Service Models

Inclusion vs. Pull-out –

The idea of mainstreaming or “least restrictive environment” has become something of a “holy grail” among educators in America over the past 20 years. In the name of this principle, schools have been moving in the direction of providing more & more SPED services within mainstream classrooms rather than having children “pulled out” to see tutors, reading specialists, and therapists.

There is no data showing whether learning outcomes are better or worse with inclusion vs. pull-out. Remember the idea of “least restrictive environment” was put into the original laws in order to end “warehousing” of severely handicapped children. It was NOT based on any knowledge about children with LD’s. Most LD research suggests that the more intensive the services a child receives, and the more specialized for their specific LD, the better the outcome will be. This is probably true regardless of whether the services are delivered in an inclusion or pull-out mode. There can be good and bad inclusion programs just as there are good and bad pull-out programs. The good programs of either model will tend to be the ones that have the smallest student/teacher ratio, the most highly qualified, trained and specialized personnel, and to which the most resources (financial & otherwise) are devoted. It is therefore not possible to state a general rule about whether pull-out or inclusion is better.

Every child is an individual, however. For certain individuals, one model or the other may be preferable. In general, parents are in a good position to judge this themselves. If a child is feeling (or apt to feel) particularly stigmatized by having to leave the classroom for SPED assistance, moving in the direction of an inclusion model may be very beneficial. Alternatively, if a child needs structure or is highly distractible (not doing well when other children in the room are engaged in different activities), that child might do better with pull-out. Children whose delays involve all academic areas, and are so severe that virtually everything going on in the classroom is “over their heads”, also are not good candidates for inclusion. They will be made to feel inferior, and may even begin to feel a need to confabulate to cover up the inadequacy. Such children do better when grouped with other children (same or different age) who are functioning at a level close to where they are. In this way, instruction can be directed at their level and they do not feel so different.

Another issue to think about in regard to pull-out vs. inclusion involves the issue (alluded to above) of whether what is actually going on day-to-day with the child matches what is written in the IEP. Oftentimes in an inclusion model, especially when a single SPED teacher is having to service several students with differing educational needs simultaneously in a mainstream classroom, the specific methods/goals of the IEP for a particular child can get “lost”. In these situations, pull-out can sometimes be a remedy.

Finally, it must be recognized that a big part of the benefit of “inclusion” accrues not to the disabled or special needs children, but rather to their “normal” peers. There is no doubt that normal peers benefit from exposure to disabled children in terms of learning tolerance and developing helping skills. Such benefits surely have a value to society, but at whose expense? They should not be given precedence over the educational needs of the individual child.

In an ideal world, all school systems would have the flexibility to provide children with services in either an inclusion OR a pull-out model. Selecting which is best would be a collaborative effort between parents & school staff, individualized for each child. The truth, however, is that many school systems utilize exclusively one or the other model as a matter of “philosophic belief”. This is unfortunate and something that we all should be working to change.