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Inclusion in education is an approach to educating students with special educational needs. Under the inclusion model, students with special needs spend most or all of their time with non-disabled students. Implementation of these practices varies. Schools most frequently use them for selected students with mild to severe special needs.
Inclusive education differs from previously held notions of integration and mainstreaming, which tended to be concerned principally with disability and ‘special educational needs’ and implied learners changing or becoming ‘ready for’ or deserving of accommodation by the mainstream. By contrast, inclusion is about the child’s right to participate and the school’s duty to accept the child. Inclusion rejects the use of special schools or classrooms to separate students with disabilities from students without disabilities. A premium is placed upon full participation by students with disabilities and upon respect for their social, civil, and educational rights. Inclusion gives students with disabilities skill they can use in and out of the classroom.
Fully inclusive schools, which are rare, no longer distinguish between "general education" and "special education" programs; instead, the school is restructured so that all students learn together.
"Inclusive practice" is not always inclusive but is a form of integration. For example, students with special needs are educated in regular classes for nearly all of the day, or at least for more than half of the day. Whenever possible, the students receive any additional help or special instruction in the general classroom, and the student is treated like a full member of the class. However, most specialized services are provided outside a regular classroom, particularly if these services require special equipment or might be disruptive to the rest of the class (such as speech therapy), and students are pulled out of the regular classroom for these services. In this case, the student occasionally leaves the regular classroom to attend smaller, more intensive instructional sessions in a resource room, or to receive other related services, such as speech and language therapy, occupational and/or physical therapy, and social work. This approach can be very similar to many mainstreaming practices, and may differ in little more than the educational ideals behind it.
In the "full inclusion" setting, the students with special needs are always educated alongside students without special needs, as the first and desired option while maintaining appropriate supports and services. Some educators say this might be more effective for the students with special needs. At the extreme, full inclusion is the integration of all students, even those that require the most substantial educational and behavioral supports and services to be successful in regular classes and the elimination of special, segregated special education classes. Special education is considered a service, not a place and those services are integrated into the daily routines and classroom structure, environment, curriculum and strategies and brought to the student, instead of removing the student to meet his or her individual needs. However, this approach to full inclusion is somewhat controversial, and it is not widely understood or applied to date. Much more commonly, local educational agencies provide a variety of settings, from special classrooms to mainstreaming to inclusion, and assign students to the system that seems most likely to help the student achieve his or her individual educational goals. Students with mild or moderate disabilities, as well as disabilities that do not affect academic achievement, such as using wheelchair, are most likely to be fully included. However, students with all types of disabilities from all the different disability categories have been successfully included in general education classes, working and achieving their individual educational goals in regular school environments and activities (reference needed).
Students with disabilities who are not included are typically either mainstreamed or segregated.
A mainstreamed student attends some general education classes, typically for less than half the day, and often for less academically rigorous classes. For example, a young student with significant intellectual disabilities might be mainstreamed for physical education classes, art classes and storybook time, but spend reading and mathematics classes with other students that have similar disabilities. They may have access to a resource room for remediation of course content.
A segregated student attends no classes with non-disabled students. He or she might attend a special school that only enrolls other students with disabilities, or might be placed in a dedicated, self-contained classroom in a school that also enrolls general education students.
Some students may be confined to a hospital due to a medical condition and are thus eligible for tutoring services provided by a school district. Less common alternatives include homeschooling and, particularly in developing countries, exclusion from education.
The new anti-discriminatory climate has provided the basis for much change in policy and statute, nationally and internationally. Inclusion has been enshrined at the same time that segregation and discrimination have been rejected. Articulations of the new developments in ways of thinking, in policy and in law include:
For schools in the United States, the federal requirement that students be educated in the least restrictive environment that is reasonable encourages the implementation of inclusion for some students.
The proportion of students with disabilities who are included varies by place and by type of disability, but it is relatively common for students with milder disabilities and less common with certain kinds of severe disabilities. In Denmark, 99% of students with learning disabilities like dyslexia are placed in general education classrooms. In the United States, three out of five students with learning disabilities spend the majority of their time in the general education classroom.
Although once hailed as a way to increase achievement while decreasing costs, full inclusion does not save money, reduce students' needs, or improve academic outcomes; in most cases, it merely moves the special education professionals out of their own classrooms and into a corner of the general classroom. To avoid harm to the academic education of students with disabilities, a full panoply of services and resources is required, including:
In principle, several factors can determine the success of inclusive classrooms:
Students in an inclusive classroom are generally placed with their chronological age-mates, regardless of whether the students are working above or below the typical academic level for their age. Also, to encourage a sense of belonging, emphasis is placed on the value of friendships. Teachers often nurture a relationship between a student with special needs and a same-age student without a special educational need. Another common practice is the assignment of a buddy to accompany a student with special needs at all times (for example in the cafeteria, on the playground, on the bus and so on). This is used to show students that a diverse group of people make up a community, that no one type of student is better than another, and to remove any barriers to a friendship that may occur if a student is viewed as "helpless." Such practices reduce the chance for elitism among students in later grades and encourage cooperation among groups.
