What is inclusion and why is it important?
Page 1: What Is Inclusion?
Ms. Lawrence, the principal of Central Middle School, is eager to learn more about inclusion. At her superintendent’s suggestion, she sets up a meeting with Mr. Sherman, the principal at Monet High School. Watch the movie below to find out what happens during their meeting (time: 4:08).
Transcript: What Is Inclusion?
Principal Lawrence: After the meeting with my superintendent, I set up an appointment with Mr. Sherman, the principal of Monet High School. I learned so much during my visit! For starters, a few years ago, Monet High’s students with disabilities regularly scored poorly on their tests. Similar to what we did at Central Middle, Mr. Sherman instituted additional supports for both the teachers and the students—more professional development on instructional and behavioral supports, and more intensive interventions. But he still wasn’t seeing the kinds of improvement he wanted.
Mr. Sherman: It seemed like the different initiatives we were implementing were fragmenting our program. For example, we were so focused on our students’ poor reading and math skills that we unconsciously began to isolate them when it wasn’t necessary. We pulled our special ed students into separate classes with smaller teacher/ student ratios in order to give them more help. We instituted interventions and tutoring for other struggling learners, but that often took time away from academic courses.
I’d been hearing this phrase—”access to general ed curriculum”—that seemed rather obvious and self-explanatory. But it was more complicated than I realized. We were, in practice, moving many of our students away from the general ed curriculum. What we needed to be doing—and what we’re doing now—was to provide appropriate interventions in areas where they were struggling, but also to use things such as differentiated instruction, technology, and accommodations to support them so that they could stay in the regular ed classes with the same learning and behavioral expectations as everyone else. As I investigated that further, I started to learn about inclusion.
Principal Lawrence: For kids with disabilities?
Mr. Sherman: Actually, inclusion is for all students, making sure that everyone has the opportunity to participate in all aspects of the school experience. Let’s take a walk around the school; it’s easier to understand if I show you what we’ve done.
Mr. Sherman (VO): Two students in this class have learning disabilities. Reading instructional materials is a challenge for them, as is writing required to complete worksheets, reports, and tests. So the social studies teacher provides them with multiple options for learning and for being tested on the information. These students are held to the same high expectations as everyone else, and they get support through various technologies and accommodations that they need to be successful.
But inclusion is more than that. We realized that kids were being excluded in other ways. Students with disabilities often sat at separate tables in the cafeteria, as did our English learners. They didn’t mix with the general student population, which limited their potential for making friends—and that’s a crucial element in the high school experience.
Involvement in extracurricular clubs and activities was lacking. A large percentage of our school population comes from a single low-income neighborhood. Yet those kids weren’t involved in after-school activities because they were dependent on the school bus system; they had no way to get home if they stayed after school. If they wanted to do football or track, they couldn’t do it. But, I was able to work with the city to have their bus repeat its afternoon route to that neighborhood. You wouldn’t believe how the participation rates in the after-school activities have improved! It’s great.
In the end, we realized that all of our students needed to be fully included in all school activities. We needed to provide them with access to the general ed curriculum, maintain high expectations, and give them the necessary supports to ensure success. Our teachers needed to collaborate and accept responsibility for every student, regardless of whose class role or caseload they were on. Inclusion applies to more than just the classroom. It applies to all aspects of the school—the hallways, the cafeteria, and extracurricular activities.
Did You Know?
In 2007–2008, of all public school students:
- 45% were part of a racial/ ethnic group other than White
- 13% had identified disabilities
- 21% spoke a language other than English at home
- 12% were gifted
(U.S. Department of Education, 2010; Friend, 2007)
As Ms. Lawrence soon learns, inclusion is an approach to education based on the premise that all students (e.g., typically developing students, students with disabilities, English learners, students from culturally diverse backgrounds) should be accepted and valued for their unique abilities and included as integral members of the school. Schools that practice inclusion make an effort to include every student in the general education classroom and in extracurricular activities. Inclusive schools are places where all students have access to and can participate in the general education environment, given the appropriate supports.
Access + Participation + Supports = Inclusion
Every inclusive school has its own qualities. Cynthia Alexander and Brenda Williams describe some of the aspects of inclusive schools.
