Learning Disabilities

Curry School of Education

This page is under development


Clarification of terms

The terms mainstreaming and inclusion are often used interchangeably in education today. This inconsistency in usage has led to some confusion about what educators mean when they talk about inclusion or full inclusion. Mainstreaming is the practice of educating the disabled student in the general education classroom. Inclusion is a newer term used to describe the placement of students in regular classes for all or nearly all of the school day; mainstreaming is often associated with sending a student from a special education class to a regular class for specified periods. Although in some inclusion models students are mainstreamed only part of the day, students in full inclusion programs remain in the general classroom for the entire day.

Mainstreaming, inclusion, and law

The Regular Education Initiative (REI) is the movement through which the increased practice of mainstreaming has been highlighted. Followers of the REI contend that the removal of the disabled student from the general education classroom systematically creates two ineffective educational programs. Proponents of the REI feel that regular education can accommodate all students.

Through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act, a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) is mandated for students with disabilities. The placement of disabled students must be in the least restrictive environment (LRE), which is the environment closest to the general classroom in which the student's individual needs can be met. Availability of different placement options is required to ensure the appropriateness of an individual's program. This placement can be in a special class, resource room, or the general classroom with or without consultative services. Decisions about placement take place during the development of the individualized educational program (IEP).

Although law requires that students with disabilities be placed in the least restrictive environment, it is not mandated that students be mainstreamed. For example, a full inclusion model may be restrictive for a student that requires intense remediation in reading. It is for this reason that a variety of service options must be made available to disabled students.


To date, approximately 80% of students with learning disabilities receive the majority of their instruction in the general classroom. Although critics have claimed that there is no support for providing service in special education programs, there is evidence that some students benefit from such placements more than they would were they in regular classrooms. There is not yet to be any definitive evidence that supports or rejects the effectiveness of inclusion practices. There has been, however, a massive amount of federal money poured into inclusion research and the results of those studies should be made available in the near future.


There has been a lot written about mainstreaming, integration, the regular education initiative, and inclusion. We hope to make available a working bibliography about these topics.
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This page was developed by Peter and JohnL, summer '94.