Special Education Inclusion Programs: The Pros and Cons

"Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men - the balance-wheel of the social machinery."
– Horace Mann

What is Special Education Inclusion?


Inclusion is a term that refers to educating students with disabilities in general education classrooms, alongside their typically developing peers (sfusd.edu). There is a great amount of debate on whether the issue is a benefit to all students in the classroom, or if inclusion a simple way for our districts to lower the cost of educating students with special needs. After all, was not special education developed because students with special needs needed a more secluded and focused classroom? Or, were methods before simply not done as they should have, and inclusion is actually better for these kids as well as their peers?

There are different terms involved in incorporating students with special needs in to the classroom:

  • Mainstreaming occurs when students whose primary placement is in a special day class attend and participate in general education classrooms for some segment of the instructional day, with varying levels of specialized supports and services necessary to meet their individual education plan goals.
  • Inclusion occurs when students with disabilities have their primary placement in chronologically age appropriate general education classrooms where they receive necessary specialized supports and services (sfusd.edu).
  • Full Inclusion occurs when students are kept in the regular classroom as a more absolute practice, only separating from the mainstream classroom in very rare occasions (sedl.org).

For the purposes of this presentation, we will be referring to simply inclusion, rather than mainstreaming or full inclusion.

How do educators go about creating a positive inclusion experience?

1. Placing the child into the school he/she would have attended without a disability.
2. Keeping withing the "natural proportions" of the occurrence of children with disabilities to the number of children without disabilities in the general public.
3. Restructuring the teaching and learning of the classroom. With this, the general and special educators must work together to create a curriculum that all of the students will benefit from while incorporating tools and teaching methods that would give the students with needs the individual attention he/she deserves.
4. Placing exceptional students in the age and ability appropriate environment.

The following diagram shows the key components that make inclusion of students with special educational needs into regular classrooms work, and work well. Each of the components is essential and relies interdependently on the other components to ensure successful inclusion.

Inclusion Components

Students participating in inclusion don't spend 100% of their time in the general education classrooms. In fact:

- 50% of students are in regular classrooms for 80% or more of their time.
- 28% of students are in regular classes for 40-79% or more of their time.
- 19% of students are in regular classes for 0-39% or more of their time.

So where else do students participating in special education programs spend their school time?

1) Resource Rooms - These are classrooms that are run strictly by special education teachers who spend as little or as much time with the students in need. Most of these are students with needs ranging from learning disabilities to mild health impairments.
2) Special Education Rooms - These are classrooms that are run by special education teachers who focus on students with severe disabilities such as autism, mental retardation, multiple disabilities, and emotional disorders.

Some Pros to Inclusion:
  • Including children with special needs in the regular classroom is much less expensive than segregating them.
  • Children with special needs learn to better interact and function in a non-disabled world.
  • Children without special needs learn about and accept more human diversity as a result of working with peers with special needs.
  • Curriculum content may get broken down more carefully and all students understand material better.
  • Peers serve as role models; catering to and challenging students with special needs to reach their full potential.
  • Social competence, communication skills, and developmental skills improve in students with special needs.
  • Provides individual attention to students with special needs.

Some Cons to Inclusion:
  • The quality of the education for students without special needs has potential to decline.
  • Teachers need additional training for working with students with special needs.
  • Student with special needs may not get these needs met as extensively as they might in a segregated classroom.
  • Not much conclusive research has been done over an extended period of time for special education inclusion programs to evaluate their success.
  • Inclusion is not always a guaranteed success. So much relies on the abilities of the educators, staff, parents, peers, and other variables of the environment.

Learn more about the issue in the pages that follow about the history of special education, the influence of individualized education plans, the options for special education programs, the education implications of inclusion, and the social implications for inclusion.

Works Cited:

Turnbull, Ann. "Ensuring PRogress in the General Education Curriculum Through Universal Design for Learning and Inclusion." Exceptional Lives. Ed. Allyson P. Sharp. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc., 2007.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. (2005). IDEA data website (http://www.ideadata.org/aboutThisSite.asp).

SEDL - Issues About Change: Inclusion: The Pros and Cons. (n.d.). Retrieved June 20, 2008, from http://www.sedl.org/change/issues/issues43.html