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October 1, 1998
Vol. 56
No. 2

Taking Inclusion into the Future

The recently reauthorized Individuals with Disabilities Education Act reinforces the view that inclusion is the best way to educate our students with disabilities. But we still have far to go to make sure all students are given fair opportunities to learn together.

To improve education for children with disabilities, we cannot address special education by itself. Rather, we must look toward educational restructuring—changing the nature and practice of education in general, not just education called "special." The reauthorized Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) reflects these needs and propels them further.
Until 1975, with the passage of the Education of All Handicapped Children Act, children with disabilities were not ensured what was a right of their nondisabled siblings and peers, the right to attend public schools. The 1975 law granted a "free appropriate public education" to all children, regardless of the nature or severity of their handicap. In the two decades since then, the U.S. public education system has provided students with that access, an achievement unparalleled anywhere in the world. As such, it both marks what schools can do and provides a basis for what still needs to be done—educational outcomes of high quality for all students.

Special Education, Both Separate and Unequal

Too often in the past, providing access meant that students with disabilities were served in separate special education classes and programs—despite the 1975 law's "least restrictive environment" (LRE) mandate. This mandate required that students with disabilities be educated to the maximum extent with children who were not disabled, and that students with disabilities be removed from regular classes only when they could not be educated in a regular setting with supplementary aids and support services. After more than two decades, the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education reports that 55 percent of children with disabilities, ages 6 through 21, are not fully included in regular classes. This, despite the fact that more than 71 percent of the five million students with disabilities, ages 6 through 21, served through IDEA in the 1995–96 school year had the least severe impairments—learning disabilities (51 percent) and speech or language impairments (20 percent) (U.S. Department of Education, 1997, Tables II-6).
Throughout the 1980s and into the current decade, the experience of students with disabilities, their parents, and their teachers is that a dual system of education fails all students, primarily those with disabilities, in terms of student learning, drop-out rates, graduation rates, participation in postsecondary education and training, and community living (see Lipsky & Gartner, 1997). The most recent federal study reports that the graduation rate for students with disabilities was 57 percent, as compared with 76 percent for students without disabilities (U.S. Department of Education, 1997, p. IV-11).
Longitudinal studies and research findings confirmed the experience of students, parents, and teachers that the separate system was flawed and unequal; this led to many championing a new inclusive design. This model holds to several principles: students are more alike than different; with effective educational practices, schools can educate well and together a wide range of students with better outcomes for all; and separation is costly, a civil rights violation, and a cause for limited outcomes for students with disabilities.

IDEA 1997

Similar beliefs motivated the administration and Congress to reauthorize the federal law. Culminating a two-year process, the reauthorized IDEA emphasizes two major principles: The education of students with disabilities should produce outcomes akin to those expected for students in general, and students with disabilities should be educated with their nondisabled peers. These features are expressed in the law's "findings" section, its implementation provisions, and the funding provisions as they concern inclusive education. Although the reauthorization does not mention "inclusive education" (nor had previous laws), one might think of IDEA 1997 as the Inclusion Development and Expansion Act.
Findings: Congress asserted that the education of students with disabilities would be more effective by "having high expectations for students and ensuring their success in the general curriculum. . . ."; "[ensuring] that special education can become a service for such children rather than a place where they are sent. . . ."; and "providing incentives for whole-school approaches. . . ." The House and Senate Committee reports that accompany the law highlight the primary purpose of the new Act: to go beyond access to the schools and to secure for every child an education that actually yields successful educational results.
Implementation: Two sets of requirements will have direct consequences for students: student evaluation requirements and instruction and assessment requirements. In determining a student's classification and special needs, schools must consider whether factors other than disability will affect the student's performance. Specifically, the law states that a student may not be identified as disabled if the determining factor is inadequacy of instruction in reading or math. In other words, if the failure lies in the school's services, then the remedy is not labeling the student but fixing the school's program.
IDEA consistently reinforces the expectation that a student with a disability will be educated in the general education environment. For example, if a student is or may be participating in the general education program, the individual education program (IEP) team must include a general education teacher. If the child is currently in a general education classroom, the classroom teacher is to be a member of the IEP team. This brings to the IEP process someone familiar with the general education curriculum, which will be the basis of the student's program. And since the IEP meeting is supposed to be a decision-making event in which parents also participate, a school might be vulnerable to a legal challenge if it fails to include a general education teacher.
Further, should the school system propose that a child with a disability not participate with nondisabled students in academic, extracurricular, or nonacademic activities, it must justify such nonparticipation. In other words, supplemental aids and support services in the general education environment and in the curriculum should be considered the norm; schools must justify and explain exclusion in any of these areas. Only then may they consider other placements.
Schools must develop performance goals drawn from general classroom students for all students with disabilities. They then must develop performance indicators to assess achievement of these goals, with necessary adaptations and modifications. The school's and district's public reports must incorporate the results of performance. This is a requirement for all schools and covers all students.
Funding:States must change their funding formulas for supporting local school districts by removing incentives for placing students in more (rather than less) restrictive environments. This will require changes in all but a handful of states. Additionally, the previous provision that IDEA funds may not be used to benefit nondisabled students has been rescinded. Further, given that general education teachers will have a major role in providing services to students with disabilities, IDEA personnel-preparation funds may be used to train them. Indeed, in language accompanying the appropriations bills, Congress has emphasized that the substantial new funds must be used for such activities.

