To the Best Of Their Abilities
A blind student in the District of Columbia strives to learn physics in a regular classroom. A state policymaker in Illinois grapples with how to pay for special-education teachers' aides. And a 1st-grade teacher in Ohio worries about the impact that one disruptive student is having on the entire class.
Inclusion--the notion that all children should and can be taught in a regular classroom, regardless of their disabilities--touches everyone involved in the field of education.
Inclusion versus exclusion. It sounds black and white. The debate, though, revolves around how far to take the concept. Should even the most severely handicapped students be placed in regular classrooms? Who determines which students would be better served in regular classrooms? And should such a decision be made for all special-needs students, or on an individual basis?
Proponents of inclusion look beyond simply placing a special-needs student in an existing "regular" classroom. They propose no less than a total rethinking of that classroom: What if classes didn't have just one teacher? What if teachers and students were encouraged to use technology and other assistive devices to help students perform better?
Examine all sides of the debate, and it becomes clear that inclusion is a microcosm of education reform. The issues extend far beyond special education. "All children can learn at high levels" has become a rallying cry for improving schools. How can policymakers, practitioners, and parents work together to insure that students in every classroom in every school are achieving that ideal?
We asked individuals from across the spectrum to give us their perspectives on inclusion. Their responses point to the vast differences of opinion between and among all the parties who work in education.
This special Commentary report, the fifth in a series examining crucial issues in education, is being underwritten by a grant from the Philip Morris Companies Inc.