Teachers use a number of techniques to help build classroom communities:
Inclusion settings allow children with and without disabilities to play and interact every day, even when they are receiving therapeutic services. When a child displays fine motor difficulty, his ability to fully participate in common classroom activities, such as cutting, coloring, and zipping a jacket may be hindered. While occupational therapists are often called to assess and implement strategies outside of school, it is frequently left up to classroom teachers to implement strategies in school. Collaborating with occupational therapists will help classroom teachers use intervention strategies and increase teacher’s awareness about student’s needs within school settings and enhance teacher’s independence in implementation of occupational therapy strategies.
As a result of the 1997 re-authorization of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), greater emphasis has been placed on delivery of related services within inclusive, general education environments. [Nolan, 2004] The importance of inclusive, integrated models of service delivery for children with disabilities has been widely researched indicating positive benefits. [Case-Smith& Holland, 2009] In traditional “pull out” service delivery models, children typically work in isolated settings one on one with a therapist, Case-Smith and Holland(2009) argue that children working on skills once or twice a week are “less likely to produce learning that leads to new behaviors and increased competence.” [Case Smith &Holland, 2009, pg.419]. In recent years, occupational therapy has shifted from the conventional model of “pull out” therapy to an integrated model where the therapy takes place within a school or classroom.
In order for therapy within schools or classrooms to take place, the willingness of Highly Qualified Teachers (HQTs) to step up is necessary. One of the goals of education is to ensure that 100% of public school teachers in the U.S. are highly qualified. HQTs focus on being able to meet the needs of their students in various ways, allowing them to discern what are the best strategies in attempting inclusion.
Educators generally say that some students with special needs are not good candidates for inclusion. Many schools expect a fully included student to be working at or near grade level, but more fundamental requirements exist: First, being included requires that the student is able to attend school. Students that are entirely excluded from school (for example, due to long-term hospitalization), or who are educated outside of schools (for example, due to enrollment in a distance education program) cannot attempt inclusion.
Additionally, some students with special needs are poor candidates for inclusion because of their effect on other students. For example, students with severe behavioral problems, such that they represent a serious physical danger to others, are poor candidates for inclusion, because the school has a duty to provide a safe environment to all students and staff.
Finally, some students are not good candidates for inclusion because the normal activities in a general education classroom will prevent them from learning. For example, a student with severe attention difficulties or extreme sensory processing disorders might be highly distracted or distressed by the presence of other students working at their desks. Inclusion needs to be appropriate to the child's unique needs.
Most students with special needs do not fall into these extreme categories, as most students do attend school, are not violent, do not have severe sensory processing disorders, etc.
The students that are most commonly included are those with physical disabilities that have no or little effect on their academic work (diabetes mellitus, epilepsy, food allergies, paralysis), students with all types of mild disabilities, and students whose disabilities require relatively few specialized services.
Bowe says that regular inclusion, but not full inclusion, is a reasonable approach for a significant majority of students with special needs. He also says that for some students, notably those with severe autism spectrum disorders or mental retardation, as well as many who are deaf or have multiple disabilities, even regular inclusion may not offer an appropriate education. Teachers of students with autism spectrum disorders sometimes use antecedent procedures, delayed contingencies, self-management strategies, peer-mediated interventions, pivotal response training and naturalistic teaching strategies.[clarification needed]
Some advocates of inclusion promote the adoption of progressive education practices. In the progressive education or inclusive classroom, everyone is exposed to a "rich set of activities," and each student does what he or she can do, or what he or she wishes to do and learns whatever comes from that experience. Maria Montessori's schools sometimes named as an example of inclusive education.
Inclusion requires some changes in how teachers teach, as well as changes in how students with and without special needs interact with and relate to one another. Inclusive education practices frequently rely on active learning, authentic assessment practices, applied curriculum, multi-level instructional approaches, and increased attention to diverse student needs and individualization.
Advocates say that even partial non-inclusion is morally unacceptable. Proponents believe that non-inclusion reduces the disabled students' social importance and that maintaining their social visibility is more important than their academic achievement. Proponents say that society accords disabled people less human dignity when they are less visible in general education classrooms. Advocates say that even if typical students are harmed academically by the full inclusion of certain special needs students, that the non-inclusion of these students would still be morally unacceptable, as advocates believe that the harm to typical students' education is always less important than the social harm caused by making people with disabilities less visible in society.
A second key argument is that everybody benefits from inclusion. Advocates say that there are many children and young people who don't fit in (or feel as though they don't), and that a school that fully includes all disabled students feels welcoming to all. Moreover, at least one author has studied the impact a diversified student body has on the general education population and has concluded that students with mental retardation who spend time among their peers show an increase in social skills and academic proficiency.
