Full inclusion is the theory that children with disabilities, especially those with learning disabilities, should be placed in regular classrooms full time. Advocates of Full inclusion argue that doing so will “…allow disabled children to make friends with so-called "normal" children and will learn in a stimulating environment” (Fardell, 5). Those who oppose Full inclusion include parents, teachers, and administrators who contend that, although methods of collaborative learning and group instruction are the preferred methods, most traditional classroom sizes and resources are usually inadequate for the management and accommodation of many students with disabilities without producing adverse effects on the classroom as a whole.
Current educational practice states that a student with a disability must be placed in the least restrictive environment possible and should only be removed from the regular classroom if his or her disability cannot be accommodated appropriately, even with an aid in the classroom. Inclusion is often viewed as a policy driven by an unrealistic expectation for saving school money. “Furthermore, trying to force all students into the inclusion mold is just as coercive and discriminatory as trying to force all students into the mold of a special education class or residential institution” (Kelly, 3). Full inclusion is essentially a poor educational model for everyone it affects.
Many parents and teachers believe that all students belong in the regular education classroom and that effective teachers are capable of meeting the needs of all the students, regardless of what those needs may be. However, this is simply an unrealistic expectation. Teachers are already met with, in many instances, overcrowded classrooms with outrageous curriculum guidelines. Promoting full inclusion essentially places greater burden on teachers who already struggle to design lessons, deliver effective instruction, and provide an effective learning environment. All students deserve a fair education; however, inclusion is a practice that imposes a negative strain on schools, as a whole.
Age and grade-appropriate placement is the most controversial component of inclusion because it is based on ideals, values, and goals that are not realistic in many of the public schools. Advocates of full inclusion assume that the general education classroom will be able to accommodate all students with disabilities, even those with severe and multiple disabilities. Perhaps some students can obtain educational and social benefits from that placement yet is more likely that they will suffer from being in a classroom with regular students. Furthermore, it poses a strain on the other students who do not need an aid, or special lesson accommodations.
Students are unlikely to receive adequate education without placement into alternative instructional groups or alternative learning environments, such as part-time or full-time special classes or alternative day schools. These students require special instruction, and this is best achieved in a designated classroom. Although proponents of full inclusion believe that this system is necessary to provide appropriate education to all students, it is simply not a beneficial system, when one considers the negative impact it can have on the other students.
Many parents and educators fear that disabled students will suffer stigmas, and not feel connected to their schools if not allowed to be in the same classrooms as regular students. This is not a well-supported argument, however. Many special education students have their own clubs, after-school activities, and affiliations with the mainstreamed students. Therefore, it is unnecessary for them to be placed in a regular classroom. Even though many educators believe that “…the different perspective of the students with disabilities will add to the class as a whole” (Kelly, 6), this is simply not a realistic expectation. It is more likely to have an adverse effect on both the students and the teachers as a whole.
Increased exposure of disabled to non-disabled students does not necessarily lead to greater acceptance. Instead, students with disabilities are faced with even more prejudice and teasing. These negative aspects of full inclusion can ultimately have a traumatic effect on the students involved. Teachers are forced to spend extra time making accommodations for disabled students to understand a lesson. Meanwhile, students without disabilities complain and embarrass the disabled students.
Putting disabled students into mainstream classrooms poses a risk to both the teachers and the students. Robert Tornillo, president of the Florida Education Association United, is concerned that inclusion leaves classroom teachers without training and resources that are necessary to teach students with disabilities in their classrooms. Therefore, "the disabled children are not getting appropriate, specialized attention and care, and the regular students' education is disrupted constantly” (Tornillo, 15). He claims that inclusion does not make sense when considering all of the pressures from state legislatures and the public to develop higher academic standards and to improve the academic achievement of students. A possible solution is to incorporate co-teaching interventions for students with special needs.
Broadening the range of skill levels in a classroom through inclusion makes teachers “direct inordinate attention to a few, thereby decreasing the amount of time and energy directed toward the rest of the class. Indeed, the range of abilities is just too great for one teacher to adequately teach” (Tornillo, 12). Consequently, the push for greater academic achievement school-wide is met with even more obstacles.
