The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandated that all Americans with disabilities had the right to a free public education. Since the inception of IDEA, much debate has taken place regarding the best way to provide that education to special needs students. One practice aimed at providing a positive educational experience for special education students is mainstreaming, in which special education students are placed in the regular education classroom for part of the school day. The aim of mainstreaming is to give special education students the opportunity to gain appropriate socialization skills and access to the same education as regular education students while still allowing them access to resource rooms and special education classrooms.
Mainstreaming has become a regular practice at many schools. Special education students can be mainstreamed into a regular education classroom for part of the school day -- for example, spending English class in the regular education classroom but spending the math class in the special education classroom. Mainstreaming is customizable and often relies on the judgment of the regular classroom teacher and the special education teacher, both of whom will keep in constant communication to clearly evaluate a student's progress. When used correctly, mainstreaming allows the special education student to take full advantage of all resources available to them.
Critics of mainstreaming argue that it places an unnecessary stigma on special education students by drawing attention to the fact that they do not spend their entire day in the regular education classroom. Opponents maintain that special education students should be placed in the regular education classroom full time--this practice is called full inclusion. Spending the entire day in the regular education classroom would reduce the social stigma associated with being a special education student, according to opponents. However, full inclusion restricts special education students from taking advantage of resources available to them in the special education classroom that may not be available in the regular education classroom.
Reverse mainstreaming was born from the concept of mainstreaming. In reverse mainstreaming, regular education students are brought into the special education classroom either part-time or for the full school day. This encourages social interaction, allows special education students to glean information from regular education students, and gives regular education students a better understanding of different special needs. Reverse mainstreaming is often done in preschool and kindergarten classrooms to develop acceptance and tolerance while children are young enough to be less aware of social stigma.