Making Inclusion Work

What is inclusion? Where did it come from? Is it a law? What are the obstacles to successful inclusion and what problems does inclusion pose for students with learning disabilities? Educators, parents, and students need the answers to these and a host of other questions. "Making Inclusion Work" represents a scholarly attempt to describe inclusion and it’s origins, obstacles and problems that must be overcome, and models and strategies that make inclusion work.

What is Inclusion?

Inclusion, according to Webster, is to be considered as a part of a whole. This is the goal of inclusive education, to have students of various levels of disabilities to be an integral part of the learning environment in the general education classroom, and to do so in a way that enriches all members of the community. Inclusive classrooms allow children with disabilities to participate in class and extracurricular activities, and learn with and befriend their peers. Ferguson (1994,1995) said that education is about membership, and to learn membership one must be a member. All students need to be a part of this educational membership in order to be a viable part of the membership of society. The educational arena is where students begin to refine the roles they will play in the adult community. We cannot expect disabled students to learn and practice these roles separate from their peers and then later be assimilated into the adult workplace and societal community.

Inclusion can function on many levels, where the disabled student joins the general education classroom for part of the day, depending on the type and severity of the disability, to full inclusion where all students are in the general education classroom instead of the special education classroom. This would theoretically eliminate the need foe a special education classroom. Full inclusion should allow disabled students to be part of the heterogeneous surroundings, teach social skills, foster independence and provide opportunities to build friendships with non-disabled peers (Fuchs and Fuchs as cited in Petch-Hogan, Haggard, 1999). Factors to be considered in the development of a

full inclusion classroom should include age appropriate placement in local public schools, integrated delivery of services in the general education classroom, social integration, curricular expectations adapted to the level that best challenges the handicapped student, home-school partnership, staff development, team collaboration, and systematic evaluation and related services (Conn, as cited in Kearney, 1996).

Inclusion has gone through a long evolutionary process beginning in 1948 with the International Bill of Rights recognizing that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.î Inclusion advocates have fought for years (and probably will fight many more) to convince people that these children have the right to an education, that that they are teachable. These children can and will function in the heterogeneous adult community so they should be educated in a community of heterogeneous peers. This blending of various skills and characteristics will not only benefit the disabled student but also the non-disabled student, who will in adult life experience people of various backgrounds, talents and abilities

Regular Education Initiative

One inclusion program brought grand changes to inclusion. This program is the regular education initiative (REI). REI had a completely new way of looking at how general education and special education would be working together (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1994).

Those in favor of REI had many different reasons for pushing for its acceptance.

They noted that previous labels for pullout special education programs were based on unclear diagnostic testing (Zigmond, Jenkins & Fuchs, 1995). Zigmond et al.also noted that students in pullout felt social stigma and made limited academic progress. Legally, REI also has strong support. Supporters cited the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) saying that all students should be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE) possible (Zigmond, et al., 1995). In the continuum of services in special education, The LRE is the regular education classroom.

REI set up specific guidelines in how special education and regular partnerships should work. It had several major goals in its programs. The first goal was to merge general and special education into one system (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1994). This was to share the responsibility of educating and caring for students' needs. By doing this all labels in special education would be dissolved (Fuchs & Fuchs). A second goal was to incorporate more students in special education into the regular education classroom on a full-time basis (Fuchs & Fuchs). A final goal was to strengthen the achievement of students with mild disabilities as well as students who were low achieving but did not have disabilities (Fuchs & Fuchs).

REI's intention was to restructure the way special education laws and practices to meet its needs. The first thing REI advocates sought was a waiver for state and federal regulations (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1994). This was so resources that were originally used only form special education could now be brought into the regular education classroom and

used in new ways. An example of this could be lowering the number of students on a special education teacher's caseload without lowering the money a school district receives form the state department of education. Another component of the REI program was to change the continuum of services offered in special education (Fuchs & Fuchs). Their main focus was to eliminate all residential and day schools and bring these students into the general education classrooms.

REI had specific ideals for all students in the general education classrooms. The first of these was to develop an individualized set of goals and objectives for every student (Fuchs & Fuchs). This was so each student could work only on skills that they needed. As a component of the individualized instruction, REI sought to change the curriculum taught in schools (Fuchs & Fuchs).

Michigan Inclusive Initiative

After the federal government stated its position on inclusion, the state of Michigan followed suit. The Michigan Inclusive Initiative was developed in 1992. This gave the state of Michigan's opinion on inclusive education. The Michigan Department of Education (1992) wrote:

The position statement reaffirms the 1984 policy on LRE, which served as a statement of commitment to increasing options for students with disabilities in general education facilities. Further, this position statement serves as a commitment to increasing opportunities for students with disabilities in general

education classrooms within these facilities and to the integral involvement of parents in this process. It is the belief of the State Board of Education that program options created in general education classrooms will not only maximize the potential of students with disabilities, but also will assist in the preparation of both students with and without disabilities for integrated community living. (p.1)

The legal basis for inclusion

Does Federal Law require inclusion? This question is at the center of a very heated debate between the supporters of inclusion and the non-supportive counterparts. Many supporters argue that inclusion is necessary because it provides the students with a sense of belonging, increases self esteem, and will motivate them to do better in school. The non-supporters argue that children with disabilities will create disruptions, therefore interfering with the general education student ability to learn. They also argue that the impaired child will slow down the learning growth / rate, hence the non-impaired students ability to learn at their normal rate. So who is right? Who is wrong? Or could it be that there is no right or wrong answer to the question of inclusion? (Education Resources, 1996).

