MICHELE NORRIS, host:
I'm joined now by NPR's own Joseph Shapiro who reports on disability issues.
Joe, now, it seems like Samuel is in an ideal situation. He has supportive parents. He attends a school where the teachers, really the whole environment, seems to embrace inclusion. But we heard Dan Habib say that things vary state by state, school by school. How representative is Samuel's experience?
JOSEPH SHAPIRO: It's more mixed for most kids. Inclusion is easier with younger kids, especially if they've been included from the start, like Samuel. It's easier for kids with average or above-average intelligence, like Samuel. Inclusion works best when a school like Samuel's really takes the time to train teachers. And it works best when a school like Samuel's makes sure that there's a classroom aide to help when needed. But when inclusion works, it - I think everyone benefits. The kid with the disability gets a better education. They learn social skills. Other kids learn empathy.
NORRIS: Now, what's the trend with inclusion? This was a school that had embraced this whole heart. Is that happening around the country? That more schools are experimenting with this?
SHAPIRO: More are experimenting, but it's not very widespread considering that it's supposed to be an educational goal. Just half of all students with all kinds of disabilities are fully included in regular classrooms. That means they spend 80 percent or more of their day in a class with kids who aren't disabled. And for kids with mental retardation, the numbers are going down.
Phil Smith is a professor at Eastern Michigan University. And he's just on a paper where he looked up a federal statistics. He says just 11 percent of kids with mental retardation - he uses the term intellectual disabilities - but just 11 percent are in inclusive settings. And he says the peak of including those kids probably came a decade ago.
NORRIS: We just heard from two parents, who believe very strongly in inclusion think this is a good thing. Is there a strong argument on the other side that people who think that children are best served in specialized environments as opposed to mainstreaming them?
SHAPIRO: Well, the special ed law says that every kid should be looked at individually. And parents have a right to try to figure out what works best for their kid. And so there are many parents, particularly with children who have severe disabilities, who think their kids do better in specialized settings. So the special ed law says that schools are supposed to provide a continuum of choices, a lot of different choices.
NORRIS: Best choice for each child.
NORRIS: Thank you, Joe.
SHAPIRO: You're welcome, Michele.
NORRIS: That's NPR's Joseph Shapiro.
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