Inclusive Schools

Image of Alexa PosnyWhen I was in kindergarten, my neighborhood friends and I waved goodbye to our families and set off for our first day of school. All except one. My friend with down syndrome didn’t board the bus with us that day. I didn’t know why she wasn’t allowed to come, but I did know that it wasn’t fair or right.

A lot has changed since then. On Monday, Arne and I visited Beers Elementary in D.C., one example of the thousands of American schools where students with disabilities participate in general education classrooms and are expected to learn as much as every other student in the room. The next day, I went to Delaware, where I talked with a group of over 600 people who believe in the power of inclusion and the positive difference it makes for students with and without disabilities.

We know that children are more alike than different. We know that given the right supports, every child can thrive. That’s why we want to make sure that ESEA includes all children, including those with disabilities, and that Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) services provide the supports — expert teachers and highly trained related services personnel, proven practices, effective models, deft technologies, among others — to help students with disabilities achieve challenging standards.

I truly believe that we are all in this together and that we must collaborate to create a system that can meet the needs of each of our nation’s 50 million students, including the six million students with disabilities attending our schools.

Alexa Posny, Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services


  1. I am sadden by many of the negative comments about inclusion but not surrpised. Why is it that the special needs child is always considered a burden to those who oppose inclusion or for those who advocate self contained classrooms as the only viable solution ? In the thousands of typical classrooms across the US I doubt there is one that every day each student learns exactly the same, where there us not at least one child that needs some special attention or where there is no disruption. My 1st grader is mainstreamed half of the day and in a self contained program the other half, both of his teachers’ goal ( as is mine )is to have him mainstreamed 100%. The cost of educating and providing services to special needs children to be able to function to their fullest potential in sociey is much less expensive than the alternative.

  2. I am so glad to hear about your support of inclusion. I have been working in the school system for about 19 years and I have to say that students have always learned more when they are taught along side people who love them and can challenge them. I think this is true of all of us. The research supports even students with severe and multiple disabilities learn more social and language skills in 12 years of education when they are taught full time in a reg. ed. setting because of the expectations and experiences that come from the interactions of the whole group over the long term.
    This is significant! Not only have I worked with many children with disabilities in the education setting, but I have a son with severe and multiple disabilities and he has learned more in the last 4 months about social, communication and job skills than he has in previous years because he has been in a new setting where he was accepted for who he was, challenged and cared about by those around him in regular education classes.

  3. INCLUSION has helped our 5 year old grow by leaps and bounds! He initiates public conversations, he responds to others questions; he is learning body language; he is proud of himself; he enjoys others more than before; he’s no longer always passively reserved; he is exploring other’s interests; he is allowing others into his comfort zone ‘bubble’ and He IS PROUD OF HIS ABILITY AND WILLINGNESS TO INTERACT.
    Others: classmates, Teachers, typical peers, Therapists, doctors, schoolbus driver, parks pals, fast-food window clerks,
    Activities: cafeteria, classroom, restaurant fun zones, group therapy, local festivals, library, accessible playgrounds, field trips, music class, recess, bowling, doctors waiting room/play areas, AMC Sensory-Friendly movie theaters, 2k fun run/walk, water fun day, Mardi Gras Ball, and school-based P.A.L.S.-Play And Learn SocialSkills(based on Model Me Kids videos and Committee For Children Safety Curriculum).
    We are glad that laws/philosophies/principles/programs exist, are embraced and are implemented to foster INCLUSION. Our son is inspired and inspires others as he Enjoys the Hi5s of Autism with INCLUSION strategies as an option. The INCLUSION model keeps our son operating in the realistic mindset that he can and will live, recreate, learn and matriculate in the real world, even as a ‘uniquely different’ individual.

  4. I am 100% behind educating all kids to meet their ful potential without bias as to what that potential may be. My daughter is now 32 years old and was included in general education classes from the time she was in 4th grade. We started out before we had a lot of knowledge about how to successfully incluude and teach all students, but she helped us learn a lot. She had no clear communication method, (she does not speak, or sign and has very limited use of her hands and also is non ambulatory) so we could not measure her learning but I would ask her teachers to teach her and to make sure that she knew they expected her to be listening and learning what she could. We never were aboe to find a way back then to “prove” her learning or measure her knowledge levels. When she completed High school, I enrolled her in some college classes and supported her myself alternating with a friend. A few years later she was co teaching graduate classes at the university, on inclusive practices for general education and that was the first time we saw the “proof” that she not only learned a lot in classes but then went ob to teach others what worked and what did not. She still cannot speak but we found a way for her to communicate better.

  5. I’m so grateful that Alexa Posny started this conversation. It seems to me that some people are focusing on what doesn’t work instead of looking at what can and does work. Part of the reason that bullying is such a problem is because everyone is so separated. If students go to school with each other and see that everyone is more alike than different there will be less bullying over time.

    I heard once that every general education class before you even get to the students on IEPs span a range of 5 grades. Good teachers are teaching to a diverse group of learners. Their work is already differentiated.

    My last point is there a movement afoot to rethink what high school students with disabilities are doing in high school. How many years do students need to learn to wash clothes and dishes? Maybe they should be learning to use their cell phones and iPads, etc., (Thank you Cheryl J.) or other skills the one can really use as adolescents. There is plenty of time to learn to do laundry such as after grade 12. And if a students is not included all day what classes make sense? My friend Beth always wanted to learn to speak French. She just happens to have a diagnosis of Down Syndrome. She loved that class.