Implementing Inclusive Education Programs

In the implementation of the new federal mandate, a growing body of experience can guide practice. Over a two-year period, the National Center on Educational Restructuring and Inclusion (NCERI) surveyed school districts identified by each chief state school officer as implementing inclusive education programs (NCERI,1994, 1995). The reports from nearly 1,000 school districts provide a basis for understanding the factors necessary for successful implementation. These are congruent with the findings of a Working Forum on Inclusive Schools, convened by 10 national organizations (Council for Exceptional Children, 1995) and reported in an Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development publication (Thousand & Villa, 1995).
  1. Visionary leadership. This leadership can come from many sources, including school superintendents, building administrators, teachers, parents, school board members, disability advocates, and universities. Whatever the initial impetus for inclusive education programs, all stakeholders must ultimately take responsibility for the outcome.
  2. Collaboration. The process of inclusive education involves three types of collaboration: between general and special educators, between classroom practitioners and providers of related services, and between those involved in student evaluation and program development (that is, the IEP team) and classroom practitioners. Each group needs time for collaboration.
  3. Refocused use of assessment. Schools must replace the traditional screening for separate special education programs with more authentic assessment that addresses student strengths as well as needs and that provides useful guidance for classroom practitioners. Schools must develop and use adapted methods to assess student knowledge. They must question the use of traditional measures of potential (such as IQ tests) and opt for curriculum-based assessment.
  4. Support for staff and students. School staff must have time to work together and have effective professional development programs. Staff development should be sensitive to the needs of adult learners and involve more than one-shot experiences. Support for students should include the full panoply of supplemental aids and services that the law mandates, such as curriculum modifications; alternative instructional strategies; adapted assessment measures; and procedures, technology, and roles for paraprofessionals and other support personnel.
  5. Appropriate funding levels and formulas. Data from school districts about special education funding are limited and difficult to compare. School districts reporting in the National Study (NCERI, 1994, 1995) indicate that although there are initial start-up costs for planning and professional development activities, a unitary system over time is not more expensive than separate special education. Funds that follow the student with special needs into the general education environment can provide preventive services for some students and enhanced learning opportunities for others, thereby making inclusive education no more costly over time. However, districts that continue to operate under a dual system will be more costly.
  6. Parental involvement. Because parental involvement is essential, schools report creative approaches to make parents an integral part of the school community. This goes well beyond the procedural due process requirements of the law. For example, in New York City's Community School District 22, pairs of general and special education parents have been instructed about the basis of inclusive education and its benefits for all students.
  7. Effective program models, curriculum adaptations, and instructional practices.There is no single model of inclusion. Most common is the pairing of a general and a special education teacher to work together in an inclusive classroom with general and special education students. At one middle school, a special education teacher and his or her class become part of the team. In other settings, a special education teacher serves as a consultant to several general education teachers, in whose classes students with disabilities are included. Increasingly, districts are seeking teachers who are dual licensed and, thus, can themselves teach inclusive classrooms.
Special education teachers often report their lack of knowledge about the general education curriculum, whereas general education teachers often report their lack of knowledge about individualizing instruction. However, after a year of collaboration, both report greater knowledge and comfort in these areas. They use many of the same instructional strategies in the inclusive education classroom that are effective for students in general classrooms. These include cooperative learning, hands-on learning, peer and cross-age tutoring and support models, instruction based on students' multiple intelligences, classroom technology, and paraprofessionals and classroom assistants (not "Velcroed" to the individual child but serving the whole class).
As Congress pointed out in the reauthorized IDEA, special education should be understood as a service, not a place. Thus, a student (labeled either special or general education) may receive services in a variety of settings or groups. Though not a legal term, inclusion is best expressed in the student who is on the regular register, attends homeroom with her or his peers, participates equally in all school activities, receives instruction suited to her or his needs, is held to the school's common standards, and receives the same report card as other students. As a New York City Public Schools superintendent stated, "Inclusion is about 'ownership.' They are all our students."