Advocates for inclusion say that the long-term effects of typical students who are included with special needs students at a very young age have a heightened sensitivity to the challenges that others face, increased empathy and compassion, and improved leadership skills, which benefits all of society.
A combination of inclusion and pull-out (partial inclusion) services has been shown to be beneficial to students with learning disabilities in the area of reading comprehension, and preferential for the special education teachers delivering the services.
Inclusive education can be beneficial to all students in a class, not just students with special needs. Some research show that inclusion helps students understand the importance of working together, and fosters a sense of tolerance and empathy among the student body.
There are many positive effects of inclusions where both the students with special needs along with the other students in the classroom both benefit. Research has shown positive effects for children with disabilities in areas such as reaching individualized education program (IEP) goal, improving communication and social skills, increasing positive peer interactions, many educational outcomes, and post school adjustments. Positive effects on children without disabilities include the development of positive attitudes and perceptions of persons with disabilities and the enhancement of social status with nondisabled peers.
Several studies have been done on the effects of inclusion of children with disabilities in general education classrooms. A study on inclusion compared integrated and segregated (special education only) preschool students. The study determined that children in the integrated sites progressed in social skills development while the segregated children actually regressed.
Another study shows the effect on inclusion in grades 2 to 5. The study determined that students with specific learning disabilities made some academic and affective gains at a pace comparable to that of normal achieving students. Specific learning disabilities students also showed an improvement in self-esteem and in some cases improved motivation.
Critics of full and partial inclusion include both educators, administrators and parents. Full and partial inclusion approaches neglect to acknowledge the fact most students with significant special needs require individualized instruction or highly controlled environments. Thus, general education classroom teachers often are teaching a curriculum while the special education teacher is remediating 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 children. Although with the increase of incidence of disabilities in the student population, this is a circumstance all teachers must contend with, and is not a direct result of inclusion as a concept.
Full inclusion may in fact be a way for schools to placate parents and the general public, using the word as a phrase to garner attention for what are in fact illusive efforts to education students with special needs in the general education environment.
At least one study examined the lack of individualized services provided for students with IEPs when placed in an inclusive rather than mainstreamed environment.
Some researchers have maintained school districts neglect to prepare general education staff for students with special needs, thus preventing any achievement. Moreover, school districts often expound an inclusive philosophy for political reasons, and do away with any valuable pull-out services, all on behalf of the students who have no so say in the matter.
Inclusion is viewed by some as a practice philosophically attractive yet impractical. Studies have not corroborated the proposed advantages of full or partial inclusion. Moreover, "push in" servicing does not allow students with moderate to severe disabilities individualized instruction in a resource room, from which many show considerable benefit 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.
Some argue that inclusive schools are not a cost-effective response when compared to cheaper or more effective interventions, such as special education. They argue that special education helps "fix" the special needs students by providing individualized and personalized instruction to meet their unique needs. This is to help students with special needs adjust as quickly as possible to the mainstream of the school and community. Proponents counter that students with special needs are not fully into the mainstream of student life because they are secluded to special education. Some argue that isolating students with special needs may lower their self-esteem and may reduce their ability to deal with other people. In keeping these students in separate classrooms they aren't going to see the struggles and achievements that they can make together. 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.
As used by UNESCO, inclusion refers to far more than students with special educational needs. It is centered on the inclusion of marginalized groups, such as religious, racial, ethnic, and linguistic minorities, immigrants, girls, the poor, students with disabilities, HIV/AIDS patients, remote populations, and more. In some places, these people are not actively included in education and learning processes. In the U.S. this broader definition is also known as "culturally responsive" education, and is promoted among the ten equity assistance centers of the U.S. Department of Education, for example in Region IX (AZ, CA, NV), by the Equity Alliance at ASU. Gloria Ladson-Billings points out that teachers who are culturally responsive know how to base learning experiences on the cultural realities of the child (e.g. home life, community experiences, language background, belief systems). Proponents argue that culturally responsive pedagogy is good for all students because it builds a caring community where everyone's experiences and abilities are valued.
Proponents 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. Proponents believe that individual differences between students are a source of richness and diversity, which should be supported through a wide and flexible range of responses. The challenge of rethinking and restructuring schools to become more culturally responsive calls for a complex systems view of the educational system (e.g.see Michael Patton), where one can extend the idea of strength through diversity to all participants in the educational system (e.g. parents, teachers, community members, staff).
Although inclusion is generally associated with elementary and secondary education, it is also applicable in postsecondary education. According to UNESCO, inclusion “is increasingly understood more broadly as a reform that supports and welcomes diversity amongst all learners.” Under this broader definition of inclusion, steps should also be taken to eliminate discrimination and provide accommodations for all students who are at a disadvantage because of some reason other than disability.