Special Education and Inclusion

In the 1980s and 1990s, inclusion became the the most important issue in special education. 1 Experts agree that students with disabilities should not be taught in special, separate classrooms and schools.

Research has consistently shown that the inclusion of students with disabilities into general education classrooms has favorable outcomes for those students. 2 In one study, it was shown that for nine elementary school students with severe disabilities, general education classrooms delivered more instruction, provided comparable 1:1 time with the instructor, addressed more content, and used non-disabled peers more and adults less. Another study showed that students with learning disabilities made more progress in math in general education settings than in traditional special education settings. 3 Students also had increases in spelling, social studies, and other academic areas.

Inclusion led to positive educational outcomes beyond academics. 4 A longitudinal study of 11,000 students with a range of disabilities found that more time spent in a general education classroom was correlated positively with fewer absences from school, fewer referrals for disruptive behavior, and better outcomes after high school in employment and independent living. Studies show that inclusion does not have a negative impact on the learning of typical peers, including instructional time and student engagement. 5 Those students without disabilities were shown in one study to make comparable or greater gains in reading and math when taught in inclusive settings vs. traditional classrooms. Typical peers benefit from involvement and relationships with students who have disabilities and are open to new learning opportunities.

Successful inclusion depends on the quality of the inclusion program, training of the teachers, and administrator leadership. 6 Educators need to assist students in developing the appropriate social and behavioral skills that will allow them to be integrated into the class. Teacher perceptions of inclusion are mixed, mainly varied based on implementation, administrative support, resources, and training. School districts should include all school and community groups in developing a mission statement to articulate the district’s vision around inclusion and a strategic plan for providing resources, time, and support for achieving the mission.

1. Crockett, J. B., & Kauffman, J. M. (1999). The least restrictive environment: Its origins and interpretations in special education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc;

2. Bui, X., Quirk, C., Almazan, S., & Valenti, M. (2010). Inclusive education research & practice. Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education. Retrieved from http://www.mcie.org/usermedia/application/6/inclusion_works_final.pdf

3. http://www.mcie.org/usermedia/application/6/inclusion_works_final.pdf

4. http://www.mcie.org/usermedia/application/6/inclusion_works_final.pdf

5. http://www.mcie.org/usermedia/application/6/inclusion_works_final.pdf

6. Salend, S. J., & Garrick Duhaney, L. M. (1999). The impact of inclusion on students with and without disabilities and their educators. Journal for Special Educators, 20(2), 114-126.