Understanding and communicating the why of inclusive education is foundational for building an inclusive education system. When others understand why this change is needed, it can build commitment and momentum that supports working through the change process. All students, including those with significant cognitive disabilities, have the right to attend the same school they would attend if they did not have a disability, learn alongside their same age/grade level peers who do not have disabilities, experience a welcoming school environment and be a valued member of the school community.
Three lenses ~ Equity, Civil Rights, and Research ~ help explain the rationale for inclusive education, including students with significant cognitive disabilities and the current need for change.
Inclusive education through an Equity lens means:
- Similar to other characteristics (such as race, culture, and gender) that make each person a unique human being, having a disability is a natural part of life. Having a disability should not separate and isolate someone from their peers and impact their experience of belonging.
- Diversity is valued, and there is a culture of welcoming and belonging for each and every student.
- There is an understanding that diversity enhances the community for all students, educators, and families.
- All students are learners, held to high expectations, and capable of succeeding with support.
Inclusive education through a Civil Rights lens means:
- Each public agency must ensure (i) "To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are nondisabled; and (ii) Special classes, separate schooling, or other removals of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily" (IDEA, Sec. 300.114).
- All students are general education students. Special education is a supplementary service, not a place.
- The barriers to learning are within the environment, not within the child.
- Students with disabilities benefit from specially designed instruction to access and learn the general education standards and curriculum in the least restrictive environment.
- The Supreme Court (Endrew F. Case) ruled that it is insufficient for students with disabilities to only make minimal progress in their education. The bar must be set high for students with disabilities, regardless of the type and extent of their disability, as part of a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
Inclusive Education through a Research lens means:
- There is over 50 years of research showing that educating students with significant cognitive disabilities in general education impacts student outcomes positively. When students with extensive support needs are taught in inclusive environments, there are multiple studies over multiple decades showing positive gains in literacy, math, science, social studies, IEP goal attainment, communication, and academic and peer engagement.
- Access to general education standards and curriculum in inclusive classrooms increases student learning. (Inclusive education is a compilation of evidence-based practices for students with disabilities, including students with significant cognitive disabilities.)
- Students with a variety of skills and abilities can effectively learn together in general education classrooms. All students benefit from accessing and learning grade-level core curriculum. In addition, any student can benefit from small group instruction or individual support to progress in their learning. This is not unique to students with disabilities or students with significant cognitive disabilities.
- There is evidence that inclusive placements for students with significant disabilities benefit students without disabilities, as well (Carter et al., 2016; Jameson et al., 2008; Kozleski et al., 2021).