Public law system

Although PARC, and Mills established that schools had to provide educational services for students with special education needs, these rulings did not specify the setting in which these services would be provided or the manner in which they would be delivered. Although IDEA defined LRE as the environment in which the student could interact with non-disabled peers, the law still provided school districts with a great deal of discretion in determining LRE.

Consequently, students with emotional/behavioral disorders (EBD), learning disabled (LD) students, students with mental retardation, and students with other special needs were routinely taught in self-contained special education classrooms in what amounted to a public education system that was segregated according to disability status (Martin, Martin, & Terman, 1996, p. 127). Special education students were enrolled in schools, but were not necessarily integrated into the general student population.

Parents and other advocates for the rights of students with disabilities continued to use the courts to seek greater inclusion for their children. Sacramento City Unified. School District v. Rachel Holland (cited in Vitello, 1998, p. 26), established a three-pronged test that schools and courts were to use for the determination the degree of inclusion that considered most appropriate for the individual student. This test became known in schools and court cases involving special education law as "the Holland test".

According to the Holland test, the educational benefits of inclusion with supplemental aids must be compared to the educational benefits for the child in the special classroom. In other words, is the child likely to receive the same quality of education in the regular classroom, with appropriate modifications and support, that he or she would receive in the less-inclusive setting of the special education classroom.

Holland also recognized and required schools to consider the nonacademic benefits that might result from greater inclusion, including social benefits for the handicapped child. Finally, Holland required schools to consider the effect that the disabled child's presence in the classroom would have on the overall learning environment, including the effect on the ability of non-handicapped children to learn and the extent to which having a disabled child in the classroom would interfere with the ability of non-handicapped children to learn.

Holland reflects the desire of many parents to have their handicapped children placed in the regular classroom. The inclusion movement has lead to the inclusion of children with autism, developmental delays, and other severely handicapping conditions in the regular classroom. Full inclusion, defined as the full integration of special education children into regular classes with appropriate support, has been strongly supported by parents of children with disabilities and other advocates for children who have special education needs.

Supporters of the inclusion movement argue that the inclusive environment increases the language and communication skills of handicapped children, improves the social skills of the child who has a disability, and leads to higher scores on cognitive assessments (Stahmer, Carter, Baker, & Miwa, 2003). Supporters of full inclusion also maintain that inclusion provides academic and social benefits for students with disabilities that are missing from self-contained special education classrooms and other more restrictive educational settings (Daugherty, 2001, p. 69).

A review of the literature that supports inclusion, however, indicates that the supposed social benefits of inclusion are often emphasized over the academic benefits of this practice. Critics of full inclusion policies contend that the inclusion movement has reflected the social goal of greater integration of  disabled people into mainstream society than it has been with the educational objective of improving the academic achievement of students with disabilities and their non-disabled peers (Hehir, 2003).

Schools, which are faced with the reality of having to provide educational services to all students and often under challenging circumstances, have been somewhat less than enthusiastic about enrolling students with severe disabilities in regular classes. While some parents of disabled children advocate for full inclusion regardless of their child's disability, research indicates that the extent to which children with special needs are included in the regular classroom is affected by several different factors.

Younger students with disabilities tend to spend more time in the regular classroom than older students, regardless of the nature of their disability (Handler, 2003). There are also racial discrepancies in inclusion. White children with a disability are more likely to be placed in an inclusive setting than African American or Hispanic children with similar disabilities (Harvard University, 2002). White children also tend to spend more time in an inclusive setting and less time in a more restrictive environment (Harvard University, 2002).

Supporters of inclusion also argue that what is good for children who have disabilities is often good for children who are not handicapped. Teaching techniques such as repeating instructions or limiting directions to one or two steps at a time, additional time to complete tasks, and hands-on learning in an interactive environment that are routinely used to help students who have learning disabilities or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder also help students who have no apparent disability (Bargerhuff, Kirch, Turner, and Wheatly, 2005).

Other research indicates that parents of non-disabled children believe that inclusive environment provides lower teacher to student ratios, more qualified teachers, smaller class sizes, and better curriculum for their children (Stahmer, Carter, et al. , 2003, p. 483). Stahmer, et al, found that some parents of non-disabled children had actually sought out inclusive classrooms for their child to attend because they believed that these teachers were able to spend more time with individual students.

Despite these positive reviews by some parents of non-disabled students, other parents of non-disabled students have indicated that they believe that the inclusion of students with special education needs had indeed had a negative impact on their child's educational progress (Peck, Staub, Gallucci, & Schwartz, 2004).

Specific problems cited by parents of non-disabled students including the belief the additional time that the classroom teacher spent working with disabled students took away from time that could have spent delivering instruction in greater depth, doing supplemental activities, or providing additional assistance for non-disabled students. The parents of non-disable parents in the study by Peck, et al. , also indicated that their children's educational progress was impeded by the behavioral problems of special education students.