Duncan and Team Get First-hand Look at Successful Inclusion of Students with Disabilities

Photo of Secretary Duncan and Asst. Secretary Posny visiting a classroom

Secretary Duncan and Asst. Secretary Posny visit a SAM classroom at Beers Elementary School.

Secretary Arne Duncan and ED’s Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Alexa Posny, stopped by Beers Elementary School in Washington, DC yesterday to get a close-up look at one school that is successfully integrating students with disabilities into the school culture.

Beers Elementary is one of 16 public schools in the District of Columbia that participate in the Schoolwide Applications Model (SAM), an inclusive education program that engages the entire school staff and works to achieve a safe and orderly learning environment in which all students receive the supports they need, including students with disabilities.  Secretary Duncan and Assistant Secretary Posny visited a 2nd Grade and 4th Grade SAM classroom and also participated in a roundtable discussion with DC school administrators, teachers and parents.

One of the takeaways from the Beers visit is how closely the staff work together, and how such teamwork is positively affecting student achievement.  Katherine Chesterson, one of Beers’ support teachers, explained that teachers at the school aren’t working in a silo, and that they are constantly reinforcing each other as well as the positive behavior of all the students. One of the roundtable participants described what the teachers are doing at Beers as “something pretty special.”

Jeffery Brown, a school counselor at Beers, noted that the most impressive part of the SAM model is that the school reflects the environment students will encounter beyond school. The world, Brown said, doesn’t have “two parts of society, where there is a general part of society and a special part of society.”  Beers Principal Gwendolyn Payton explained that when you go to the neighborhood grocery store, there isn’t a separate cash register marked “special.” Life doesn’t have two categories of citizens, so why should schools?

Secretary Duncan will address the importance of inclusion in a keynote address later this evening at the American Association of People with Disabilities conference.  Below is a behind-the-scenes look at yesterday’s visit.

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.


  1. I teach children with mild to moderate disabilities in a Central California elementary school, delivering specialized academic instruction in small groups via a pull-out program. 5 of the 23 students on my caseload spend 2 1/2 hours, 4 days per week (32% of their instructional time) out of their general education classes with me; the remaining 18 come to my room for 1/2 hour to 1 1/2 hours of remedial help with reading and/or math (6-19% of their day). My students are qualified for special education services due to learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability, emotional disturbance, and speech & language disorders. The majority of my 4th-6th graders have reading abilities commensurate with 1st & 2nd graders, which makes it exceedingly difficult for them to meaningfully participate in grade level work that requires reading & writing. And given the ‘4th grade shift,’ where teaching changes from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn,’ these students will not be afforded the opportunity to acquire basic reading skills outside of intensive intervention services. To attempt to deliver this level of instruction at a back table within the general education classroom for the sake of inclusion seems ludicrous and cruel. If inclusion’s purpose is for the social & emotional well-being of these older students, then I can think of fewer situations which will raise their affective hackles more than being singled out in front of their peers. If inclusion’s purpose is to raise educational achievement of students with special needs, then the abundance of research which supports small group, skill-intensive instruction by specially trained teachers should be consulted. If not, why have I had to complete an additional 60 units of college credit (above my Multiple Subjects credential) to earn a Level II Special Education credential?

  2. I am a first grade teacher and I have some very strong feelings about the comments above. First, parents should never have to home school a child with a disability in order for them to receive what they need. That goes against everything IDEA was based on.
    When a teacher is not getting to meet the needs of all the learners in the classroom because he/she is too busy helping two or three students function normally in a classroom, then everyone loses out on an FAPE. I do believe in integrating special needs students into the normal classroom setting. I also feel that they need to receive extra services outside the regular classroom setting. Teachers today are faced with overcrowded classroom and expected to meet every single one of their student’s learning needs. This cannot be done without some sort of outside help.
    We cannot expect students with extreme disabilities to one take a test like an average student or two function normally in a regular classroom setting. It is not logical thinking. I currently have students in my school that cannot talk, walk, control movement easily, or communicate effectively. How are they supposed to pass the same test as the average students? How is a teacher going to meet their needs and the needs of his/her 22 other students? Something here just doesn’t make sense!