A poll conducted by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in West Virginia revealed that "78 percent of respondents think disabled students won't benefit from (inclusion); 87 percent said other students won't benefit either" (Leo, 22). The AFT has struggled to halt the push toward full inclusion. Their members were specifically concerned that students with disabilities were "monopolizing an inordinate amount of time and resources and, in some cases, creating violent classroom environments" (Sklaroff, 7). It is important for educators and parents to realize that while it might seem a good idea for disabled students to incorporate classrooms, doing so can have a negative impact.
Some parents and teachers suspect that school motives for full inclusion are a cost-saving measure rather than a genuine concern for the students. If students with disabilities can be in regular classrooms, then the more expensive special education service costs due to additional aids, resources, and classrooms, can be reduced. This issue has caused strife in many public classrooms across the country.
Another reason for opposing inclusion is that there is little “data available on special education students' academic gains, as well as graduation rates, or involvement in community living based on their placement in inclusive vs. non-inclusive settings. Most groups and individuals involved in the process believe that inclusion in the regular classroom is the appropriate starting point, and that a continuum of placement options and services must be available” (Miller). The needs of the student must be addressed and evaluated for this method to be effective.
One of the greatest challenges contributing to this debate is the lack of similarity between the regular and special education systems that exist in today's districts and schools. Successful inclusion models rely on schools that promote flexible learning environments, with flexible curricula and instruction. “Under ideal conditions, all students work toward the same overall educational outcomes. What differs is the level at which these outcomes are achieved, the additional support that is needed by some students and the degree of emphasis placed on various outcomes” (Daniels, 74). Unfortunately, many of today’s public schools simply do not offer this flexibility. It is, therefore, a poor idea to assume that the needs of disabled students will be met effectively with this model.
A possible solution exists if full inclusion were discontinued. The question about how we ensure that all students do get an education that challenges them to meet high standards of achievement is a hard one to answer. However, according to some educators, it is possible to do so. “One way is to further revise P.L. 94-142. Congress has been considering reauthorization of the 1975 special education legislation, which in 1991 was amended and renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act…” (Shanker, 25). It is logical to assert that opposing full inclusion will benefit all students and teachers in the long run.
Academic achievement is one of the most important issues in our country. It is certainly not fair to blame inclusion on the poor academic achievement of mainstream students in all cases. “It is evident that a great number of learners, for whatever reason, under perform in school” (Reid, 62). However, it only makes sense then, for parents and educators to accept the fact that under-performing can inhibit children, and that allowing full inclusion will only contribute to this problem.
Full inclusion, as an educational model, is one that faces scrutiny from both parents and teachers. It is important for those with children, or those working in schools, to understand the complexity of this issue and to see both sides of the dilemma. After careful analysis, most will agree that full inclusion might be a thoughtful aspiration, but should not be considered a realistic option in this era.
Daniels, Harry. Special Education Re-Formed: Beyond Rhetoric? New York: Harper, 2001.
Fardell, Malcolm. "Arguments Against Full Inclusion in the Classroom." Huffington Post [New York] 12 Aug. 2000: 34-38.
Kelly, Liza. "Inclusion in the Classroom." Educator Apr. - May. 2010: 10-15.
Leo, Elizabeth. "Inclusion, Diversity, and Leadership." Sage Journal 42 (2012): 6-8.
Miller, Juan. "Against Special Education Inclusion." Against Special Education Inclusion. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Nov. 2013. <http://www.learningrx.com/against-special-education-inclusion-faq.htm>.
Reid, Genevive. Learning Styles and Inclusion. London: Paul Chapman Publishing, 2005. PrintShanker, Elise. "Full Inclusion is Neither Free Nor Appropriate." Educational Leadership 52.4 (2011): 18-21.
Sklaroff, Larry. "Concerns About and Arguments Against Inclusion." www.educhange.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2013. <http:www.sedl.org/change/issues/issues43//concerns.html>.
Tornillo, Frank. "Inclusion: The Pros and Cons." Issues About Change 4.3 (1995): 48-50.