Special education refers to the education of students with special needs. The education must address methods of teaching to students with different needs. Students in special education programs work with counselors to develop a plan of education that will allow them to reach their potential. Some special needs include development disorders, physical disabilities, behavioral disorders, and emotional disorders.
Another group of students often forgotten is those that are intellectually gifted. These students benefit as well from special educational programs that are geared to help them reach their potential often overlooked in the general education classroom. Many programs for gifted students have been eliminated in school districts due to financial problems. Studies show that gifted students receive great benefits from special programs and need the help as much as those with disabilities or disorders, yet more schools are eliminating these programs due to the high cost of running other special education programs that are mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act in the United States.
When addressing special education needs some countries attempt to address those needs in the least restrictive environment for each individual student. Each individual student within the program must be evaluated to determine a customized plan that will address their particular needs. One goal of special education in the United States is to keep a student in the least restrictive environment for their needs to help them succeed at maximizing their potential. This is not the case in all countries.
There are as many different special education programs as there are countries. In Japan students with special-needs are trained in a vocation to make them as independent as possible in the general population. In Germany students with special-needs are sent to schools for children requiring special education and training. Each country has their own programs and laws regarding special education.
The act of including special-needs children with mild to moderate needs in the general education classroom as much as possible is called inclusion. Full inclusion is when the student is fully integrated into the classroom. Sometimes the students will have learning aides, who help them adjust as well as help them to keep notes and keep organized in their studies. The theory behind inclusion is to help reduce the stigma to students with special needs by including them in activities, lessons, and events with the rest of their classmates.
Mainstreaming a student occurs when a special needs student spends time in the regular classroom but may spend some time segregated in a resource room for other classes. Exclusion occurs when a student cannot for whatever reason be in the general classroom, some reasons may be due to hospitalization, homebound for medical reasons, or detained in the juvenile services.
The teachers in these classrooms must work with special education professionals to ensure that they include different teaching techniques in the general classroom setting, to include the use of special equipment, and alternative evaluations for the students. Teachers that become experienced at different teaching techniques ultimately become more effective teachers to the students in the general education curriculum.
A resource room is a room that contains special equipment and one-on-one teaching in activities that require special attention. Some disabilities require a more restrictive or intensive instructional environment when the student may not be succeeding in the general classroom, although attempts are first made to include them in the general classroom when it is considered best practice for that individual.
Students in special education may also receive services to address their disabilities outside the regular classroom time or in special facilities off of their school campus. Some of these services include physical therapy, speech therapy, and counseling to name just a few.
Critics of mainstreaming and inclusion claim that placing at-risk or disabled students in the general classroom has been watering down or "dumbing down" the education for the general education student. It has also been criticized for not addressing the special education needs of the special needs children because the teachers cannot always give one-on-one instruction and may not be prepared to teach a child with special needs.
Some teachers feel that they are being pulled in different directions because of the many requirements for teaching a general education classroom, yet being required to ensure that the special needs students instructional needs are being met. Some classrooms may have several students with special needs, requiring many different teaching techniques and lesson plans. Effectively the whole class may be falling behind that of their peers due to competing responsibilities placed upon individual teachers.
Special education is a very complex issue faced by societies today. Education is important to the future of all students. Segregating individuals with special needs, except for the most extreme cases, is just not considered appropriate within the classroom or community. Some individuals move into group homes after finishing with their school work, these group homes are in almost all communities and are a way to continue the education for those with special needs. Special education does not end when a student graduates but continues through job counseling to help them become productive in society.