Don’t Limit Us

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The point of inclusive schooling is to prepare students for a more inclusive society. Megology.com, a small business founded and run by Megan Bomgaars, exemplifies what can happen when inclusion is the goal.

I recently came across this article from September on Edweek.org: Studies Flag Potential Downside to Inclusion, By Carmen Constantinescu & Christina A. Samuels. As an advocate for inclusion, I am always trying to stay aware of the opposing viewpoints out there. I respect that not everyone has the same ideologies and philosophies, and I think discourse is a path that has and will continue to make our education system better. So, I decided to see what this article is really all about. Additionally, this article is not an opinion piece and has ties to research, so I wanted to see what sort of data support this headline.

That being said, I actually find this article quite hopeful. Although the piece lead with this:

In looking at a nationally representative sample of students, researchers have found that the young children who shared a classroom with pupils who have emotional and behavioral disabilities had more absences, lower math and reading scores in kindergarten and 1st grade, and were more likely to act out in the classroom or struggle with social skills.

The article then rounds itself out, quoting one of the biggest researchers in the field, Michael A. Gottfried, an associate professor of education at the University of California, Santa Barbara, saying:

Gottfried cautioned that the results are preliminary, and that future research should dig deeper into the issue, looking at factors such as the severity of a child’s disability, the backgrounds of students both with and without disabilities, the level of support available for teachers, and how inclusion is actually being implemented.

If policymakers and school officials just focus on exclusion, he said, “I think that readers are missing the point. The point is, here is a situation that we have and what systems of supports can improve outcomes for everyone?”

I appreciate this idea. Anyone who has ever taught a student with emotional and behavioral disabilities will know that you want to be flexible in the educational program for the child, and you want to provide the most options you possibly can.

One very striking part of this article comes from a different researcher, Jason Fletcher, who talked about negative “spillover effects” of educating students with disabilities alongside their typically developing peers.

Fletcher found that the negative spillover effects were more “robust and larger for reading” and had more of an impact on African-American and Hispanic nondisabled students in low-income schools. Fletcher also reported that score gaps between Hispanic and white students were larger at the end of the school year in classrooms with students with emotional or behavioral disabilities than they were in demographically similar classrooms without such students. The same pattern held for the gaps between white and black students.

To me, this seems to point to a  much larger problem with schools generally struggling to meet the needs of many marginalized populations, not just students with disabilities, and that pointing to inclusion as a negative practice seems counter productive to Gottfried’s point of creating a system that can “improve outcomes for everyone.”  In an ideal world, we would be providing access and equity to all of our students, not perceiving that one group is being prioritized over another.

In the end, as the article speaks to, the problem may very well lie not in this idea of inclusion-which by the way is a philosophy and a practice but not a specific place or classroom-but rather with teacher preparation. As the article states, many teachers feel underprepared to take on the many different needs that will inevitably show up in any classroom, but especially an inclusive one. I think Megan Bomgaars says it best herself of what all students need from their teachers. 

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