction. It may be the child was in a self-contained classroom (all day placement) or in a resource classroom (maximum of half-day placement).

As a result of lawsuits, most districts have shifted from pull-out to inclusion models for everything except speech and language, occupational and/or physical therapy, and specialized assistance for the hearing or visually impaired students. These remain pull-out because the instruction is individualized and intense for short lengths of time, usually 1-3 times per week for 15-30 minutes a session.

In the inclusion model, students receive the same instruction as their general education peers. Sometimes the special education teacher or assistant is in the classroom with the child to assist instruction and/or task completion. Most of the time, the student remains in the general education classroom and is expected to behavior and work as all other students.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Both models of special education services delivery will succeed and fail for different reasons. Some children need the full-day pull-out model because they cannot handle the changes and demands of a general education classroom. They may be able to handle the instructional demands, but their behaviors may be out of control and/or hazardous to them and/or others in the room. They may lack the foundations in reading, writing and/or mathematics to do any work in the general classroom; instructional content is often limited to low-level instruction and work assignments, because the available materials simplify the content.

The partial day pull-out model allows more intensive instruction in targeted subject areas where children need extra assistance or instruction. Since it is only partial day, students mingle the rest of the day with their peers. Unfortunately, their social interactions may be affected, because others often do not understand what special education services are and will tease the students who leave. The ridicule of thoughtless peers affect many who give up hope of ever being in the general education classroom.

Inclusion allows students to receive instruction, especially in upper elementary grades where children learn about science and social studies. While having the advantage of more socially-appropriate interactions among students, inclusion has some drawbacks for instruction. Many children are slower to develop than their peers. They may have language deficiencies or cognitive delays that affect their ability to understand the instruction and do their assignments. Even with adult assistance, the instruction usually is not modified in any way so they understand what they are learning. An example is that, in some states, all students must take physics or chemistry to graduate; these are not appropriate classes for children with mild to severe disabilities.

Inclusion instruction keeps going, no matter whether or not a child is ready for the next level of instruction. Many children end up doing assignments that mean nothing simply to get them out of their face so they can move on. They are not being educated but being housed for the convenience of administrators who make the decisions.

Considerations for Services Delivery

The IEP team, including parents, need to consider many factors when they design the implementation plan: time of day, content instructional periods, services providers’ schedules and availability, the child’s ability to perform in a group setting (behavior and/or mastery of prerequisite content), level of supports needed for the child to perform, medication schedules, equipment/technology availability, and so on.

In the pull-out model, it is possible for children to receive too many services. They become dependent upon the adults for structuring their world and providing motivation to complete tasks; learning becomes optional. In the inclusion model, it is possible for children to receive too little services. Their ability to understand the content and processes may be limited and there is no “going back” to prerequisite skills that were missed or incompletely mastered. Adult time, room capacity, and schedules impact instruction and work behavior. In either model, the adults’ expectations for the students may be low and limit the child’s own goals and expectations.

Finding the Right Balance

The goal for receiving special education services should be for the child to develop the skills that will enable him/her to perform in the regular classroom. Keeping a child in a special education setting too long can be just as damaging as removing them from services too early. Just because the child may be eligible does not mean it is in the child’s best interest to continue protecting the child. The child must develop an internal awareness of being able to be like others, to receive instruction and complete tasks like others do. The child must develop a work ethic and pride in accomplishment; these are attitudes and skill necessary for him/her to be a productive employee as an adult. Ensuring success is just as damaging as setting a child up for failure.