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Study: Inclusion May Not Be Best After All


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Inclusion is often believed to be the best option for students with disabilities, but a new study calls into question whether or not the practice truly leads to better outcomes long term.

Researchers found that students with autism who spent 75 to 100 percent of their time in general education classrooms were no more likely to complete high school, go to college or see improvements in cognitive functioning than those who spent more time in segregated environments.

The results published Thursday in a special supplement to the journal Pediatrics come from a study of nearly 500 young adults with autism who received special education services at public schools nationwide. Researchers assessed data on the students collected in the federal government’s National Longitudinal Transition Study-2.

“We find no systematic indication that the level of inclusivity improves key future outcomes,” researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Johns Hopkins University wrote.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, students who qualify for special education are supposed to be served in the least restrictive environment. However, the study authors said their results call into question whether or not that requirement is associated with achieving the best long-term outcomes.

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Comments (65 Responses)

  1. Glen S says:

    Tacitus: Actually, the default for the majority of school systems around the country is the “least restrictive environment!” Parents have to argue for alternative placements even when the data strongly supports that the child’s health is at risk or will thrive in those placements.

  2. advocateMOM says:

    would it really be so hard to break down that segregating fence and strategically place the disability specific programming classes throughout the other classrooms and share and participate on that huge playground, toys, computer rooms, cafeteria, school events, & library? when we consider the subject of “low classroom size” and “least restrictive education” does not imply a most restrictive environment that secludes a child from stimmulatory development. Inclusion is necessary in managing disability strengths to identify what areas a child may excel. ALL kids are different, some do great in art, some music, some math, some science, some literature. Giving the student the accessibility to seek out and participate without obligation to meet standards of testing is far more rewarding than “thinking” that this is being brought into a segregated room sectioned off from non-employee observation. It is more likely even in a low classroom size that there will be a % that will not engage in a non-preferred activity thus creating a trigger of behavioral reactions. Often i hear the term “Im bored” it is a clear sign that involvement in considering options is being ignored by schools. It is discrimminatory to say if child cannot reach standards with gen-ed curriculum, then what is offered from a gen-ed setting will also be withheld. School should not feel like a prison sentence…

  3. Ed Amundson says:

    I have always been of the opinion that “least restrictive is different for all students. For some, least restrictive is a more self contained environment. For some, it is a more inclusive environment. I whave always preferred to refer to it as “most appropriate environment.If we look at it that way, we take in the individual needs of all students. The “I” in IEP.

  4. patm says:

    This is not rocket science. It is common sense. A person with an intellectual disability mainstreamed into a regular classroom will get less individual attention, not more. This does save money by using fewer special ed teachers but the price is paid by the person who does not get needed services, does not learn skills that may improve their quality of life, and is unable to reach their potential. Our society still has to find a way throught this maze to get the proper services to the individual. Saturated as we are with charlatans galore, this is a big problem.

  5. Gretchen Simpson says:

    I do NOT favor inclusion. I favor more and better vocational options for our special children. With BS, MS, and SpEd, I taught in all levels and areas in Special Ed from 1972 to 2007. IN THE 1980’s , St. Louis Special School District provided exceptional services and great successes. My experience includes self contained, residential, special building, resource, and team teaching. Unfortunately, IEP’s have lost the “I” in writing plans for our children. HOPEFULLY, we grow back into designing individual plans for individuals. Good vocational training is costly on the front but can bring forth a new work force.

  6. Marcie B. says:

    I support the use of small learning groups inside of skill based classrooms. Parent volunteers or para- professionals working with small learning groups can be overseen by credentialed teachers. Students can be grouped by their individual skill levels in a variety of different subjects and get more individualized attention, while learning with peers at the same skill level. This will accommodate different learning styles as well as different learning speeds. Also, with the reduction of instructional days, there needs to be more emphasis on integrated learning. This is when the student can study two or more different subjects combined into one project. For example, doing a science project and writing a paper about it could earn credit for science and language arts at the same time. Many gifted programs use a variety of these formats, which will work for general ed and special ed students equally well.

