Inclusion in Schools Essay

Inclusion has been a heated topic of debate for the past few years. It is a relatively new term that has only been around for about 15 years or so. Therefore, it is widely misunderstood. What exactly is inclusion? According to Spencer J. Salend, the author of the textbook, Creating Inclusive Classrooms, “inclusion is the philosophy for educating students with disabilities in general education settings” (Salend, 2001, p. 43). Inclusive education means that all students in a school, regardless of their strengths or weaknesses in any area become part of the school community.

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As indicated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act, “a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) is mandated for students with disabilities. The placement of disabled students must be in the least restrictive environment (LRE), which is the environment closest to the general classroom in which the student’s individual needs can be met. This placement can be in a special class, resource room, or the general classroom with or without consultative services” (Summer, 1994).

Other least restrictive environments can include home instruction and hospitals. The law of inclusion simply states that students with disabilities must receive free education in their least restricted environment. Along with the definition of inclusion, there is another misunderstanding about inclusion. The terms mainstreaming and inclusion are often confused with one another and are used interchangeably in education today. This contradiction in usage has led to some confusion about inclusion.

Mainstreaming is where students with disabilities are sent from a special education class to a regular class for specific periods throughout the day, whereas inclusion focuses on keeping a disabled child in a regular classroom for nearly the whole school day. I have included a Mainstreaming vs. Inclusion fact sheet at the end of this paper to further describe the differences between the two terms. (Fact Sheet, 2004). There is a similar chart in the textbook by Salend. This figure leans more toward the pro-inclusion side.

It describes that all learners have the right to be educated with full access in general education classrooms with inclusion, whereas mainstreaming allows only selected learners into general education classes based on their readiness as determined by educators. (Salend, p. 11) Even though these terms are similar in that they deal with the same topic, they are drastically different in their meaning. Now that we have made the definition of inclusion clear we can view the advantages and disadvantages of this philosophy. There are many advantages and disadvantages of inclusion.

Unfortunately we cannot prove most of them since inclusion is such a new practice. The research that we do have on the impact of inclusion is inconclusive. We do however have research on special education placements. The National Association of State Boards of Education (1992) reports the following: (Issues,1999) ? 43 percent of students in special education do not graduate; ? youth with disabilities have a significantly higher likelihood of being arrested than their non-disabled peers (12 percent versus 8 percent); ? only 13. percent of youth with disabilities are living independently two years after leaving high school (compared to 33. 2 percent of their non-disabled peers); and ? less than half of all youth with disabilities are employed after having been out of school one to two years. These statistics seem to be a good reason to have inclusion. However, according to the same source the overall dropout rate is estimated to be between 18 and 21 percent. The overall unemployment rate of high school dropouts in 1992 was 11. 4 percent, while students who graduated but did not go on to college had an unemployment rate of 6. 8 percent.

These numbers do not match up. The research is inconclusive. These statistics could easily be disputed. Another angle that is argued when we talk to inclusion is the cost issue. It is more cost effective to place a disabled child in a regular classroom setting. This could be viewed as an advantage of inclusion. Saving money is a benefit. However, it could also be looked at as a disadvantage. There is a: “suspicion that school administration motives for moving toward more inclusive approaches are often more of a budgetary measure than out of a concern for what is really best for students.

If students with disabilities can be served in regular classrooms, then the more expensive special education service costs due to additional personnel, equipment, materials, and classrooms, can be reduced”(Issues,1999). If this is the case, many disabled students are wrongly being placed in an environment that not only can be unconstructive, but harmful. An additional worry to this scenario would be the lack of training and support for regular education teachers. If inclusion is being used for budget cutting reasons, then it is likely that the teachers are not receiving the help that they should.

Even if money is not an issue, many administrators are misinterpreting the law of inclusion and feel forced to use this technique. Therefore, many of the teachers involved are unprepared and under-supported. They may be lacking the necessary aides, consultants, specialists, and materials. Proper training is necessary to effectively teach an inclusive classroom. Without these factors, both the children and the classroom teacher can get frustrated. If this occurs, the teacher could grow to dislike the idea of inclusion. A teacher who does not believe in, understand, or really want to teach in such an environment could do much to undermine the potentially positive benefits of inclusion” (Schultz, 1998). Inclusion has advantages and disadvantages for disabled students and many of them contradict each other.