    No it’s not easy, but neither is good teaching. Just my thoughts.

  6. I have worked in an organization that has valued inclusive practices for 20+ years. I am a Speech/Language Pathologist and have observed first hand how children in “family groupings” of all ability levels, social economic levels, cultural practices can flourish in their growth and development as long as each child is worked with as an individual and the classroom supports all children and many different learning styles in each classroom. I am a strong proponent of inclusive education!

  7. I love some of the comments posted in this blog, but some make me sad. There are many of us that realize that inclusive education is a right. each child deserves to be in a classroom of peers and have a chance to make friends, because after all, children have much more in common that we realize. The friendships that our children form can completely change their future and give them a sense of belonging. Afterall, isn’t that what we all want deep down; a chance to belong and laugh and contribute. Every person deserves to be given that chance. As wonderful as pull out services are, they can also make a child feel isolated and different from his/her peers and cause the peers to look differentlt at the student with a disability. We need to find a way for our schools to provide the proper training and staff to make inclusion work. We need teachers that are committed to getting the best out of each student, no matter what the ability. The teachers need to operate under the concept of the least dangerous assumption for our kiddos. We need educators to work together, think out of the box and take ownership of all the children they teach.

  8. Short & sweet: Students should be allowed to share a classroom together because the disabled & non-disabled can learn from one another! There is no reason to keep them apart. It only isolates and creates ignorance. Go Inclusion!

  9. Short & sweet: Students should be allowed to share a classropm together because the disabled & non-disabled can learn from one another! There is no reason to keep them apart. It only isolates and creates ignorance. Go Inclusion!

  10. As the parent of a child with Autism, I truly believe that parents should have the choice of full inclusion, partial inclusion, or segregation if that is what they feel is best for their child.

    As the only family in our School District who has a child who qualifies for special education services, however has chosen to revoke consent 18 months ago because of segregation. There is no compromise and unfortunately the district has written my child off as a life skills kid who will need to learn to count change and ride the bus….that is what each child needs but realistically my child needs non-disabled to learn social norms.

    The non-disabled peers need to learn to work with kids like my son because the number of children with Autism continues to rise….and question is what unpopulated island is big enough for them if we don’t teach each to benefit the other and to work together. With segregation we are setting up a generation of youth to financially support their peers instead of teaching them to work together so that they can each financially support themselves.

    Just my 2 cents on the matter! I stand for inclusion! I have taken a stand and my child is doing just fine and more importantly the social skills he is learning will help him along in life further than any formal education will. Knowledge does not equal good employment potential and social skills!

  11. While I agree that inclusion done right is fabulous I do not believe that inclusion for all is best. As a special education teacher (resource) in an elementary school I do not believe that students with moderate to severe disabilities benefit from a full inclusion model. I think that almost everyone here is over generalizing the situation. There is no “one size fits all” and there should not be ! These students have IEP’s because they NEED a specialized plan to help them reach their potential. I do not agree that this can be met with FULL inclusion for all students.Yes, parents may feel better but there is no way that the students needs are being met in the best way possible. Instead of trying to “make a point” please try and put the students individual needs 1st.

  12. Thanks so much for such personal insights!
    Indeed, “inclusion” done poorly is not inclusion at all. We need to CHANGE our practices so that schools open their doors to ALL of the children who live in their communities and engage in collaborative planning to design the supports and services so ALL children can participate in a meaningful way and have friends. This may mean a preventive approach to problem behavior, active social supports to prevent bullying, technology to enable communication and interaction with the curriculum, and collaborative teaming among educators and service providers! It can be done with leadership, strategic planning, and engagement of parents in the change process. Let’s INCLUDE!

  13. As a mother of a child with autism and speech-language pathology student, I hope that folks understand that inclusion is not right for some students with special needs but it is the best place for many others. I do not believe Ms. Posny is making a blanket statement, merely calling for action and dialogue. I do know how important it is that my son be in the regular class room, how enriching it is for him, and that other students also benefit from his presence. All children and families should be given a choice and not be forced into one place or another. And yes, we absolutely need to give the classroom teacher the support she or he needs to serve ALL students well.

  14. A Success Story:

    I am the mother of a 30 year old man who accessed special education services throughout his school career in our local district. I had to FIGHT for 15 minutes in a regular classroom when he was in elementary school. Then I had to meet until I was blue in the face to get access to extracurricular activities at the middle school (band). When he moved to the high school campus he had to prove himself “worthy” to participate in regular classes again!

    Nick graduated from his local high school, he lettered in band (cymbals) & football (he was the co-manager) each for 3 years, he accessed ROTC and loved to wear his uniform every Wednesday. He has worked as a clerk for the same local government agency for over 10 years. He pays for his own vacations, his country club membership, and all of his outings. Nick is his own man because his family fought for him to have access and choice!

    Let me take a moment to share his IEP/education “persona”. He reads on a first grade level, he “prints” his signature and it is very large, he graduated with a certificate of achievement and we were told he would never work anywhere else but McDonald’s because of his exceptionality. He was labeled MR (Yuck!), visually impaired and severe language disordered. He had moderate fine motor delays, mild gross motor delays and a severe speech disorder.

