By Allison F. Gilmour
The model of special education known as inclusion, or mainstreaming, has become more prevalent over the past 10 years, and today, more than 60 percent of all students with disabilities (SWDs) spend 80 percent or more of their school day in regular classrooms, alongside their non-disabled peers (see Figure 1). This is not the full inclusion favored by some disability advocates, wherein all SWDs would be educated in inclusive classrooms all day; however, many supporters celebrate the increasing acceptance of differently abled students in general education as an opportunity to improve the academic and long-term trajectories of these traditionally underserved learners. In theory, inclusion provides SWDs with access to the grade-level curriculum and the same educational opportunities as their peers.
Unfortunately, research has yielded only weak evidence that inclusion confers benefits on SWDs. Studies that report better academic and behavioral outcomes for SWDs who are taught in a general-education setting suffer from methodological flaws. Even less evidence suggests that general-education teachers are adequately prepared to meet the unique academic and behavioral needs of SWDs. Further, studies of inclusion seem to assume that SWDs are educated in a vacuum; that is, they fail to examine the experiences of non-disabled classmates.