Federal special education law has been around for many decades and exists to ensure that students with disabilities have the right to “free and appropriate education” from ages 3 through 22. Inclusion has been observed and researched for more than 30 years. Isn’t it interesting that there is no federal or US Department of Education definition of “inclusion”? The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004), a federal statute, does not define or mandate inclusion but it does provide multiple examples of supports for inclusive practices at play, work and school and requires that a significant effort be made to find an inclusive placement for students with disabilities. Several policy statements on inclusion refer to a vision where inclusion is high quality and meaningful in all facets of life.
A recent study commissioned by Mitchell Chester, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, to review special education in Massachusetts has some interesting findings and recommendations. The 2014 report by Thomas Hehir and Associates analyzed practices in a variety of general and special education settings across the state and summarized their work in four findings. The finding I thought to be most significant noted “In Massachusetts, a student with a learning disability in a full inclusion placement is five times as likely to graduate on time as one who is placed in a substantially separate setting”. The report concludes that a higher degree of collaboration between general education and special education in support of an inclusive approach to learning is needed across the state and within school districts.
Special education was not designed as a one size fits all approach. However, it will be difficult to reach expected outcomes for all students without a shared philosophy or belief that all students can learn, all students can benefit from diverse classrooms, and all students have the right to fully participate academically, socially and civically.
Feeling a sense of belonging and acceptance is important to every member of our learning community!
Resources for Inclusive Practices:
Inclusive Practices Playbook: (Section 3)
Free online course Foundation for Inclusive Practice: Educator (DESE, 15 PDPs)
Paths to Inclusion by Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation
Kids Together, Inc Non-profit organization for children & adults with disabilities