  3. Educating students with disabilities in segregated settings only perpetuates the long-term outcome in which they will require more expensive, future care (which costs taxpayers more) and less value is placed on them. I have worked in special ed. for 17 years and see first-hand, daily, how successful students with significant disabilities can be when they are NOT separated from their peers. For instance, one young man I work with screams and becomes frustrated very easily when in the segregated environment. I won’t call it a classroom because the learning that occurs there prepares him for a segregated world. When he is in the general classrooms with other students he is quiet and does the same assignment as other students with minor accomodations. The other students learn there are people in their world who are not exactly like them, but they are not much different either. I consider that a major accomplishement for him, but am saddened that he has only been able to accomplish this at the high school level.

  4. If parents have the expirence to homeschool there disabled child they be compensated and given the tools to do it with. They could network with other parents that have the same or similar to the same situation

  5. Certainly, we need to challenge special needs children to achieve at higher levels and not settle for less than they are capable of doing. But, the 2% rule applies to students who are significantly low cognitivley. How is a child who sits in a wheel chair, whose only activity is making noises and has no response to stimulation, not even eye movement, going to be tested on the same test that regular education students take? It is absurd to even suggest it and yet, that is what the Secretary is saying. How is an autistic child who has no verbal language skills and limited receptive language going to sit down and take an algebra test? It sounds great politcally for the Secretary to make such a statement, but there is not one iota of reality in it.

  6. As Cuba Gooding, Jr. said in ‘Jerry McGuire’, “Show me the money!” I agree with the person above, paraprofessional budgets have been slashed, and it’s not getting better. I don’t understand why education reform enthusiasts think we can have kids with diverse needs, as well as students learning English all mixed together with only one teacher at the helm. I’ve tried it, and it’s not fair to anyone: Not to the adult running the class, not to the quiet kids who get left out, not the emotionally needy children who need tremendous amounts of nurturing, and not to the parents who want and deserve regular communication with their child’s teacher. It’s too much for any one person to do effectively.

    I’ve had the privilege of working with some amazingly intelligent, gifted teachers. One of the most amazing prided herself on total inclusion, but she always had some very dedicated paraprofessionals to assist her, and she never put up with educational technicians who were not well trained. Since she was highly regarded by the administration, she got the help she needed. It was lovely to see her in action, but also difficult to know when resources were scarce that younger, less experienced teachers were expected to do the same with fewer resources (personnel and materials). Until we can have equity in schools, we won’t be able to achieve these well-intended, lofty goals.

    Currently, I teach children who are learning English (K-5) and our goal is inclusion, yet it’s so much more complicated than that. Many children come to us with little or no literacy experiences in the first languages, making it more difficult for them to learn to read than those who may even be newer to the US but who have had prior schooling. Some, of course have survived a refugee camp or war. These children also need tremendous support.

    Something’s gotta give!

  7. In agreement of everyones replies, and Hope for a much closer look at our overall education system, especially in relation to learning or other disabled students. For my child, well in light of the No Fear Act, I choose not to comment on our situation that involves too much that could simply make things worse, and who now attends a nonpublic school. As I too am disabled, may have to consider home schooling next year or even a GED for my struggling learner. Inclusion includes the adhering to the school laws, disability laws, and others as applicable to procedures and policies for students with disabilities.

    “Assessments” throughout the public school systems, of how many parents of students that are disabled/Learning disabled that have chosen similar paths of the non public schooling, would give the “public” a clear indication “statistically” of just how well the special education services, individualized education placements, have worked out according to FAPE, IDEA, NCLB.

    It would be interesting to know the “scores” in every area from state to state, to also include the reasons behind the concepts of inclusion or seclusion provided and or lacking for the students who were/are to get those special services and how parents advocate for their children to obtain such services. It is a battle within a battle, where what truly matters is The Education of our children as individuals. Hopefully the future which depends upon revision, accountability, and truth will take place for so many children, and families soon—-Teachers who love their jobs, love their students and have a passion for teaching are now having issues keeping up with the academic structures, pressures, and state requirements, imagine that…hmmm.