    I tell you all of this to say…
    Yes, Inclusion can represent choice and individual concerns should be taken into consideration, BUT why should parents/individuals have to FIGHT for access to what other students take for granted?

    I admire and appreciate your statements and those of all the individuals with disabilities and professionals who have come before you to pave the way for these rights, “MAINSTREAMING” “INTEGRATION” “ACCESS” “INCLUSION” – whatever we choose to call it. Our work will never be done until it is the norm. Access is a given, not a struggle to achieve. Choice = Access WITHOUT the Fight!

  15. If a school district says it follows an inclusive model, that takes a LOT of training and commitment. My six-year-old son has autism disorder. We began the year hearing that the district was “big” on inclusion, but we have had to have several IEP meetings to come to an operating definition of what that means for him. It doesn’t just mean he is “in the room” for reading or “on the stage” for a show. I want him mainstreamed because his issues are social-emotional, NOT cognitive. His delays are based on the fact that he did not meet the conversational milestones of his peers as a toddler, and he still struggles to integrate into the highly social environment of a classroom.

    I was able to push for his least restrictive environment (a road on which we are still advancing) because I am an educator. I walk the walk and talk the talk. In my gen ed room, I accept students with IEPs. They are treated as if they are “mine,” except when their content-area needs require separate instruction at certain times during the day. Then, I share them with their case manager who can give them a smaller group, more intensive setting that meets their needs. We co-teach as well. RtI is presenting a challenge to co-teaching, as many research-based interventions that require progress monitoring also require small group, scripted settings.

    For my own son, and my own students, the reality is that core grade-level instruction is NOT the best method for every child, especially those with disabilities. My son came in to Kindergarten with delays. It is unrealistic for us as parents to believe that his entire day should be in his gen ed classroom, unless and until gen ed classrooms start to realize that the same supports children with disabilities have are beneficial to all students. Would some of his gen ed peers benefit from sensory breaks? You bet! How about social stories that relieve anxiety? Yes! The very things that would benefit my son could benefit others in his class. Embracing these ideas is where inclusion ideology can become more real. That means training gen ed teachers, as we are not sufficiently trained at the undergraduate level.

    Do we have a goal for our son to eventually be fully included in a gen ed room? Yes. That’s why I encourage parents not to accept the once-a-year IEP meeting. Be active participants in your child’s education. Be in constant contact with his/her teachers. Create a plan that maximizes his/her strengths and gives intervention (not just assistance) in areas of need. Help your schools be what they can be. I have learned more from conversations with parents than I ever learned in 4 years of undergrad and 2 years of graduate study. Be that squeaky wheel!

  16. This is my 42 year as an educator. My journey began in northern MS to VA, ME, CO and now FL. As a co-teacher in high school, I have taught children with severe limited cognitive abilities, those with learning and behavioral issues and those who have no labeles in the general education population. The best thing they all have in common is they are “Childern First”. Each of them need teachers who see them as children first and then take into account that all of them (with and without labels)are in need of the best instructional practices of an educator. I agree with Vicki that it takes time and commitment for inclusion to be the best it can be for all children. Please don’t close the door on inclusion or return to the 1960’s of excluding students from learning and growing together. How can we grow as a nation if we “select” who gets to learn with who?

  17. I read this blog and am both terrified and encouraged at the same time. I am a special educator, parent of a son with disabilities, teacher educator, and most imporantly I am a fellow human being. Inclusion of students with disabilities is the moral thing to do and what we must be demanding that our researchers and policy makers help schools, families and communities to build the supports necessary for all students, including those with disabilities, to be welcomend, vauled and successful members of their “villages”. Thank you Alexa Posny for creating this opporutnity for us to share and learn from each other.

  18. Thank you, Alexa, for writing about inclusive schools and for turning your attention to it in your work. I have worked in inclusive schools and on related issues for twenty years and have consistently found that learners with disabilities (including those with significant needs) are a catalyst for creativity and innovation. Co-teaching, differentiating instruction, universal design, sensory-friendly environments, and the infusion of new technologies are often introduced for students with disabilities but end up profiting all students. Readers here might be interested in recent work by George & Julie Theoharis (Syracuse University) that showed test scores improved significantly when they implemented inclusive education models:,-Belong,-Learn.aspx

  19. As a mother of two children with disabilities, I’ve seen the good, bad and ugly of inclusion. I’ve witnessed it work to perfection when school leadership, teachers and parents all remember it’s about the child and the child’s needs should always come first. Children has the same life experiences as their typical peers and have access to the same highly qualified teacher, which often are in regular classrooms not special classrooms. The child is provided appropriate supports and not “dumped”.
    It’s a win-win for all.

    Then I’ve witnessed it where the child is “dumped” with no support and teachers that don’t want to be bothered. Their attitude is “that’s why there is special education classes” and are determined to see the child not succeed. It’s the real ugly side to inclusion.

    What everyone seems to forget is that special education is a program not a destination!

  20. As the mother of 2 young men with complex autism, I am so happy to hear that you understand inclusion. I ask you to please end segregation of people with disabilities NOW!

    The struggle to end segregation has been waged for more than 40 years. While gains have been made to secure and protect the civil rights of people of some races and creeds, there is still a segment of our population for whom inclusion is often a foreign concept – people with disabilities.

    All people have the same hopes and aspirations to live, learn, work, play and participate in life experiences and responsibilities as valued community members. Everyone benefits when the civil rights and innate potential of all individuals are recognized and supported in all aspects of community life.