PL 94-142 or the Education for all Handicapped Children Act of 1975 seemed to be the right answer. Most parents of children with impairments were happy with the passage of this law because it now meant that their children had the right and ability to be educated in a public institution in their own neighborhood. Before PL 94-142, most children with disabilities were educated in an environment outside the public school

setting , usually several miles from home(Brown, 1997). The few children who were fortunate enough to be mainstreamed into general education community were usually admitted into non-academic classes, music, art, and physical education. The mainstreaming efforts of PL 94-142 was a step in the right direction, however it failed to mainstream most students into academic classes such as math, English, and social studies. More legislation was needed to include all students into general education classrooms(Brown,1997). Although PL 94-142 failed in its attempt to mainstream all students with disabilities, it did provide the legal basis and general framework for inclusion.

PL 101-476 - The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and PL 105-17 the reauthorization of (IDEA) are both updated version of PL 94-142. Their goals are to include all students, regardless of their disabilities / impairments into the general education environment. IDEA mandates their inclusion due to two provisions found in PL 94-142/ PL 101-476 and PL 105-17. These provisions state that:

a) to the maximum extent appropriate, handicapped children, including children in public and private institutions or other facilities, are educated with children who are not handicapped; and (b.) special classes , separate schooling, or removal of handicapped children from regular education environment occurs only when the nature and severity of the handicap is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplemental aid and service, cannot be achieved satisfactorily.(IDEA Regulations, 34 C.F.R. (section) 300.550(b)). (Yell, 1998).

These two provisions entitle students with disabilities the right to be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment with their non-disabled peers.

IDEA is considered a civil rights legislation that guarantees education to all individuals with disabilities (Lerner, 1997).. The IDEA also represented a national commitment to provide Free and Appropriate Public Education. This was an attempt aimed at ending the stigmatism many children with handicaps felt when they were isolated from the rest of the schools general population (Yell, 1998). Once again, we come back to the question, Does Federal Law Require Inclusion? Although the term inclusion is not present on any piece of federal legislation, the answer seems to be "Yes". Children with impairments cannot be discriminated against or denied a free and appropriate public education. They have the right to be educated with their non-impaired peers in the least restrictive environment. Children with disabilities no longer need to look at themselves as different because they are separated from the rest of the general population. As many supporters of inclusion believe, separate education is not equal education.

Social, economic, academic reasons from parents and

administrator viewpoint

Special education has experienced tremendous growth over recent years, primarily due to the passing of federal legislation. One of the most difficult tasks for school systems to undertake is to accommodate students with learning disabilities. (Fuchs & Fuchs,1994).

There is no set program to follow. Numerous changes are required. Frustration and anxiety are high. Different individuals have different needs. The costs to implement these programs are expensive and require extensive time and resources.

Administration plays an important role in the education of this population; the backbone of any school district. They should provide the overall structure and organization for those under them(Fuchs & Fuchs,1994). The goal and responsibility is simple: to educate all. If you have strong administrators, your job as an educator can be much easier. These are the people who provide the vision and agenda of not only the district, but for the each building as well(Fuchs & Fuchs,1994). To educate students with learning disabilities, it is essential that the staff receives additional training and resources need to be allocated to the appropriate people, place, and time.

National teacher shortages in special education forces districts to hire uncertified people or give provisional certificates. This is a short-term solution to an issue that is long term and has many implications. Putting unprepared educators into classrooms without the necessary resources or training is not the answer to educating children with learning disabilities(Daniel,1997). It is adamant that exclusive staff development be made available.

Family involvement is critical to the success of educating the child, in regular education as well as special education. Parents are the primary support system. Parents will react differently to the issue of inclusion. Some will question the validity of inclusion, so educating the parent is just as important as educating the child. Parents need to be welcomed into the classroom.

Students are labeled when removed from the regular classroom, both by professionals and by students(McLeskey,1996). Low self-esteem is common among children with learning disabilities, which may inhibit academic growth of the child. Name-calling, stereotypes and perceptions are other social issues that these children have to deal with.

Students who benefit academically and socially from the education they receive in general education should be included in these settings. The general education classroom can meet the needs of the vast majority of studentís with learning disabilities. However, this is not true for all. Some students will receive greater benefits from placement other than the general education classroom setting