Concerns About and Arguments Against Inclusion and/or Full Inclusion

From regular education.
Not everyone is excited about bringing students with disabilities into the mainstream classroom setting. Tornillo (1994), president of the Florida Education Association United, is concerned that inclusion, as it all too frequently is being implemented, leaves classroom teachers without the resources, training, and other supports necessary to teach students with disabilities in their classrooms. Consequently, "the disabled children are not getting appropriate, specialized attention and care, and the regular students' education is disrupted constantly." He further argues that inclusion does not make sense in light of pressures from state legislatures and the public at large to develop higher academic standards and to improve the academic achievement of students. Lieberman (1992) agrees:

We are testing more, not less. We are locking teachers into constrained curricula and syllabi more, not less. The imprint of statewide accountability and government spending [is increasingly] based on tangible, measurable, tabulatable, numerical results ... The barrage of curriculum materials, syllabi, grade-level expectations for performance, standardized achievement tests, competency tests, and so on, continue to overwhelm even the most flexible teachers. (pp. 14-15)

By expanding the range of ability levels in a classroom through inclusion, Tornillo (1994) argues, teachers are required to direct inordinate attention to a few, thereby decreasing the amount of time and energy directed toward the rest of the class. Indeed, the range of abilities is just too great for one teacher to adequately teach. Consequently, the mandates for greater academic accountability and achievement are unable to be met.

A poll conducted by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in West Virginia revealed that "78 percent of respondents think disabled students won't benefit from [inclusion]; 87 percent said other students won't benefit either" (Leo, 1994, p. 22). Citing numerous concerns expressed by many of its national membership, the AFT has urged a moratorium on the national rush toward full inclusion. Their members were specifically concerned that students with disabilities were "monopolizing an inordinate amount of time and resources and, in some cases, creating violent classroom environments" (Sklaroff, 1994, p. 7). They further cite that when inclusion efforts fail, it is frequently due to "a lack of appropriate training for teachers in mainstream classrooms, ignorance about inclusion among senior-level administrators, and a general lack of funding for resources and training" (p. 7). One additional concern of the AFT and others (Tornillo, 1994; Leo, 1994) is a suspicion that school administration motives for moving toward more inclusive approaches are often more of a budgetary (cost-saving) measure than out of a concern for what is really best for students. If students with disabilities can be served in regular classrooms, then the more expensive special education service costs due to additional personnel, equipment, materials, and classrooms, can be reduced. "But supporters [argue] that, while administrators may see inclusion as a means to save funds by lumping together all students in the same facilities, inclusion rarely costs less than segregated classes when the concept is implemented responsibly" (Sklaroff, 1994, p. 7).

From special education.
Regular educators are not the only ones concerned about a perceived wholesale move toward full inclusion. Some special educators and parents of students with disabilities also have reservations. The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), a large, international organization of special educators, parents, and other advocates for the disabled, issued a policy statement on inclusion at their annual convention in 1993. This statement begins with a strong endorsement for a continuum of services to be available to children, youth, and young adults with disabilities. It is only after making the point quite clear that services to the disabled, including various placement options besides the regular classroom, are to be tailored to individual student need that the policy actually addresses inclusion.

The concept of inclusion is a meaningful goal to be pursued in our schools and communities ... [C]hildren, youth, and young adults with disabilities should be served whenever possible in general education classrooms in inclusive neighborhood schools and community settings. (CEC policy ..., 1993)

Clearly, the concern of this broad-based advocacy organization is not so much with inclusion as with full inclusion. However, some parents of children with disabilities and others have serious reservations about inclusive educational practices. Their concerns are forged out of their struggles to get appropriate educational services for their children and those of others. They are concerned that, with the shift of primary responsibility for the education of these children from special education teachers to regular classroom teachers, there will be a loss of advocacy. Further, by dispersing children with special needs across the school campus and district, services and resources will be "diluted," and programming will be watered down. Indeed, like many in regular education, special education advocates assert that in some instances educational programming in a regular classroom setting may be totally inappropriate for certain individuals. They acknowledge that the ideals on which inclusion rests are laudatory. However, they remain skeptical that the present overall, broad-based capacities and attitudes of teachers and school systems toward accommodating students with disabilities into regular classrooms is adequate. They argue that the current

special education system emerged precisely because of the non-adaptability of regular classrooms and that, since nothing has happened to make contemporary classrooms any more adaptable ..., [inclusion] most likely will lead to rediscovering the need for a separate system in the future. (Skrtic, 1991, p. 160)

In addition to a more generalized concern by some across the field of special education in relation to how inclusive practices become operationalized in schools, stronger concern about and resistance to inclusion has been raised within specific disability groups. Perhaps the greatest concern and opposition comes from many in the deaf community. Cohen (1994) is one of many who suggest that inclusion is inappropriate for most students with hearing impairments. He notes that "communication among peers is crucially important to the cognitive and social development for all children" (p. 35). However, because "most deaf children cannot and will not lip-read or speak effectively in regular classroom settings ..., full access to communication-and therefore full cognitive and social development-includes the use of sign language" (p. 35). He points to supportive research suggesting that greater intellectual gains are made by deaf students enrolled in schools for the hearing impaired, where a common language and culture may be shared, than for similarly disabled students in mainstream classroom settings. Even with an educational sign-language interpreter (of which there is a shortage throughout the United States), students with impaired hearing miss out on many of the experiences targeted as rationales for inclusive environments by inclusion advocates (e.g., a sense of belonging, opportunities to interact with peers). Social, emotional, and even academic development is difficult when communication must be facilitated through an interpreter. Informal communications and friendships with peers, participation in extracurricular activities, dating, etc. are also not well-facilitated when a third-party interpreter is needed to communicate. Consequently, many argue that the more appropriate educational placement option for the hearing impaired is a residential school with a "community" of others similarly disabled.

Lieberman (1992) points out that many advocates (primarily parents) for those with learning disabilities also have significant concerns about the wholesale move toward inclusion. Their concerns stem from the fact that they have had to fight long and hard for appropriate services and programs for their children. They recognize that students with learning disabilities do not progress academically without individualized attention to their educational needs. These services have evolved primarily through a specialized teacher working with these students individually or in small groups, usually in a resource room setting. Many successful practices have been researched and identified (Lyon & Vaughn, 1994). Special education professionals and parents alike are concerned that regular education teachers have neither the time, nor the expertise to meet their children's needs. "The learning disabilities field seems to recognize that being treated as an individual can usually be found more easily outside the regular classroom" (p. 15).

Some parents of students with more severe disabilities are concerned about the opportunities their children will have to develop basic life skills in a regular classroom setting. They are also cautious about inclusion because of fears that their children will be ridiculed by other students.

The issue of inclusion is also passionately debated in one other area of exceptionality-students who are gifted/talented. It is discussed under the concept of "heterogeneous grouping" rather than "inclusion." However, the issue is still one of providing appropriate services in an integrated versus a segregated setting. Some advocate, with research support, that gifted students are better served when they are able to work with other gifted students (usually in a "pull-out" program). Others promote, also with research support, the position that gifted students benefit more from being heterogeneously grouped with other students of various levels of ability (Tompkins & Deloney, 1994). Sapon-Shevin (1994) points out that "students who have been identified as 'gifted' or as 'disabled' need not be segregated from others in order to have their needs met, nor dumped with others without differentiation or appropriate treatment" (p. 8). However, their parents and other advocates have fought for specialized services (occurring in segregated settings), and they are reticent to allow what is perceived as a move backward.

Next Page: Input from Legislation and Litigation

Published in Issues ...about Change Volume 4, Number 3, Inclusion: The Pros and Cons (1995)