Inclusion of children with disabilities in the classroom is nothing new — it’s been around since 1975, when the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was passed. The law calls for children with disabilities to be educated in the “least restrictive environment,” opening the door for them to join general education classrooms in their schools. In the 41 years since IDEA passed, more and more children with disabilities have been included in classrooms, but parental concerns about the education of typical students remains an issue. There are few topics that cause more controversy in special education between teachers, administrators and parents, than inclusion. As it stands today, inclusion represents the practice of students with disabilities integrating into the regular education classrooms regardless of whether or not they meet the traditional curriculum standards. In March 2014 the Human Rights Council passed a resolution urging more to be done to implement the right to inclusive education. It is now expected that all policy makers, school boards, administrators, guidance counselors/social workers, teachers, parents and students ensure inclusive practice in all aspects of educational environments. Research also suggests that inclusivity is no longer defined by physical and cognitive disabilities, but also includes a broad spectrum of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and of other forms of human differences.
Opinions on inclusive education vary. Critics of full and partial inclusion include educators, administrators and parents. Most students with significant special needs require individualized instruction or highly controlled environments. Thus, general education classroom teachers are often teaching a curriculum while the special education teacher is providing remedial instruction at the same time. Similarly, a child with serious inattention problems may be unable to focus in a classroom that contains twenty or more active students. This also has the potential to make it increasingly difficult for the teacher to provide effective instruction. Although with the increase of incidence of disabilities in the student population, this is a circumstance most teachers have been forced to contend with. Many parents fear the effects on their own kids when a student with a disability joins their classroom. I have spoken to many parents about this personally. Some worry that the teaching will be geared to slower learners, some are leery of potential behavior concerns, and others think that the resources to teach students with learning problems would be better directed to those without disabilities.
Inclusion is viewed by some as a practice philosophically appealing, yet impractical. Studies have not corroborated the proposed advantages of full or partial inclusion. Moreover, this type of servicing does not allow students with moderate to severe disabilities individualized instruction in a resource room which many show considerable benefits in both learning and emotional development. Parents of disabled students may be cautious about placing their children in an inclusion program because of fears that the children will be ridiculed by other students, or be unable to develop regular life skills in an academic classroom. Others argue that inclusive schools are not a cost-effective response when compared to cheaper or more effective interventions. They argue that special education assists special needs students by providing individualized and personalized instruction to meet their unique needs. A popular counterpoint to this argument is that students with special needs are not fully into the mainstream of student life because they are isolated within the walls of special education. Some argue that isolating students with special needs may lower their self-esteem and may reduce their ability to socialize properly with others. In keeping these students in separate classrooms they aren’t going to see the struggles and achievements that they can make when working together with other people. However, at least one study indicated mainstreaming in education has long-term benefits for students as indicated by increased test scores, where the benefit of inclusion has not yet been proved.
Cheerleaders of inclusion want to maximize the participation of all learners in the community schools of their choice and to rethink and restructure policies, curricula, cultures and practices in schools and learning environments so that diverse learning needs can be met, whatever the origin or nature of those needs. They say that all students can learn and benefit from education, and that schools should adapt to the physical, social, and cultural needs of students, rather than students adapting to the needs of the school. They firmly believe that individual differences between students are a source of richness and diversity, which should be supported no matter what accommodations, may be required. Deb Staub, a social worker in Seattle, found in her research — “On Inclusion and the Other Kids: Here’s What Research Shows so Far About Inclusion’s Effect on Nondisabled Students,” published by LeadScape — that the academic performance of typical students in an inclusive classroom was not adversely affected. She discusses a study that compared the instructional time in an inclusive classroom to that of a classroom without children with learning differences and found that the presence of students with severe disabilities had no effect on typical students. In fact, research has found that when children with disabilities are present in the classroom, all students benefit — both academically and in other ways that are more difficult to measure. Pat Linkhorn, a parent and consultant to parents and educators in the special education field, knows that inclusion is more than a one-size-fits-all program. Both of Linkhorn’s daughters have received special education services. Krystal, who is blind, is fully included and has a part-time aide. Kimberly is autistic; although she has benefited from inclusion, “more attention to social skills and building on her individual strengths would have been a plus,” Linkhorn told Education World.
So is inclusion a friend or foe? I suppose it’s relative and situational. On the pro side, we have children learning to accept differences, developing new friendships, an increase in parental engagement, and a respect to civil rights and liberties. On the other side of the coin, there is an increased level of difficulty for teachers in the classroom trying to tailor lessons to all levels, parents feeling that their regular education children are not receiving the best, administrators being put in the middle of their teachers and parent complaints, the common core knowledge that education is one-size-fits-all, and the need for more research to determine best supports. No matter how you analyze it, just like with any concept, there will always be advantages and disadvantages to inclusive education. Given the state that the educational system is currently in, what does a picture of successful inclusion look like? According to the most updated research, the most-effective inclusive classrooms have the following characteristics:
• Kids are clustered in specific classes but distributed across all teachers.
• Students receive instructional supports that maximize their participation in the general education curriculum and their engagement in the general population.
• Teachers use a variety of strategies, including curriculum and instructional adaptations, peer tutoring, cooperative learning, and layered curriculum.
• Supports and paraprofessionals are present to provide remediation
When this kind of educational program is in place, inclusion is thought to be least invasive and most effective for all parties involved.
“What is Inclusive Design”. Inclusive Design Research Centre. OCAD University. Retrieved 13 November 2015
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