Mainstreaming is the practice of educating students with special needs in regular classes during specific time periods, based on their individual skills. The mainstreaming model began to be used as a result of the requirement to place children in the least restrictive environment. Students with severe disabilities are mostly placed in self-contained classrooms or segregated special education schools. There has been a conflict between the pros and cons of mainstreaming and segregation for students with special needs. In the elementary school, one teacher takes responsibility over one class for the entire school day, and the academic difficulty is rather basic. Therefore, it is the more optimal choice for students with disabilities to receive full inclusion as much as possible. However, in high school, subjects are taught by different teachers, and the depth of the content is expanded and far more complicated, so that full inclusion should be considered only with individual adaptive skills and educational goals.

IDEA requires that children with disabilities should be placed in the least restrictive environment (LRE) for their education. The main purpose of LRE is to provide the opportunity to learn in a diverse environment where each student can learn, develop understanding and respect for others through meaningful relationships with their peers. Mainstreaming should assure active interaction among members in a classroom. Students with disabilities should be educated with their nondisabled peers certain times of the day as much as possible in order to foster understanding, respect and tolerance, so that they may function successfully in society after they finish school.

There are two models in implementing the LRE concept: Mainstreaming and Full Inclusion Mainstreaming features various special education settings with various amount s of time for a child integrated in a general education classroom: Resource Room, Special Class with time limited for mainstreaming opportunities, Special Day Class, Special School, Hospital/Institute with and without residential options. The placement is determined by an IEP team. With the original mainstreaming model before full inclusion was introduced, special education itself was provided in a segregated setting.

The other LRE model is Full Inclusion. Full inclusion advocates the idea that children belong together. Every child should go to the neighborhood school and be fully included in general education. They define special education as the amount of services provided to a child, rather than a placement for services defined in the mainstreaming model. Full inclusion also emphasizes that special education and the related service should be provided in a general education setting in collaboration among professionals.

To implement full inclusion for students with severe disabilities, schools provide one-on-one support to a child. However, one-on-one assistance has the weakness that it tends to develop dependence in a child, and results in a barrier to interaction between a child with disabilities and other children without disabilities in an inclusive classroom.

Benefits to mainstreaming

  • Good academic achievement
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Better social skills


  • Quality of education (availability of co-teaching)
  • Costs

All public schools in the U.S. are responsible for providing a Free Appropriate Public Education. Mainstreaming or inclusion in the regular classroom with supplementary aids and services are now the preferred placement for all children. Parents should check the following factors before making a decision regarding inclusion.

  1. One-on-one: Make sure that one-on-one assistants do not provide more help than necessary resulting in the unintentional development of your child’s dependence. Determine if the one-on-one assistance interferes with full participation in class activities and collaborating opportunities with non-disabled peers.
  2. Co-teaching: Make sure that the school schedules co-teaching between the special education teacher and the general education teacher where your child is included. Although the one-on-one assistant is supervised , your child needs a quality education from the credentialed special education teacher. You may advocate for co-teaching during the IEP meeting and other times with teachers and administrators.
  3. Related services: The related service your child needs is a very important factor in successful special education. Simply placing a child in a general education classroom does not mean full inclusion. Real full inclusion should provide your child with needed related services, and they should be provided in a general education setting as much as possible through collaboration among professionals.