country's public schools are experiencing dwindling state education budgets and increased unfunded mandates from the federal government, the search for optimal approaches to providing high quality educational services for students with learning disabilities has assumed new importance and relevance. In an attempt to satisfy the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, a growing number of special educators agree that full inclusion is the optimal approach for providing the individualized services needed by young learners with special needs. Known as "mainstreaming" in the past, full inclusion means integrating students with special physical, cognitive or emotional needs into traditional classroom setting. Practices that promote full inclusion for students with special needs assist educators in focusing instruction in innovative ways to help meet the educational needs of an increasingly diverse student population with a wide array of specialized needs. Critics of full inclusion argue that in many if not most instances, young learners with special needs fail to receive the specialized training they are going to need to succeed after they leave school. Proponents of full inclusion counter that all students can benefit from inclusive practices and resources are available in the community to assist with daily needs training. To determine the facts, this study uses a review of the relevant peer-reviewed and scholarly literature and a qualitative meta-analysis concerning these issues, followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.
Identifying Opportunities for Improving Post-High School Outcomes for Learning Disabled Students
For many children, inclusion is a wonderful opportunity and is long overdue. For others, it represents a drastic but potentially beneficial change. For still others, it is cruel. -- Richard W. Smelter, Bradley W. Rausch and Gary J. Yudewitz, 2009
The epigraph above is reflective of the diverse views that exist with respect to the provision of education services to learning disabled students in full inclusive classrooms. This diversity of views is due in part to the relatively recentness of the practice. In fact, prior to the 1950s, the federal government was not actively involved in the provision of educational services for special needs students in the United States to any significant degree. For instance, Horn and Tynan report that before 1950, "A few federal laws had been passed to provide direct educational benefits to persons with disabilities. These laws, however, were in the tradition of providing residential arrangements for persons with serious disabilities, services that had existed since colonial times" (2001, p. 36). Moreover, there were some significant geographic differences involved in the types of educational services that were provided special needs students, even after 1950. In this regard, Horn and Tynan emphasize that, "Although some public schools undoubtedly provided exceptional services to children with disabilities, others did not. Indeed, as recently as 1973, perhaps as many as one million students were denied enrollment in public schools solely on the basis of their disability" (2001, p. 36). Indeed, in a number of cases, young learners with special needs were not even allowed near their non-disabled peers. For instance, Dalton, Estrada, Tharp and Yamauchi (2000) emphasize that, "In schools of the common tradition, access to instructional opportunities has been by no means equally distributed across all students. Those who were 'tracked' into 'trade,' 'industrial,' or 'commercial' curricula were not offered higher-level academic subjects; special education students were excluded from contact with (or even observation of) their mainstream peers" (p. 4). By sharp contrast, today, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandate that the learning needs of these young people must be accommodated in the nation's public schools.
In the United States, the provision of special education services has been most recently influenced by the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (Linn, 2011). This legislation was part of a larger trend in American society that reflected the belief that the majority of young special needs students are capable of achieving as much as their nondisabled counterparts and that their education should be provided in mainstream classrooms (Linn, 2011). The key to success for these young people is academic achievement with little or no emphasis on the daily living skills that will needed following their emancipation and graduation from school. In fact, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) specifies that students with special needs can be removed from the general education setting only if they fail to achieve academically, as measured by formal assessments, even when provided with the required supports, aids, and services (Linn, 2011). Indeed, Linn (2011) emphasizes that, "The message is clear: The primary goal of inclusion for students with special needs in the United States is academic achievement" (p. 59).
This point is also made by Santoli and Sachs (2011) who report that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 emphasize that special needs students must have access to the general education curriculum. The IDEA legislation was further strengthened by the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 which mandates that all students must make adequate yearly progress (AYP), and that teachers, principals, superintendents, school boards, and state boards of education are accountable for the progress of their special needs students (Santoli & Sach, 2011). As Santoli and Sachs (2011) point out, "Inclusion is no longer an option, and it is essential that schools find ways to implement it effectively" (2011, p. 2). Taken together, it is apparent that full inclusion is the law of the land and educators must take steps to accommodate these requirements in a responsive fashion (Modell & Megginson, 2001). In this regard, the U.S. Secretary for Education, Cameron Benchley emphasizes that, "For too long, the answer to educating students with disabilities was to isolate them and deny them the same educational experiences others were having. Those days are over. The fact is -- 60% of students with disabilities today spend 80% of their time in the regular school environment" (2011, para. 2). These issues directly relate to the problem of interest to this study which is discussed further below.
Statement of the problem
The past 4 decades have been enormously influential on the manner in which special needs students are educated in the United States. According to Linn (2011), "In the United States today, special education legislation has been influenced by the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, itself an outgrowth of our society's belief that most children, regardless of ability, can achieve as well as their nondisabled peers and should do so in the general education system" (p. 59). In fact, the research to date does indicate that full inclusion is the best avenue educationally for students with disabilities. Certainly, to the extent that the specialized resources that are required to provide the complete range of services needed by these special needs learners are available to support full inclusion is the extent to which their academic and personal outcomes will be optimized, but these resources are by definition scarce and the issue of concern in this study is for moderate to severely impaired students who are fully included in the classroom. These young learners may demonstrate academic improvement through standardized testing, but what happens to the necessary life skills they are missing from the full inclusion classroom? As Jackson and Kozleski (1999) point out, "A full inclusion model suggests that the focus of instruction for a student with severe disabilities may need to shift away from an emphasis on functional life skills across the domains of community, home, work, recreation, and leisure because typical classrooms support a curriculum based on literacy, math, science, and social studies" (p. 153). Most of the research to date focuses on the here and now and ignores the future needs of these young people as they become adults and seek meaningful educational and employment opportunities.
Background and Overview
Full inclusive practices in the classroom require a careful assessment of the individualized learning needs of special needs students, and these needs may be diverse and complex. Irrespective of the severity and type of learning disabilities that are involved, though, the bottom-line issue for educators is formulating curricular offerings that are appropriate. For instance, according to Booth, Nes and Stromstad (2003), "Inclusion does not just involve a focus on the barriers experienced by learners but is about the development of the detail of the cultures, policies and practices in education systems and educational institutions so that they are responsive to the diversity of learners and value them equally" (p. 2). Special needs students are certainly no different than their non-learning disabled counterparts in the full inclusive classroom when it comes to wanting to live an independent life and pursue their goals and dreams after high school. In this regard, Liipfert (2010) reports that, "Most children dream of the day when they leave home and start on their path to independence. Some of these children face a struggle to achieve independence due to a developmental or intellectual disability. Parents and other advocates have grappled…