    Excluding or separating individuals with disabilities does not serve the public interest nor does it serve the person’s best interest. Barriers which prevent or impair the realization of full inclusion for all individuals must be identified, addressed and overcome. We have the evidence-based practices that provide all the answers about how to make inclusion work for all!

    NOW we need it to happen everywhere! Thank you for understanding what is right for all!

  21. The issue is not inclusion; it is, instead, the longlasting and deleterious impact of self-contained programs on children’s school lives, social and communication skills, emotional well being, and future opportunities as adults. As a special educator, with over 35 years of experience in residential institutions, self-contained schools and classes, and inclusive settings, I have seen the negative impact of even “good” self-contained programs on children, and the incredible positive changes that can occur in these same children when they are educated with other children.

    The quality differences between a self-contained education and an inclusive education are so significant at all levels, that we as a profession are obligated to raise again and again the question: Why do schools persist in relegating children to self-contained settings without the option of regular education for their entire school careers? Does it, in fact, really make good educational sense for a student to experience “calendar” every school day for ten years in a series of self-contained settings, when they could be experiencing science classes in an inclusive setting? As a parent, which memory would you prefer at the end of your child’s school career: a graduation in which the last thing you see is the back door of a special education classroom, or a graduation in which applause greets your child as he/she moves across the stage. I have seen both in my long career, and I have no doubt in my mind which I would prefer.

    No child should be denied acess to general education curriculum, and that is part of what self-contained placements do. And no child should have to experience the degradation of sweeping school hallways or cleaning lunchroom tables, a strong possibility when “functional skills” guide decision making for school-aged children. Do not be fooled when schools tell you that the latter type of program is best for your child, and (somehow) not so for all other children. There is transition, from 18-21, and these are the years that community skills can and should come into the forefront. Ask yourself, what do you remember best about your own school years. Maybe a favorite teacher, or time with friends, or a history class that was exciting. You would be a first in my experience if you told me that your fondest memory was learning to use the school bathroom! Why then, does the latter loom large in the lives of students with disabilities? Because their attention is directed at these kinds of activities for their entire school careers.

    The stories go on and on, but in a data driven world, someone is bound to ask, “Which is better in terms of learning and independence, self-contained or integrated contexts?” Well, read the research for yourself. Check out the journal, “Research to Practice in Severe Disabilities.”

  22. Inclusion is about education all kids, but for me it’s more about my mortality. I’m going to die someday and I can’t be the only friend my daughter has.
    Insisting my daughter was included full time in a regular education setting was not easy. I fought hard, knowing that she is more likely to learn the full curriculum in the general education setting. More importantly for me, knowing that she is going to need friendships to carry her through difficult transition times. Without friends that will look out for her, she will be bullied and teased growing up and she may not have someone looking out for her in what can sometimes be abusive situations when state budgets cut so drastically. She is going to need more than me. Friendships develop when kids grow up together. She is only in the first grade and the entire school is now part of her support system. Kids, teachers, other parents…without inclusion I don’t know that she would have that support. She has changed the way the school community thinks about disabilities.

  23. Dear Ms. Posny,

    Thank you! I completely agree with Douglas Biklen and with those who know, understand and support inclusive education. As a mother of six boys, two of them with disabilities, and as a professional in the field of inclusive education, I have been privileged to advocate for full inclusion for many students with disabilities. I have learned first hand that inclusive education does work and that it makes a positive impact in the students with disabilities, in their families as well as in students without disabilities. Please continue to work for all students by continuing to advance an end to the segregation of students with disabilities (also known as “choice”). Inclusion works and segregation hurts!

    Thank you. God bless you!

  24. Patrick makes several excellent points: Effective inclusion takes a strong commitment, driven by supportive leaders who embrace and advocate for inclusive practices. Research strongly supports the fact that, when done right, inclusion really works – and not only for students with disabilities, but for those without disabilities, their teachers, their their families, and the communities within which they all must thrive. Professional development and collaborative teaming are critical factors to making inclusion work for ALL students with disabilities, not matter what label they may carry. I’ve worked with many, many schools and districts who are experiencing success due to their commitment and belief that all students are competent, capable learners and have a basic human right to high expectations for learning in inclusive settings. It’s up to the teacher to create a responsive and positive learning community within each and EVERY classroom. That means addressing peer pressure or bullying from its source rather than using it as an excuse to further segregate students with more severe disabilities. Inclusion is never easy or quick…but with the right leadership, attitude, and support, inclusion REALLY DOES work! Please don’t try it alone and seek guidance from your local district, university, or internet resources!

  25. Teachers need to open their minds to change. If you read the book Peer buddy program for successful inclusion of secondary students you will see the possibilities . All people benefit from learning to work with diverse populations. Students that are more advanced can help to work with other students that are less advanced. People need to learn team work for real life situations from military service to becoming a team member of a corporation. I know teachers are all caught up in hear their own voices but it may be time for more movement and involvement in team efforts.

