Definition of Inclusive Education

Inclusion begins with the premise that each child belongs in the classroom he or she would attend if he/she did not have a disability. It means more than physical presence in the classroom. Inclusive education occurs when children with and without disabilities participate and learn together in the same classes and activities. Inclusive education is trained professionals providing specially designed instruction and supports for students with disabilities based on their individual needs within the context of general education. Inclusion means that the curriculum is modified to meet the goals of the student. The goal of inclusion is achieved only when the child belongs and participates in the activities of the class and school, with needed services and supports.

Philosophy and Supporting Laws

The philosophical underpinnings of inclusive education are rooted in the purpose of education itself: to prepare children to lead productive, independent lives as citizens and members of the community. Based on this philosophy, Congress enacted laws describing children’s right to education. The intent of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and other federal laws such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act is to provide an environment in which all children, regardless of their disabilities, have a right to be educated in the general classroom alongside their peers without disabilities. All students must be treated as full members of the school community for the intent of these laws to be achieved. In addition to the law, a significant body of research clearly demonstrates that when children with and without disabilities are educated together, positive academic and social outcomes result for all children (McGregor & Vogelsberg, 1998).

For over 25 years, federal and state law asserted that students with disabilities should have access to a free and appropriate public education, and that school districts must place a student in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) appropriate for him or her. Pennsylvania’s regulations provide that students with disabilities shall be educated, to the maximum extent appropriate, alongside students without disabilities. For many years, special education meant separate education. A separate education is not an equal education. It is the Developmental Disabilities Council’s position that the general education classroom in the school the student would attend if he or she did not have a disability is the least restrictive environment.

Principles for Success

Schools must be encouraged to support diversity and change their culture so that all children may be successful. Inclusive schools have a program philosophy that emphasizes the value of diversity and belonging for everyone both in classes and activities, and does so in a culturally competent manner. Inclusion in school requires a paradigm shift: instead of preparing the child for the general classroom, the classroom prepares for the child. Effective educational settings consider the learning styles of each child; are connected to the world outside of the classroom; and are creative, diverse, stimulating, and challenging. Such settings promote the learning and growth of all children, teachers, staff, and all others. A number of keys to successful inclusion follow. The best outcomes occur when:

  • Parents of children with disabilities and professionals collaborate – Schools are responsible for providing full information and resources supporting the spirit of the law. Schools must invite and honor parent input and participation. Parents have been, and continue to be, the driving force behind the movement for inclusive education. Parents challenge schools to do their best for each child, and to embrace creativity and new approaches. The process of developing, revising, and carrying out a student’s Individual Educational Plan (IEP) must be a team effort of parents, teachers and administrators to succeed. An effective IEP begins with a good assessment; is individualized, incorporates the child’s unique needs in its design; and is supported by all parties. Effective IEP’s require that all stakeholders be educated and knowledgeable about their rights and responsibilities.
  • Appropriate supports are provided to the student – Inclusion is about providing the help all children need to learn and participate in meaningful ways in the general education classroom. Specially designed instruction, adapted materials and assistive technology may be needed to ensure success. The need for these supports is determined through assessment, spelled out in the IEP, and provided by the school. The supports are most effective when they are natural and do not set the child apart from the group.
  • Systems collaborate – Collaboration among systems is critical so that gains are not lost during transitions as the child ages. The rules and approaches may change from early childhood through adolescence, but this should not represent a barrier or setback. A student may need services from other systems, such as the County MH/MR program, the Office of Children, Youth and Families, or the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. All systems must collaborate. As a goal of education is aimed at the realities of adulthood, it is critical that systems work well together in anticipation of the end of secondary education. One of the greatest goals of education is preparing a student to function in the real world, including employment and lifelong learning.
  • Teachers are trained – Schools and instruction must be designed and organized to meet the varying needs of individual learners. All educators must have high expectations for each student. This can only be achieved with the full commitment and support of all levels of educational leadership. Teacher preparation and inservice training programs must bring general and special educators together to develop teachers and administrators who are prepared to be effective for all students. The general education teacher must embrace the shared responsibility for the student’s success, and possess the skills and confidence to make it a reality.
  • Parents are supported – Information about their child’s right to an inclusive education must be easy to access and reliable. A trusted party, such as another parent, should be available to parents of young children to discuss the principles and benefits of inclusion. The availability of technical assistance, emotional support, and exposure to success stories are also important.

In conclusion, parents, educators, students, and the community must understand that including all children in activities both in and out of school will improve the quality of life for all. It cannot be repeated too often that all children learn by being together. Schools are important places for children to develop friendships and learn social skills from each other. When children attend classes and activities that reflect the similarities and differences of people in the real world, they learn to appreciate diversity. In order to appreciate the big picture of inclusion, people must envision an outcome that they would want for themselves or for their own child.

McGregor., G. & Vogelsberg, R.T (1998). Inclusive schooling practices: Pedagogical & research foundations. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

Adopted June 13, 2004