The Future of Inclusive Education

As Edmonds (1979) declared two decades ago concerning the education of minority students, we know how to provide effective education at the school level, but we have yet to do so on a districtwide basis. So, too, with inclusive education. We have numerous pilot programs and, increasingly, whole-school approaches for inclusion. However, inclusion as yet remains largely a separate initiative, parallel to, rather than integrated within, broad school reforms. Some of the national reforms, especially Slavin's Success for All, Levin's Accelerated Schools, Sizer's Coalition of Essential Schools, Comer's School Development, and Wang's Community for Learning, incorporate inclusive models (Wang, Haertel, & Walberg, 1998).
Beyond these efforts, other factors are conducive to the expansion of inclusive education. They include the success of inclusive education programs; the now firm legal mandate to educate students with disabilities with their nondisabled peers, especially the requirement that their performance be included in school and district performance reports; public concern for the costs of separate programs that do not serve students with disabilities well; and the growing insistence from parents not only that their children with disabilities be served in the public schools, but also that their children's education be of high quality, preparing them to participate as full and contri-buting members of an inclusive society. These changes need to occur in more than just school. Commensurate changes must occur in the universities, in the workplace, and in the community.
Inclusion goes beyond returning students who have been in separate placements to the general education classroom. It incorporates an end to labeling students and shunting them out of the regular classroom to obtain needed services. It responds to Slavin's call for "neverstreaming" by establishing a refashioned mainstream, a restructured and unified school system that serves all students together.

Council for Exceptional Children. (1995). Creating schools for all our students: What twelve schools have to say. Reston, VA: Author.

Edmonds, R. (1979). Some schools work and more can. Social Policy, 9(5), 26–31.

Lipsky, D., & Gartner, A. (1997). Inclusion and school reform: Transforming America's classrooms. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

National Center on Educational Restructuring and Inclusion. (1994). National study of inclusive education. New York: Author.

National Center on Educational Restructuring and Inclusion. (1995). National study of inclusive education.New York: Author.

U.S. Department of Education. (1997). Nineteenth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: Author.

Thousand, J. S., & Villa, R. A. (1995). Managing complex change toward inclusive schooling. In R. A. Villa & J. S. Thousand (Eds.), Creating an inclusive school (pp. 51–79). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Wang, M. C., Haertel, G. D., & Walberg, H. J. (1998). Models of reform: A comparative guide. Educational Leadership, 55(7), 66–71.

End Notes

1 This figure exaggerates the total in that it includes not only those students with disabilities who received a standard diploma but also those who received a modified diploma, or a certificate of completion or who "age out."

Dorothy Kerzner Lipsky has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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