  26. It’s ironic how when something is repeated enough, it almost sounds reasonable even though it is outrageous. “Kids who have disabilities are too expensive and inconvenient to educate” – REALLY?? What about kids who do not have disabilities but who don’t have nice clothes, are angry about that and act out? Or kids whose skin isn’t the right color and they are bullied? Or kids who speak with an accent and the teacher needs to ask them to repeat things? They are likely inconvenient to educate as well, but if anyone said as much, there would be outrage and accusations of bigotry and prejudice. But when the targets are children who have done nothing wrong, who are doing their best (along with their families) to make the best of it, who just want to belong like everyone else, well somehow those attacks are OK and justifiable. Are you kidding? The children who bully are taking their queue from the adults in the room. If the teachers are showing their impatience, rolling their eyes, etc. the bullies will swarm. Are we really still debating whether or not a child who is a legally born citizen here is entitled to go to their neighborhood school, be treated like a person and have an opportunity to make friends ? Adults should know better. If anyone is a teacher and this is too hard, get more training or change careers. Fight for more funding for the supports you and the students need. Show up at hearings and School Board meetings. If you want inclusive education for all, do the work. Bother. Even when it’s inconvenient. If you don’t want that because you somehow believe these children are “less than”, simply admit you’re a bigot and go on your way in pursuit of a job teaching the “perfect” children (if you can find them). All that can be asked is honesty. Teaching is an honorable pursuit – the imparting of knowledge and opening up young minds. It’s not for the faint of heart. The greatest teachers I’ve ever encountered accept all interested comers. They accept the challenge and look to see the unique soul inside each student and connect to it. The packaging doesn’t matter. Those are the great ones. Anyone who seeks to once again segregate particular “categories” of learners will lose out on some education of their own. And the greater society always suffers for this. John Kennedy said “We will go to the moon, not because it is easy but because it is hard.” Perhaps our educators and less enlightened citizenry need to adopt a similar mantra (“We will educate all students, not because it is easy but because it is hard.”)

  27. A Lot Has Changed!

    When my oldest child started kindergarten I knew I wanted her to attend our neighborhood school, the school she would attend if she did not have a disability and the school her younger siblings would attend. As is typical on that first day of school there was one little boy who was crying and holding on for dear life to his mother. That evening when I was talking with my daughter about her first day of school she told me about the little boy who was so scared. She stated that she was going to hold his hand and help him into school tomorrow. The next morning as we headed out the door to walk to school we ran into the little boy. My daughter took hold of his hand and proudly led him into the school. Later that evening when I asked my daughter if she was scared starting school she said, “ No, having a heart cath (catherization) is scary!” Being born with Down syndrome she was also born with a heart defect and had seen more of doctors and hospitals at 6 years old then most of us ever will.

    Currently we are working with our school to plan for my daughter to start High School in the fall. She will be attending the local public high school where after years of being “included” she will no doubt be an integral part of the community. At this point she would have it no other way.

  28. I am a certified nursery/elementary education teacher in 2 states. I’m also the parent of a child with multiple disabilities. Inclusion in the least restrictive environment is mandated under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, federal special education law. First consideration must be given to the school the child would have attended if he/she didn’t have a disability. Alternate placement only occurs if appropriate supports and services are not successful. Inclusion is not dumping. There must be a full contiuum of placement options, as one size doesn’t fit all, but with the focus on LRE. Research indicates that inclusion is mutually beneficial for both students with and without disabilities as both benefit academically due to the use of differentiated instructional techniques.

  29. Having raised several children with a variety of special emotional, health, and learning needs, I can say without reservation that they have learned more – academically, socially, and emotionally – in general education classrooms with their non-disabled peers than in separate settings. Of course, it has taken work on my part, on the part of their teachers and school staff and administrators, and yes, their own effort. But in general education classes they were able to model their behavior after children with age-appropriate behavior, and there were academic expectations that simply don’t exist in segregated settings. And they developed friendships with their peers, who will be their future employers and neighbors. The research, and my own experiences, make it clear – it is not the characteristics of children with disabilities that lead to their inclusion or segregation, it is the philosophy of the adults in their schools and districts.

  30. I’ve been working with parents and schools for 26 years to include children with disabilities in general education classes in their home communities. Some of the criticisms of inclusion seem to me to really be criticizing poorly supported inclusion. Inclusion means that all children are welcomed as valued members of general classes, that they are full participants in learning, and that they AND THEIR TEACHERS are provided with the supports necessary for all to succeed. Effective inclusion does require significant changes – not only in attitudes so that all the children in the class are owned by the general education teacher and children’s differences are celebrated and not made fun of — but also in the job responsibilities of special education teachers and related service providers. Over 30 years of research has shown that positive outcomes for children with disabilities is related to having high expectations for their learning and including them in general education. That’s from the “Congress finds” part of IDEA. Perhaps now is the time to stop asking “if” and to make a local, state, and federal commitment to “how.”

  31. Well said Bronwen, I agree, unless we free ourselves from the old we have a hard time seeing a “new” way of doing things. Plus it challenges teachers and students to see the possibilities not only of what a student with disabilities CAN do but we challenge our attitudes. We need to presume competence, not in just the students, ALL students, but in ourselves and rise to the challenge of change.

