02-11-2003 FEATURE ARTICLE
What Matters Most in Inclusive Education: A Practical Guide for Moving Forward
Deborah L. Voltz, Nettye Brazil, Alison Ford, PhD
From "What Matters Most in Inclusive Education: A Practical Guide for Moving Forward" by Voltz, D.L., Nettye, B., & Ford, A., 2001, Intervention in School and Clinic, 37., pp.23-30 Copyright 2001 by PRO-ED, Inc. Reprinted with permission.
?????Structuring learning environments to promote the inclusion of learners with disabilities is an important responsibility that educators in general and special education share. The physical placement of students with disabilities in general education classes is often overemphasized, while other aspects of developing inclusive environments are neglected. This article describes defining principles of inclusive education and provides important questions to ask in determining whether inclusive environments demonstrate these principles. This article also includes practical strategies for assisting educators in creating educational environments that manifest the defining principles of inclusion.
The movement toward maximizing the participation of students with disabilities in general education classes has been a continuous theme in the field of education since the mid to late sixties (Bauwens & Hourcade, 1995). In the past, much of the discussion around mainstreaming and the integration of special needs learners into general education classes focused primarily on integrating students in general and special education. For example, whereas much attention was given to the idea of having students with and without disabilities educated together in general education classes, relatively little emphasis was placed on helping the general and special educators work together in a single educational environment. Neither was great attention placed on coordinating efforts in terms of other aspects (e.g., administrative activities, assessment programs, educational standards, teacher preparation) of general and special education systems. It was not until the late 1980s that the systems integration concept of inclusive education brought with it a renewed impetus to restructure general education settings in order to provide the supports needed to facilitate the learning of a broader range of students. Since that time, the number of students with disabilities taught in general education classrooms has increased consistently and substantially (McLesky, Henry, & Hodges, 1999).
Despite progress in terms of integrating of learners with disabilities in general education classes, it is important to note that the physical placement of students in general education classes is not an end in and of itself but rather a means to an end. Inclusion does not refer to a physical space; it refers to a condition or state of being. The concept of inclusion implies a sense of belonging and acceptance. Hence, inclusion has more to do with how educators respond to individual differences than it has to do with specific instructional configurations. The physical placement of students with disabilities in general education classes is often overemphasized, while other aspects of developing inclusive environments are neglected. For example, this can occur in instances in which the goal of inclusion is viewed merely as the placement of students with disabilities in general education classrooms, as opposed to the creation of instructional environments that promote educational success and a sense of belonging for all students. The intent of this article is to highlight for general and special education practitioners the critical elements of inclusive education and to provide practical suggestions for how to promote these elements in general education classrooms.
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