mainstreaming, in education, practice of teaching handicapped children in regular classrooms with nonhandicapped children to the fullest extent possible; such children may have orthopedic, intellectual, emotional, or visual difficulties or handicaps associated with hearing or learning. The practice is also called inclusion. Mainstreaming has been of increasing interest since the late 1960s in response to a number of factors: research showing that many handicapped students learned better in regular than in special classes; charges that racial imbalances existed in special education classes; and the civil-rights movement with its stress on the rights of the individual. The federal Education for All Handicapped Children Act (1975), which stated that all handicapped children are entitled to a "free and appropriate" education in the "least restrictive environment," has been widely interpreted as supporting the expansion of mainstreaming.
Mainstreaming has worked well with those segments of the special student population whose disabilities are compatible with a classroom setting and is felt in general to better prepare special students socially for life after school. It has also helped other school children gain a greater understanding of those with disabilities. It has been controversial, however, with students who have emotional or behavioral difficulties that may be disruptive to the entire class. In addition, some worry that children with special needs cannot be given adequate attention in an integrated class.