Research: Special education preschoolers learn more in mainstream settings

A recent study out of Ohio State University found that preschoolers categorized as having special needs or disabilities learned more with at least some time in mainstream classrooms than outside of it.

“We found that children with disabilities get a big boost in their language scores over the course of a year when they can interact with other children who have good language skills,” said the study’s co-author and a teaching professor, Laura Justice. 

To reach these conclusions, 670 preschool children enrolled in 83 different programs were observed and analyzed. Of those numbers, half had a disability. Classrooms with a combination of special education and mainstream students, as well as classrooms with 100 percent special education students were studied and compared.

In the classrooms where special education students were placed among more highly-skilled peers, language scores were 40 percent higher at the end of the preschool year than those in special-needs only classrooms. The study also found that the mainstream students were not negatively impacted by the presence of special needs students, and showed the same levels of improvements as previous classes with no special needs students.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, about half of the nation’s special needs preschoolers are in classrooms with higher-skilled peers, but as this study points out, all preschoolers could benefit from the inclusion.

With the right support programs in place, more mainstream learning opportunities for special needs students could really make an impact. It is nice to see that the traditional “separate, but equal” stance when it comes to special education students is starting to fade, and to the benefit of all students.

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