  32. As an educator in personnel preparation programs for early childhood special educators and speech language pathologists for over 25 years, I have been involved in inclusive programs that focus on choice, equity and inclusion for all children and families. I have seen first hand how excellent teachers surrounded by a team of experts can truly implement the least restrictive environment for children with developmental and educational challenges consistent with the plethora of evidence and research based practices guarenteed by IDEA and available through professional organizations such as DEC, NAEYC, NAME, CEC and ASHA. Every child is an individual and meeting the needs of each and every child is what happens in quality inclusive environments, with well prepared teachers and specialists. The benefitial outcomes are real for both children identified with special needs as well as children who are considered “typical” learners. Just look at the literature and research on this topic. It is important that our educational systems do model and facilitate empathy, equity, inclusion, and social justice and model the way for future generations to appreciate the strengths and abilities of each and every person. The outcomes for children identified early with specfic developmental or educational challenges have changed significantly over the past twenty years given early intervention, documented outcomes, technology, inclusion and access, and transitions to a community that values each and every individual. As educators preparing future educators and specialists, we must continue along a path that creates a positive and equitable learning experience for each and every child regardless of differences in socio-economic, cultural, linguisitic backgrounds, or abiltiies. Yes, There are significant challenges still to be addressed in HOW we appropriately educate each and every child, but we must as educators, institutions and governmantal entities continue to search for better ways to guarantee each and every child has access to education that focuses on implementation of quality inclusive practices in partnership with families.
    Please do not focus on “if” we should do this but “how” we do this better so that each and every child reaches their full potential.

  33. My definition of inclusion is that everybody belongs everywhere with everyone in our schools and community. I have seen countless instances where this has been implemented successfully. Effective inclusion needs professionals who are competent with universal design for learning, differentiated instruction and adaptations that provide access to the curriculum. It also takes a commitment to make it work! We all eventually have to make it together with everyone else in the real world when school ends, so students need prepararation with all the diversity they will experience. To live together successfully in the real world, we need to learn together! Thanks for reading.

  34. Inclusion is supported by IDEA. This is a fact that many schools tend to overlook. It is strange to me that parents, students, educators, and advocates find themselves in the position of having to enforce the law.

    Having been an elementary school teacher, I can certainly empathize with the demands placed on teachers today, and yes, for inclusion to work, teachers need training and the support of a team. (An IEP team perhaps?)

    Students with disabilities are not the “problem.” They are indicators of where an educational system is not working. If we would pay attention to this, our educational system would greatly improve – for all students.

  35. I am disheartened by many of the comments being made about inclusive education. What I hear between the lines is that many of the nay sayers have not actually experienced true inclusive practices, remaining mired in the ineffective practices of “mainstreaming.” As a sibling with someone who has a disability, a special education teacher, an educational consultant, and now a professor of special education, I see first how how meaningful engagement in inclusive classrooms benefits all. Sure, it may not fit in to the traditions we have established in schools, but that is when we need to look at doing things differently (because mainstreaming doesn’t work!)

    Currently, we are meaningfully included students with intellectual disabilities on college and university campuses, taking classes as non-degree seeking students alongside peers without disabilities. All students can learn and grow with the right level of supports and it is our society’s obligation to provide those supports. If you can’t imagine how this all works, then get out and find out. Go to for ideas. Read in educational journals about the exciting advances in inclusive practices. Be bold, think big, and don’t give up!

  36. Alexa, great blog. Yes inclusion can be done poorly, but so can anything. We now have students with significant disabilities who are undergraduates, graduates, and faculty at our research University and all because they had the opportunity to be included in the academic curricula. Before anyone denies inclusion to others it is first important, even essential, to presume students are competent and then work as hard as we can to see if we can support them in ways that they can reveal their abilities. What makes for good inclusion is what makes for good education in general: high expectations, appropriate supports and universal design of instruction, access to the curricula, opportunities to engage in cooperative learning, teachers who talk to each other about what works, school leaders who regard the education of each child as critically important, strong parent and guardian involvement ….

  37. Thanks Alexa! I see inclusion as a concept that is an oxymoron — it is both humane and idealistic. It is indeed the best thing for all children, but the best does not often happen — and is very discouraging to parents and to those who truly believe in the concept, but have seen unsupported programs that have done their children no good. And so the pendulum swings…..

    “Supports” for the practice of inclusion must be added to any education law — and not just to IDEA. And for continuity — this should also be added to laws regarding rehabilitation and post-school. If that does not happen, I think we will continue to look at a swinging pendulum.

    Here’s what needs to be provided in law/regs to provide “supports”. In schools where there is successful inclusion of all children — including children with multiple and severe needs — it is because:
    1. Parents know that their children are safe — and are actually LEARNING. The trust factor cannot be over-emphasized. It is built — and doesn’t happen overnight. There is no stronger support than parents who see their children succeed!
    2. The building level Principal and administration (including the schools governing board, Superintendent) truly believe in it and support it. Teachers and educational teams cannot really participate without this support. Principals also need to be provided with in-service training (preferably mandated or required) specific to this concept — and the various categories of special needs children in their building. They also need to network (within Principals’ associations perhaps) to know what their neighbors are doing, why they are doing it, and how they create success. After all, Principals will talk to — and believe other Principals!
    3. Paraprofessional support is strong and focused — and they are not just seen as mere “extra bodies” in the room, but are valued as people who learn what to do and know what they are doing. Paraprofessionals, especially those who are one-on-one with children should be participants in IEP meetings and have the opportunity to voice their opinions — and also share their experiences with a specific child. Increased support for the education of paraprofessionals is critical. This is indeed happening …. slowly — but the focus is still on teachers.
    4. Teachers — both general ed and special ed — are provided JOINT planning time, set up to occur on a REGULAR basis — weekly, monthly, each semester. This is a huge part of the success of an inclusionary program — and also a major reason that Principals should be more involved. They are the persons who can “require” this to happen.
    5. Buildings have EVERYONE involved — including the children and all staff (including nurses, bus drivers, librarians, food service, custodians, therapists, etc)– and they actually have a VISION STATEMENT that supports inclusion — and motivators for those who “get it”.
    6. Teams are encouraged to “showcase” their successes — not just within their building, but in the district and even further. They become a program that helps other buildings.
    7. Inclusion is seen as fiscally “viable” — and not as some expensive program, adding to the burden of the school district. It is amazing what can happen when a school “community” puts its heads together!
    8. Last, but not least, if there are staff changes in the building — starting with the Principal, teachers, and including paraprofessionals — a system is in place that will ensure continuity of support for successful practices. All too often the baby is thrown out with the bathwater!!

