The least restrictive environment policy of the early 1990s, as interpreted and implemented by the principals and boards of education in our public schools, has effectively prevented teaching and learning in most of the classrooms of our country for nearly 20 years now. This policy put students who could not and/or would not behave/learn into classes with students who could and would behave/learn. The result has been a disaster in our public schools. Students who cannot/will not behave/learn need appropriate learning situations separate from students who can and will behave/learn. Socialization, which seems to be the big objection to reversing this policy, can be achieved by placing them with the general student population in non-academic classes, extracurricular activities and their own communities. No longer should their socialization be allowed to hold hostage our entire public school system.
What can be done to eliminate this failed policy? It is preventing the education of most of our young people. Only students in advanced and honors classes seem to be minimally affected. The rest of our student population is in classrooms where disruption and loss of teacher control is the norm. A student/teacher ratio of 8-to-1 or less is needed in order to assure academic success in classes containing extremely needy (cannot/will not behave/learn) students. Placing such students in learning environments in which they can succeed is expensive, but not as expensive as having an 8-to-1 overall student teacher ratio in our public schools. And how do you put a price on the lack of learning of the majority of our students because of the disruptions of the extremely needy students? An effective teacher can teach classes of 25 or more if the students are ready and willing to learn. The success of our democracy depends on an educated citizenry. That just isn't happening.
My unwillingness and inability to dumb down my science classes in the late 1990s resulted in a disastrous last five years of teaching for me. I simply could not lower my behavioral and academic standards to the ability level of the students who were assigned to my classes. Most teachers did. My failure rate soared, and I was labeled a “bad” teacher after 25 years of being an effective teacher.
I see clearly that this failed educational policy must be changed to put public education back on a more successful track. Other attempts to improve student success cannot work until it is addressed. They are equivalent to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The ship is going down.
— Fran L. Burton