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).

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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.

Cynthia Alexander
NIUSI-LeadScape Principal
Evans Elementary School

(time: 0:31)

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Brenda Williams, EdD
Educational Policy,
Planning & Leadership
The College of William and Mary

(time: 1:47)

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For Your Information

In order to better understand inclusion, school personnel need a common vocabulary. Although the terms inclusionintegration, and mainstreaming are often used interchangeably, in fact they refer to three distinct practices.

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 in the table 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

Research Shows

  • 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)

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