  38. I couldn’t agree with Roger more. Everything needs to be centered around the student and everyone deserves to have a choice. Separate, segregated education classrooms are inherently unequal and you don’t need to look beyond Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka to see that. The tendency in special education is a focus on what’s not working, with a de-emphasis on what IS working and what the student’s strengths are. Too often an evaluation leads to a stamp of a disability label and that becomes a lens with which we see the student. The education system has many flaws but there are those of us working to support parents, support educators, and continue to be a voice for possibilities. Most of the negative commentary again only focus on what’s not working. If we never try to see the bright spots then we will forever be caught in the continuum. What would happen if we all presumed that students were competent, and that the assumptions we’ve always made about their lack of potential was untrue. Does inclusion mean a student just sitting in a desk…of course not. Does inclusion mean a shift in the entire classroom and school culture…a shift from special education being a place where students are put to a network of supports and services infused throughout the school…yes! I think all college teacher education programs should move toward dual certification. A special education teacher might not know the ins and outs of the Grapes of Wrath, but the English Gen Ed teacher should…and the general education teacher might not know how to make accommodations for learning in the classroom, but the special education teacher should be an expert! I refuse to believe that because things haven’t worked in the past they can’t work better in the future. It is an issue of social justice and civil rights. Alexa, thank you for being a beacon of possibility for our entire educational community.

  39. General Education (I loathe the term regular education – then all other education therefor is’irregular’…?) should be the first place that all children look to be educated. However, each child is different, with different strengths, needs, concerns and abilities. I am not in favor of one-size-fits-all solutions on either side of this issue. How can the child achieve progress? Have the accomodations that can be tried attempted with fidelity? How Universally Designed is the curriculum to support all learners- and will it require significant modification, and is their a special education teacher available to assist with modifications? To what extent is Assistive Technology required, available and supported? These are a few of the many questions that need to be looked at to make that determination. Lets leave the blankets at home and teach kids.

  40. I am a mother of two children with disabilities as well as having been a classroom teacher for 11 years. I completely support the comments by Ms. Posney. She mentioned “given the right supports”, this is crucial. No student with special needs should be dropped into a classroom with the sink or swim approach. My son’s teacher and the special ed teacher work together to support his learning and their collaboration and dedication to his learning is amazing. Yes he struggles more in some areas than others but he is doing well. This is where we all need to remember that education is a journey, not a race. As long as all students are making progress, moving forward and being given the opportunity to learn, we can celebrate them and their success. I know teachers feel the stress of mandated testing and teaching so many different students, that is why a team approach is critical.
    As far as special ed students being bullied, again students will pick up on the attitudes of the adults around them. Students that are welcomed and invited into the classroom and respected for who they are by adults will be accepted by students. The peers in both of my kids classes are very accepting and I feel they will grow up to be better adults because they realize all people have value.
    I also appreciate the school’s willingness to listen to my opinion. Inclusion was a choice I made and they agreed to support to the best of their abilities. Yes mistakes have been made, but we’re all learning and everyone is always willing to try something new.

  41. I have been in education for 17 years. My first 4 were spent in regular education and my last 13 have been in special education. The last 8 years have been in inclusion. I have floated from room to room and co taught. I find that the cop-teaching model seems to work best. There is more consistency for all involved and one person is not stuck doing all of the work. It is impossible for one teacher to meet the varying needs presented by an inclusion class. It is unfortunate for all involved when inclusion is not carried out in an effective way. Inclusion is not supposed to be one teacher serving special and regular needs. This is ineffective and frustrating for all parties involved. The school I currently work at sets up inclusion classes the most carefully–no regular ed kids are placed in inclusion unless they are model students. Students with disabilities can look to them as role models of what an effective learning looks like. Differentiation is possible for all involved with 2 certified teachers working together.

  42. While the ideology of inclusive learning is appealing, the valid practice is far more elusive. As the mother of a child who spent 6 years in a 5-1-1 classroom and who was then unceremoniously “dumped” into a High Scholl setting that was intended to be inclusive (but was really just a feigned attempt @ inclusion), I would like to mention that there are several variables that need careful consideration prior to placing a student in an integrated classroom. First and foremost the school has to provide staff with the skills necessary to facilitate successful co-teacher training. Next, the teachers need to be on board with the program, which should include special education teachers as the appointed co-teacher (as opposed to an intern or school aide). Finally, there are children that will thrive in this environment and those for whom, as mentioned in some blogs above, this will have a detrimental effect on both the classroom and the disabled child’s psyche and self esteem. This is not a black and white issue. Each child needs to be evaluated for such an experience where appropriate. There is no template for this. Our generation must aggressively pursue every option available to our children. Hopefully, by advocating for our children, we can bring true inclusive learning to fruition to every child in every school.

