“Inclusive education,” broadly speaking, is a model where exceptional children and their typical peers learn together. Inclusive education is the opposite of a “special education” model, which cordons off exceptional children from their peers (often at a very young age), and focuses more on life skills and less on academics as children grow older. In short, a special education model is characterized by:
- segregation of children by presumed ability
- few opportunities for socialization with typical peers
- reduced academic opportunities in favor of a non-academic “life skills” curriculum.
Inclusive education, by contrast, is characterized by:
- grouping of all children by age, not ability
- provision of need-specific supports for every child
- an appropriate academic curriculum for every child
- provision of extra services (e.g., speech therapy) in the classroom setting
- many opportunities for socialization.
Inclusive education isn’t a pie-in-the-sky idea of fringe educators and desperate parents, but it can go badly if children with exceptional needs are not provided with appropriate classroom supports. However, when done well, inclusive education can pay huge dividends for children with exceptional needs. According to the National Longitudinal Transition Study (Wagner, Newman, Cameto, Levine, and Garza, 2006), children with exceptional needs who spent more time in general education had, on average:
- higher scores on standardized tests in math and reading
- less disruptive behavior
- fewer absences
- better outcomes after high school concerning employment and independent living.
These results held on average for all students with disabilities, regardless of their disability label, the severity of their disability, gender, or socio-economic status. Other studies have shown a range of related benefits from inclusion:
- significantly higher gains in adaptive behavior relative to comparable exceptional students educated in separate settings (Cole,Waldron, & Majd, 2004)
- increased opportunities for instruction on age-appropriate goals and more goals related to basic skills (Hunt and Farron-Davis, 1992)
- increased social interactions with classmates (Lee, Yoo and Bak, 2003)
- greater incidence of friendships (Owen-DeSchreyver, et al, 2008).
For even more on research-based findings on the benefits of inclusive education, click here.
By contrast, since the 1970s, no studies have shown any academic benefit for students with intellectual and other developmental disabilities from a special education model (Falvey, 2004).
Stories of Successful Inclusion
Special Books by Special Kids
Resources for Inclusion
Inclusion in Hamilton County, Tennessee? White Paper on Inclusive Education
CDSS – How to Stop Running By Building Skills
Individual Student Planning – Transition From Spec Ed Classes to Gen Ed Settings
5 Things I want Teachers to Know About My Special Education Inclusion Child
Inclusive Schooling: Are We There Yet?
Why Special Ed Isn’t