Thirty years of research tells us that inclusive practices increase access to the general curriculum and that this access leads to better post education opportunities for students with disabilities. These practices can benefit all students, but enacting them is no walk in the park.
The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) or reauthorization of P.L. 94-142 as P.L. 101-476 was implemented in 1990, guaranteeing a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) “for all handicapped children.” FAPE is defined as an educational program that is individualized to a specific child, designed to meet that child’s unique needs, and from which the child receives educational benefit. To provide FAPE, schools must provide students with an “education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living,” while guaranteeing “access to the general curriculum.”
Access to the general education curriculum has been shown to have a positive correlation with higher scores on standardized tests of reading and math, fewer absences from school, fewer referrals for disruptive behavior and better outcomes after high school in the areas of employment and independent living. In order to provide access to the general education curriculum while also providing the necessary supports for students with labeled disabilities, various service delivery models have been developed including segregated, self-contained classrooms for students with labeled disabilities. However, no studies have shown an academic advantage for students with labeled disabilities educated in these segregated, self-contained settings.
Studies have in fact shown a variety of negative outcomes associated with segregated self-contained settings for students and educators including increased incarceration rates. On the other hand, providing the necessary educational supports to students with labeled disabilities in the general education classroom has been shown to have the many positive outcomes associated with access to the general education curriculum. The positive outcomes occur both in and post schooling for students with and without labeled disabilities.
Inclusive education recognizes the range of human differences, stemming from students’ home and community cultures, prior educational experiences, talents and proclivities, as well as racial and ethnic identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, etc., aspects of which are present in every classroom. Inclusive educators work to navigate this variety of human difference in their classrooms while enacting pedagogical practices that value those differences. When specifically discussing students with labeled disabilities and Individual Education Programs (IEPs) this means teaching in a manner that provides these students full access to the general education curriculum.