  8. As I read your newsletter regarding funding for special needs children, I wonder how much of the funding will actually benefit these children. As a special needs teacher on the secondary level, I have some children who enter my class and they cannot read. Some don’t know basic sight words and they start high school as non-readers. Will these students be afforded the opportunity to be included in inclusion classes? No. Before they have an inkling of a chance, they must first be afforded the opportunity to learn how to read. These students need one-on-one tutoring, but there is no after school reading programs for them, nor do we have paraprofessionals who could work with a student one-on-one. I am told there is so much funding for these children. Well, I would sure like to know what happened to it. Remember, paraprofessionals were cut from the budget, and I have not had a raise in four years. I buy my own supplies because there is no money. Yet, I am a special needs teacher who should be at the top of the pay scale based on my performance in the classroom and the fact that I must teacher these students at the level that they are on. I don’t have the luxury of teaching a student with a 90 or above IQ.

    I know that we want all children to be taught equally, but until we actually hear from people who work on the front line of educating our children, we will continue to get what we are use to getting; poor results.

    I am tired of hearing about all this funding that is available for special needs children when I know that it is not happening in my area. All I can do is continue to leap across tall buildings on a single because I am not looking for Superman to come to my rescue. I am my own Clark Kent. Please stop enticing me with kryptonite (funding), which only dampens my spirit.

    I never thought that I would see the day when education would be put on the back burner, and obtaining luxurious gasoline profits would become the number one priority in America.

  9. If we are asking our students with an I.Q. of 70 (supposedly w/in the average range) to pass state achievement test at the their grade level. Why aren’t we asking those students with an I.Q. of 100 to be passing at the gifted/talented level?

  10. I was just speaking about the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in South Carolina with some of our legislature and governor’s office just in the last two weeks. Thank you White House for listening to the needs of the disabled.

    Voice of Promise Inc. is right there with you

  11. I have two children that needed help with reading and language arts and had IEPs due to their inability to decode word and write well due to dyslexia. Dyslexia affects nearly 40% of all people in one way or another. It is important for them to receive appropriate reading/literacy programs early on and to be taught differently than the rest of the children who are able to decode or break the code of reading normally or easily. They are physically wired differently, unable to match the letter sounds with written words. This is prevalent in children beginning in kindergarten with the proper evaluations. One-on-one remediation is needed in a phonemic based reading program for them which would also help all individuals learn to read as well. We need to reteach or teachers and professionals how to actually teach beginning readers and how to remediate the ones who have been passed along through the system to middle and high school. These children will always struggle to read and break down large words but the better attack skills they learn and memory tricks, the better they will be able to achieve a higher education. The professional development of literacy programs needs to be changes in our Universities to include methods such as Samuel Orten, Lindamood Bell and Wilson methods of instruction. A systematic, evidence-based instruction given consistently throughout the curriculum of these children. All children will benefit from this differentiated instruction. Grade level evaluations must be mandatory which include error rates for decoding and words achieved per minute. My two sons have been passed along through the system and have not attained their proper reading grade-level but they are both very creative and technologically advanced and great problem solvers as a result of their reading deficits. Change the way language arts and literacy programs are taught and you will see more accomplished higher level learners throughout the world. Manytimes they get embarrassed when asked to read out loud but can read better silently due to their intelligence of figuring out the words around the ones not recognized. Inclusion sometimes is humiliating but when done with empathy, will prove successful.

  12. As a person who works with adults with disabilities in post-seondary, I have seen the results of every version of inclusion programs. The key,it seems to me, is providing the flexibility to use inclusion and pull outs or separate learning environment when the child needs it. Many adults report that they were in inclusion or separate classrooms based on policy not their need. As adults, they report needing more support then inclusion could offer. A persistent report from adults is they additionally needed self advocacy training to be able to access the rest of their education as adults. Most say they lacked the training to use simple classroom “self accommodation” that would help them be more independent learners. They report knowing what their disability is, what the system was going to do about it but lacked the skill and information as to what they could do in the classroom and in life. They get that in adult/vocational educational but feel like they lost time and opportunity.
    G environment

  13. I think it is great that the U.S. is taking a look at inclusion for students with disability. It is however, unfortunate that they can not take an indepth look at this issue. I live in No. Cal and just recently filed a State complaint because our school district has ignored our request for placement/service for our child(a U.S. citizen) since June of 2010. I feel I have been more than patience but that patience has run out.

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