Has inclusion gone too far?
Inclusion — placing students with disabilities in mainstream classes — may not help special-needs students learn, concludes Allison Gilmour, a Temple University professor of special education, in Education Next. Furthermore, it may stress their teachers and burden their classmates.
More than 60 percent of students with disabilities spend 80 percent or more of their school day in regular classrooms, she writes. They’re exposed to grade-level curriculum — but that doesn’t mean they’ll learn it. Special-needs students lag well behind their non-disabled classmates.
Mainstreamed students have higher reading and math scores and go farther in school, research shows. That’s probably because “students with higher academic abilities or fewer behavioral challenges are more likely to be placed in inclusive settings,” writes Gilmour.
The evidence that inclusion improves achievement is weak, she writes, and there’s some evidence it widens achievement gaps.
Inclusion’s effects on non-disabled students and teachers also matters, Gilmour argues. Research links mainstreaming students with emotional/behavioral disorders to lower achievement and higher absenteeism for their non-disabled classmates. A North Carolina links higher teacher turnover to the number of special-needs students in class, especially those with emotional/behavioral disorders.
General-education teachers often say they lack the training, skills and support to make inclusion work for all students, Gilmour writes. When special-needs students are mainstreamed, teachers “spend more time on classroom management and less on instruction.”
Approaches such as focusing on the LRE (least restrictive environment) through mainstreaming/ inclusion and differentiated instruction, student discipline, the misuse and overuse of “accommodations,” and the use of computers to create so-called “specialized instruction” (to name a few,) lack objective research support, especially about their effects on all students.
“For ALL students, build a laser-sharp focus on improving outcomes for all students, from the neediest strugglers to the most advanced?—?without labels,” Freedman concludes.