According to the text by Salend, “Students with mental retardation and more severe disabilities in inclusion programs learned targeted skills, had more engaged and instructional time, and had greater exposure to academic activities than students with severe disabilities educated in special education settings” (Salend, p. 2). On the other hand, I found an article from the Southwestern Educational Developmental Laboratory website that opposed this statement. “By dispersing children with special needs across the school campus and district, services and resources will be diluted, and programming will be watered down”(Issues,1999). So, which is it? Does inclusion improve their academic abilities by having the appropriate services or does it take away the necessary tools for disabled students to progress? Another debatable issue is the loss of segregation and labeling.

It is widely believed that when disabled students are placed in an inclusive classroom they begin to lose their label as being “special”. They are no longer segregated from the “regular” students. Being separated can make other children have negative attitudes towards them due to them being separated so drastically. Labeling disabled students often lowers their self-esteem. Therefore, placing them in an environment that is free of labeling will raise their levels of self-esteem. However, Salend projects otherwise. While research suggests that students with learning disabilities feel a part of their classes’ social networks, they also report that they experience school-related loneliness. They are less often accepted and more often rejected by those without disabilities, and they have lower self-perceptions and self-concepts than their general education peers” (Salend, p. 34). This viewpoint states that by placing disabled students in an inclusive classroom we are “throwing them in the line of fire”. We are making it easier for the non-disabled students to ridicule the disabled.

We all hope that this does not happen, but it is a reality that happens every day. So, which is better? Having students ridicule disabled students from afar or up close and personal? There are some advantages of inclusion that are not argued. One advantage is that the disabled child has a competent model to follow. This way the disabled child can learn new adaptive skills. They get the opportunity to learn how to use their existing skills through imitation. Also, they are provided with opportunities to learn more realistic life experiences that prepare them to live in the community. The more your child is included, the less likely it is that he/she will miss out on the important social events going on in the class and after school and on the weekends” (Schultz, 1998). Most importantly, they get the opportunity to develop friendships with typically developing peers. With inclusion, disabled children get the opportunity to learn how to make a friend, keep a friend, stand up to a friend, and be a good ally. Along with the advantages and disadvantages of inclusion to disabled children, inclusion also affects non-disabled children.

According to Salend, studies on the impact of inclusion on students without disabilities suggest that placement in an inclusive classroom does not interfere with, and may enhance, the academic performance of students without disabilities. (Salend, p. 36) One advantage that may come from inclusion is the opportunity that non-disabled students get to develop positive attitudes toward people who are different from themselves. General education students can also develop personal moral and ethical principles reflecting a greater sensitivity to the needs of others. As indicated by Jerome J. Schultz, Ph. D. “A growing body of research indicates that typical kids in well-supported inclusive environments get a richer, more individualized and personalized education than in a single-teacher, homogeneous classroom. In addition, they learn more about metacognitive strategies, and develop a greater understanding of individual differences that will prove invaluable to them whether they live in a neighborhood, work on an assembly line or become a neurosurgeon” (Schultz, 1998). Non-disabled children are also provided with models of peers who successfully achieve, despite challenges.

This gives them a sense of hope when they themselves come across a problem. There are also disadvantages to inclusion for students without disabilities. Teachers are required to direct much attention toward disabled students. This means that non-disabled students are receiving less attention. This means that the non-disabled students may not be getting the proper amount of education. This may also cause the non-disabled students to act out in order to seek the attention they are not getting. This in turn may cause stress and anxiety for the teacher.

Disabled children can also cause distractions which cause the students without disabilities to lose concentration and not be able to focus on their education. Inclusion also affects teachers. According to Salend: “Positive outcomes for general educators increased confidence in their teaching efficacy, more favorable attitudes toward students with disabilities, greater awareness of themselves as positive role models for all students, more skill in meeting the needs of all students with and without disabilities, and acquaintance with new colleagues.

