Mainstreaming Before Inclusion - Definition

Inclusion includes students with disabilities. John Moore / Staff / Getty Images

Definition: Mainstreaming  is the antiquated version of what is now called "inclusion."  Mainstreaming was the response to PL94-142, the bill from the 1970's that addressed the failure of local school districts to provide an adequate education to students with disabilities.  In order to provide Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) to students with disabilities, they were often "Mainstreamed," which basically provided for students with disabilities to receive services alongside their typical peers.

  Often this meant a classroom aide sitting at the back of the classroom with a student. 

Mainstreaming did provide the advantage of keeping students in their "home" or neighborhood school, creating appropriate peer models for behavior, and helped typical peers to be more compassionate and accepting of students with disabilities. 

Still, disadvantages included:

  • Singling out students with disabilities from their typical classmates.
  • Programming (curriculum) is provided by the special educator rather than the classroom teacher.
  • Difficulty with providing accommodations for the student in the general education classroom means increasing time in the resource room and away from typical peers. 
  • Assessment and evaluation for the student is still often based entirely on the IEP.
  • In secondary classes, the students were put in "sink or swim" situations if they were "mainstreamed" into content areas like algebra or social studies.

    Mainstreaming has Been Replaced by Inclusion

    Inclusion has replaced "mainstreaming," both as the term and the strategies for providing students with disabilities LRE.   Core State Standards (or the state standard in the student's state) are still addressed, and that the student is seeing the the general education curriculum even though he or she is pursuing an adapted or modified version of that curriculum.

      Some other strategies that inclusion uses to replace "mainstreaming." 

    Co-Teaching as Opposed to "Pull Out" 

    Often, in mainstreaming the special educator would stay in a "Resource Room" and specific instruction would be provided in a separate space.  Over time, it was seen that the time students spent in the general ed classroom was taken up with drill or worksheets, and instruction took place elsewhere. 

    Co-teaching provided that the special educator was in the classroom and partnered in writing the curriculum, providing support to students and helping modify or adapt assignments to the students with disabilties' skills.  In the same way, the presence of a co-teacher provides better differentiation for students who have not been designated as needing an IEP. 

    Differentiation is the word of the day for how students are included in a general education classroom, and differentiation is the standard for providing instruction for all students, according to their needs.  Inclusion not only pushes teachers to provide more differentiation, it also pushes teachers to do more formative assessment to have a clear sense of whether students are being successful in understanding and mastering the materials or skills.


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    Your Citation
    Watson, Sue. "Mainstreaming Before Inclusion - Definition." ThoughtCo, Mar. 26, 2016, Watson, Sue. (2016, March 26). Mainstreaming Before Inclusion - Definition. Retrieved from Watson, Sue. "Mainstreaming Before Inclusion - Definition." ThoughtCo. (accessed December 18, 2017).