  43. Hi Alexa,

    Inclusion means choice. The needs of the child come first and the needs of the school, teacher, parents, and peers can be addressed in the IEP or the community. Too often we see segregation as the only option in schools. Special Education should not be a place, but address the needs of the community surrounding a student with the goal of success and independence in school, work, and life. We are working to change this culture of institutionalizing kids in schools simply because of their disability. Researchers, teachers, schools, families, and a new generation of self advocates are demonstrating successful inclusion all over the country. The politics of fear is usually the first barrier to overcome. Allow dialog and address the fears. Change is hard. This change benefits everyone.

  44. I am a Mother of a Gold Honor Roll student and a Down Syndrome student. The road is not easy for any child but we have to start and keep going educating teachers,school staff, parents, classmates and everyone. We are all made by God and we are all perfect in our especial way; we are more alike than different and we all deserve the opportunity to reach for the stars.

  45. I am a mother of one of these kids with disabilities. But my daughter’s needs are emotional. She has severe anxiety and FAS and Bipolar. Just getting her to school is a feat most parents cannot imagine. To make a blanket statement that kids with disabilities do better in inclusion is not okay. There has been great stides in helping kids with physical disabilities and with Down’s, but there is a long road ahead for the same acceptance of children with mental health disabilities.

  46. Ms. Posny,
    I am the mother of 10 children; 3 birth and 7 through adoption out of the foster care system. 2 of my children have special needs. My family lives in Burbank, WA, Walla Walla County.
    I will be attending the Radical Womens Confrence this Saturday in DC. I know this is short notice but I will be flying in on Thursday and leaving on Sunday. I would like to take a few minutes and talk with you if you have 15-20 minutes Friday?
    Thank You for the work you do.
    Deborah (Debbie) Davis

  47. Since 1974, I have been an educator of special needs children. This was during a time when “least restrictive environment” meant a classroom within a “regular” school. Of course, that usually meant in the basement behind the custodian’s office, along a hallway rarely traveled by “regular students.” Education in general has come a long way since that time. The greatest hurdle is that regular classroom teachers continue to fear the special education student in their classes because they do not feel adequately trained to deal with their special needs. The inclusion of a teaching assistant dedicated to that child also presents problems because the assisting adult is often not allowed to work with other children in the class, by contract or funding sources. Training of classroom teachers and much interaction between regular classroom teacher and special education teacher/liaison are crucial to the success of any program of inclusion, regardless of the ages of the students or the challenges faced by the special needs child. Education helps educators, too.

  48. This needs to be handled carefully and with parent choice at the centre – if inclusion exists without choice then inclusion can become exclusion.

    Please be careful…

    The UK model of inclusion is broken and needs to be fixed – please do not follow the UK model.

  49. Interesting…
    As a teacher who has taught special ed and general education, the thought of total inclusion sounds good on paper, however, it negates to mention several key issues.
    1) the issue of the bullying or demeaning the child with learning struggles often sustains from academic non-struggler’s.
    2) the amount of time a teacher must devote to a child with special needs often at the cost of the other 32 learners in the class who must wait while the teacher spends extra time, attention and class teaching time to attend to the special needs student.
    3)The fact that student’s with special needs know they will almost always fall behind their non-struggling comrades and have rare opportunity to shine (especially with the focus on “Test Scores”).
    4) With all class sizes going up due to budget cuts, how can any teacher have enough time to teach all her students and also see to the needs of students with special needs? It is not as if many students with special needs are not already in the classrooms. As much as possible, they are.
    The pendulum swings again;from a time when special ed did not exist and the needs of these students were not adequately met because of the size and scope of a normal classroom and now back to suggesting that they would be better served in general education. The writer I am responding to suggests that children with disabilities are capable of learning to the same level as their non-disabled comrades. If in fact, this were true- than why does extensive research and testing point otherwise? Would a student who could achieve at a high level not already do so? It is ludicrous to suggest that a student with a 70 I.Q. can achieve as high a level in academics as a student with a 110 I.Q. And Frankly, it seems rather cruel of us to expect them to do so…
    I wonder also, what happens to the countless teachers who have undergone special training to meet the needs of their special education students? These teachers who have participated in specialized training to meet their students needs and aid them in a smaller class size so their needs would not be overlooked. Do we just fire them or worse, stick them in the classroom where they are treated for the most part, as a teacher’s aide?
    I am all for having the highest expectations of all our students. I believe students will rise as much as they can to meet our expectations. But to suggest that a student with severe disabilities (or even moderate ones) is to perform equally as well as a student who has none is unfair and does not aid the individual. I have had to give students with special needs the “State Test” and watched them cry because they did not understand the instructions and I was not allowed to interpret them for them or even clarify them for them.
    Thus they felt, inadequate which I believe was cruel and unnecessary. Before they ever get the results of these required tests, they know they have failed and carry this with them. And now, we want to assume that they are quite capable of doing grade level work and performing as well as non-disabled kids? Who are we kidding and truly, who pays the price but these kids? I believe this huge focus on education is a smoke screen for larger ills in society. If we were really invested in our students futures, there would be smaller class sizes, computers for every student, and interactive programs that engage them ion the investment of their own learning!

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