Concerns included the negative attitudes of others; insufficient support, training, and time to collaborate with others; the large size of their classes; and the difficulty in meeting the medical needs and behavioral challenges of students with disabilities, and in designing and implementing appropriate instructional accommodations” (Salend, p. 39). With the appropriate collaboration, inclusion could be very rewarding to classroom teachers. However, without it can be harmful. As I said before, teachers that are forced into an inclusive classroom, unprepared, can also prove to be detrimental.

Teachers that are not trained for such an environment can feel inadequate and therefore become stressed. There may also be teachers that do not agree with the idea of inclusion. These teachers that are forced into this situation may come to hate their jobs and become bad teachers. What do I think of inclusion? I have many mixed feelings about inclusion. I believe that inclusion can prove to be very beneficial to some students. It can give students with disabilities a sense of belonging and a chance to have friends.

It can in return teach non-disabled students to respect and be more accepting to people who are different from them. I think that inclusion can also help disabled students academically. They have peers that they can imitate in order to accomplish skills. I believe that inclusion particularly works with learning disabled students. I work for an agency that supplies special education for students. I believe that some of the students that we provide for could benefit from inclusion. I would say about half of the students at my agency are wrongfully placed there.

A lot of the students are just positioned with us because other schools do not want to “deal” with them. Many children ask me every day why they are there. The work is too simple for them or they feel like they are labeled because they go to a “special” school. I think they would function better and feel more competent in an inclusive setting. These children can do the work. They just need a little more help and attention. These children could easily fit into a general education setting without being teased or ridiculed. This is where I have a problem with inclusion and the severely disable students.

I think that inclusion will work with severely disabled children in the lower elementary grades. However, once you reach the age of popularity contests, I conclude that inclusion no longer works with severely disabled students. At this age, I believe that the disabled students would be ridiculed. If they were not teased then they would at the least be shunned from cliques and social gatherings. This type of environment would not support learning. If anything it would hinder social and mental development for these students. Another concern of mine is the background of the inclusive classroom.

Was there a knowledgeable decision made to form an inclusive classroom? Was it thought out? Was the teacher appropriately informed? Was the teacher appropriately trained, (either prior to the decision of inclusion or after)? Was the teacher for or against inclusion? Does the teacher have the proper materials and tools for an inclusive class? Does the teacher have suitable support, (i. e. administrators, councilors; speech, physical, and occupational therapists, one-on-one aides, assistants)? All of these variables must be looked at in order to see if inclusion will work.

Of course, the success of inclusion is based on the individual students. This is why so much of the research on inclusion is inconclusive. Each inclusive classroom has so many variables to combine with the complexity of the child’s needs and abilities. Adding these things together equal an outrageous amount of possibilities. In conclusion, inclusion has many advantages and disadvantages. Even though most of the research on inclusion is full of loopholes, we can come up with a reasonable list of factors that would make inclusion successful.

Basically we have to look at the individual child’s needs and skills. How disabled is the child? Can the child perform certain tasks or can she/he learn how to? We need to know the child’s age. Is the child too old to be placed in an environment that could be socially harmful to them? However, the most important determination factor of the success of inclusion is whether or not the teacher is effectively trained and adequately supported. Without having both of these factors, inclusion will not work. The success of inclusion will depend on these complex factors and as teachers we must look at all of them to determine whether inclusion is right for us and the children, disabled or not.

References

Fact Sheet: Mainstreaming vs. Inclusion. (2004). Retrieved on December 2, 2004 from the Youngstown State University website: http://cc. ysu. edu/~raalley/factsheetmainstreaming. html Issues About Change: Inclusion: The Pros and Cons. (1999). Retrieved on December 5, 2004 from the Southwestern Educational Development Laboratory website: http://www. sedl. org/change/issues/issues43. tml Salend, Spencer J. (2001) Creating Inclusive Classrooms: Effective and Reflective Practices for All Students: Fifth Edition. , New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc. Schultz, Jerome J. , Ph. D. (1998) Inclusion & Learning Disabilities: Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved on December 5, 2004 from the LD Online website: http://www. ldonline. org/articles/5901 Summer, Peter & John. (1994). Learning Disabilities: Inclusion. Retrieved December 5, 2004 from the Curry School of Education website: http://curry. edschool. virginia. edu/sped/projects/ose/information/uvald/inclusion. html

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