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American Annals of the Deaf

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The History of Inclusion in the United States

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procedures involving more complex approaches to determining disability—including greater experience on the part of teachers, administrators, and parents—meant that students could be identified with greater confidence. And as awareness of the options and possibilities offered through special education increased within school systems, referrals to such programs—both appropriate and inappropriate, as had always been the case, no doubt—likely increased as well. The added category of learning disabilities would have a tremendous impact on the number and kind of students referred to special education, but that effect did not show significantly until several years after the formal affirmation of the category in 1963. It should also be noted that some of the numbers, especially those alleging so many children being underserved, were at best educated guesses that were not necessarily indicative of a real increase in the number of eligible children.

Data from 1963 also showed the extent to which children with various disabilities were in fact integrated at least to some extent in schools at the time in the United States. According to the data, every student with identified speech disorders spent at least some time in the regular classroom. The majority of students with “visual handicaps,” both partially blind and totally blind—more than 52 percent—spent at least some time in regular classes, as did 62 percent of students with hearing impairments (although it should be noted that more than 85 percent of totally deaf students spent all their time in fully segregated classes, schools, or institutions). In contrast, only 11.5 percent of children identified as “crippled and special health problems” participated to any degree in regular class settings; for children identified as emotionally disturbed and socially maladjusted, that figure was slightly more than 26 percent. Fewer than 2 percent of students identified as “middle range” mentally retarded ever joined in regular classroom activities. These figures included all children of school age, so many of these students were being educated in institutions, hospitals, at home, or other segregated, nonpublic school locations.14

Despite this remarkable growth, special education professionals remained convinced that it was insufficient in relation to need and demand. Data reported for 1966 claimed to show that only 35 percent of children requiring special education services were receiving it, based on enrollment figures and prevalence estimates. The percentages of students being appropriately served by category included 57.5 percent for the visually impaired, 56.3 percent for the speech-impaired, 46.8 percent for the mentally retarded, 31.1 percent for gifted children, and only 17 percent, 12 percent, and 7.8 percent for hearing-impaired, emotionally disturbed, and “crippled” children, respectively. Romaine Mackie, a prominent compiler and analyst of special education statistics, spoke for most in the special education profession when she wrote, “It has been demonstrated that most handicapped children can have satisfying, productive lives if they receive appropriate education, training, and care, Thus, America cannot afford to ignore the gap that remains.” The result was further entrenchment of special education as a unique, separate entity in public education with its own structures, settings, funding, and training—in short, as a force to be reckoned with, one that was gaining increasing recognition and acceptance by practitioners, administrators, legislators, and the public.15

By the early 1960s, a definitive structure for special education placement in public schools, institutions, and other settings had become fairly well established. Data compiled by Romaine Mackie in 1963 showed 1,570,370 children enrolled in public school special education programs. Of those 456,145, or approximately 29 percent received instruction in a full-time special class or special day school; 986,509, or almost 63 percent, spent part of their school day in a special program and part in regular classes. The balance of these students were educated at home, in a hospital, in a sanatorium or convalescent home, in a residential school, or not reported. Mackie and other proponents of special programs argued that more students needed to be in special programs, either part-time or full-time, thus acknowledging the advisability of placing more and more students at least part of the day in segregated settings. However, she too recognized that differentiating students with disabilities from other “children with special needs such as the environmentally deprived, migrants, and children of cultural minority groups” was a difficult and complicated process that needs to be factored into developing more school programs “within and outside of special education. . . . New concepts call for distinction between those who are handicapped by capacity . . . and those who are only functioning as handicapped due to their environments.” Mackie noted that while too many children who required special education were not receiving it, others were perhaps capable of greater participation “in some of the streams of general education” because of improvements in America’s schools. Thus the challenge to special education was to develop, expand, and sustain distinct special education programs while doing a better job of determining who among America’s schoolchildren truly needed them. To that end, many states published guidelines for districts and parents outlining procedures and offering suggestions for identification, classification, and instruction.16

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