  7. Andrea says:

    I have a family member who does better in a structured environment. He better in the class room with general studies than in a segregated environment. His problem arises when he is left on his own such as on the playground. It is hard to determine what works best for the autism community when no two are alike.

  8. David Snow says:

    No Kidding. “No Child Left Behind” was really code for special needs children left out. Bush and the Republicans wanted to cut special needs funding and thus gave special needs children the “right” to full inclusion regardless of the best interest for the child.

  9. Angie S says:

    I love what Marcie B said! My daughter was placed in a GE classroom but she is not getting enough support inside the classroom. The teacher has no support other than occasional volunteers and they are mostly doing paperwork. Occasionally, I get to help the kids while she lectures. The small groups would be wonderful. My daughter did really well in kindergarten where they use this model with parents at each table. Now in first grade, she is lost much of the time while the teacher is lecturing. When there are parent volunteers in the room helping the children, it makes a big difference. Taking it one step further and creating the small groups is a wondeful idea so kids get help every day, not just when parents happen to be helping out.

  10. nymom says:

    let’s get real – INCLUSION is NOT the failure it is DOING IT POORLY that fails these kids – biases and little much planning goes into it is critical for outcomes. it is not just a placement into a general education setting but the supports and services coming skilled into the classroom. also this is critical as peers learn that students are different and contribute to the learning community. To predetermine is wrong. Any good advocate wants QUALITY supports – let’s face it in nyc less then half of students WITHOUT IEPs are not proficient in ELA or MATH!!!! this is all about quality and I regret the authors making broad statements that sets back the clock on this long won civil rights battle to be educated with quality supports in the least restrictive environment. a classroom of 6 students who do not have social skills will not further their future either – or a room of adults talking to eachother with little peer interaction unless forces or “staged” is an awful lesson – the variety of the general education curriculum is critical. there are many dedicated teams implementing best practices into general education settings and these models need to be expanded. we have to push for more quality services and MORE services if that what it takes to make inclusive settings work for a wider cadre of students. we have a legacy medical model in nyc which is choking outcomes – the regents diploma is 5% from segregagted settings?!!!! the setting is not the propblem or the only answer. THINK about it. we have a 50 years of segregated programs that failed students.

  11. Glen S says:

    David Snow: Yours is a partisan and overly simplistic response. NCLB was the product of bi-partisan discussions and was co-sponsored and championed by the late Senator Kennedy. To say that one party is out to get individuals with disabilities or one party is a friend to individuals with disabilities is fallacious.

  12. PamW says:

    It’s too bad the law is written to suggest that this is the best model for all special needs students. Inclusive classroom might be the right answer for some and not for others. My understanding is that legislators were thinking more about physical disabilities when the law was written and less about specific learning difficulties. My son has dyslexia and ADHD and a normal size general ed. classroom doesn’t work for him. He needs a small group environment. Also, when he was in general ed in public school, his self esteem was very low. When he moved to a school where other students shared his issues, he felt less alone and more confident about his strengths. This emphasis on the least restrictive environment sets up unnecessary conflicts between parents and school districts. Everyone should look to what’s best for each individual child.

  13. Dawne H says:

    It’s amusing to me that so many think that educational inclusion is about the academics. It is not – it is about options, being a valued member of society, building friendships outside of the “disability realm” which of course aid in safety etc.

  14. mgi says:

    Co teaching in the least restricitive environment is a good thing because the special education teachers are in the class also. Did the study check to make sure that the work was modified at each shilds level so they could move forward which is what by law needs to be done. The children have every right to be in there however they also need to make sure that the teacher/s modify the work so they will make meaningful progress. The parents need to follow up and make sure they get a progress report and have copies of the quizes/ tests to make sure it matches with the progress report and report card.

  15. Nicole LeBlanc says:

    Inclusion is best practice because we need to change the attitudes of people without disablties view of the way they view the disability community! We need to promote acceptance across all aspects of life!!! Inclusion can work when done the right way! We waste our time on bad practices!
    Attitudes are the REAL DISABILITY!!

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