Does Inclusive Education Really Work?
Heather Wolfe - 11/12/2018 2:09:00 PM
You know the old saying "If I had a dollar for every time . . . . I'd be a millionaire." That's how I start to feel every time anyone, from an educator to a community member, asks me whether or not inclusion really works. The shortest and the most correct answer is, "Yes," but I know that it's takes more than my saying so to encourage educators to be more intentional about implementing inclusionary practices.
In order to understand why inclusionary practices often struggle within the educational system, I'm going to delve into some of the possible reasons why both educators and community members might question whether or not inclusion works for all students: teachers, attitudes, and school structures.
From my experience, one of the main reasons inclusionary practices are questioned concerns the lack of support, knowledge, and/or skills of the general education teacher. Most general education teachers have training in meeting the needs of the "average" student; however, I've come to realize that no "average" student exists. All students are unique and have unique learning needs. Teachers need additional training before tackling inclusionary practices, and they also need continued support while implementing inclusionary practices.
How can I say this politely? Okay, old attitudes die hard. Because students with disabilities have a history of being excluded instead of included, educators - general education teachers, intervention specialists, and administrators - sometimes need time to reflct upon past practices and see the successes in the new practices before their attitudes change. All teachers need to have the self-efficacy that they can teach all students and that all students can learn. Most importantly, the challenges of inclusion cannot be blamed on the challenge of providing the students’ instructional needs instead of the shortcomings of the educational system.
Another one of the most expressed difficulties with inclusion from discussions with teachers concerns school structure. The daily school schedule may not provide general education and intervention specialists with scheduled times to collaborate. Without time for planning, these teachers struggle to meet the diverse needs of all the students. They struggle to implement co-plan to co-serve, often opting for the co-teaching "one teach and one take notes to use during tutoring time" model. Teachers need time to plan together, to communicate with each other, to adapt instruction together, to address difficult behaviors together, and to include social justice - acceptance of others - in their curriculum.
Now that we've addressed a few of the barriers to inclusive practices, check out my favorite resource for a quick history of the laws and research surrounding the success of inclusion here. As well, there are many resources on best practices for implementing inclusion. Louisiana's State Personnel Development Grant focuses on special education practices and can be found here. IRIS Center has a module series for administrators here. And State Support Team 16'c consultants can help as well. Please contact Rachel Wakefield, Nancy Ruth or Ally Trew to discuss support options.