Evans Elementary School
Brenda Williams, EdD
Educational Policy, Planning & Leadership
The College of William and Mary
Transcript: Cynthia Alexander
Most of the time, when people think about inclusion, they only think about students who are disabled versus their nondisabled peers. In inclusion, everyone that’s in the building has to be included in the plan. It should encompass every aspect of your building. I think inclusion is a system that effectively incorporates all students within your school, despite race, gender, or ethnic background.
Transcript: Brenda Williams, EdD
Inclusion is a way of thinking. It’s a belief and a value that all children are valued members of the school and classroom community. Now, that in and of itself is a very pat way of thinking about it. But when you look at it that way, inclusion is not a modern-day extension of mainstreaming. Inclusion actually does involve students, where every student is a integral member of the classrooms, every student feels connected to their peers, every student has access to meaningful and rigorous general education curriculum, and every student receives the necessary collaborative support to succeed.
So inclusive practice means that educators value everyone’s diversity, including students from traditionally privileged categories. Often, when we talk about inclusion, we do that to the exclusion of those who are white, who are male, who are middle class. But when we really have an inclusive environment, everyone’s diversity is recognized and valued. And so I think that’s important. But it doesn’t just include students with disabilities; it includes all the various ways students are different. And it also recognizes that, at some point in time, students may be a part of a subgroup. There are times when some students are at-risk, and there are times when they’re not. The practice that we have of labeling students as “disabled,” “non-disabled,” “at-risk” or not, “high ability,” doesn’t serve us well.
For Your Information
In order to better understand inclusion, school personnel need a common vocabulary. Although the terms inclusion, integration, and mainstreaming are often used interchangeably, in fact they refer to three distinct practices.
An effort to incorporate special education students into the general education classroom based on the belief that mere placement in the general education classroom would improve the achievement of students with disabilities. In 1975, the integration of students with disabilities in public schools was legally mandated with the passage of Public Law 94-142, or the Education of All Handicapped Children Act.
The process of selectively placing special education students in one or more general education classes. The underlying assumption of this method is that students need to “earn” the opportunity to be mainstreamed by demonstrating that they can keep up with the demands of the general education curriculum. This practice became common in the early 1990s with the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Inclusion––the preferred term––involves supporting students with disabilities through individual learning goals, accommodations, and modifications so that they are able to access the general education curriculum (in the general education classroom) and be held to the same high expectations as their peers.
A compelling body of research shows that students with and without disabilities benefit both socially and academically from inclusion. In addition, inclusion has benefits for teachers, parents, and other stakeholders. One of the first steps in the process of changing the school culture may be to make sure these benefits are shared among all stakeholders. Click on each item below to learn about these benefits.
- Improved academic performance
- More time spent engaged in academically challenging curricula
- Improved self-esteem and social behavior
- Development of friendships between students with and without disabilities, resulting in opportunities for companionship and increased self-concept
- Improved academic performance and social behavior
- Greater academic achievement and increased time engaged academically due to effective instructional practices (e.g., differentiated instruction, peer tutoring)
- Awareness of the needs of others and the development of skills necessary to respond to those needs
- Increased patience with students who learn at different rates
- Increased teacher insight about and acceptance of students with disabilities
- Opportunities to learn innovative instructional practices that are beneficial for all students, possibly reducing the individual accommodations needed
- Increased collaboration among school staff, possibly leading to a stronger school community
- Increased acceptance of students with disabilities by non-disabled students and their parents
- Heightened support (e.g., physical resources, monetary support, and volunteer services) of inclusive efforts through relationships with local agencies
- Greater parental involvement in school activities
- Placing students in segregated classrooms based on their learning needs has not been effective for the instruction of students from diverse backgrounds.
(Artiles, 1998; Artiles & Trent, 1994; Patton, 1998)
- Students with and without disabilities have demonstrated increased academic performance following the implementation of inclusive practices.
(Theoharis & Causton- Theorharis, 2008; Gallucci, Peck, & Staub, 2004; Wayne & Wayne, 2005)
- All students in inclusive environments have the opportunity to engage with rigorous curricula.
(Fisher & Frey, 2001; Roach, Salisbury, & McGregor, 2002 as cited in Carpenter & Dyal, 2007)