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The Disadvantages of a Full-Inclusion Classroom

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.

Limitations of Full-Inclusion Education

Full Inclusion is quickly becoming the norm in many public schools across the country. It's a goal that has the support of national and state laws as well as a few top educators. It's also a critical way of ensuring that students with special needs will receive the same form of education as their non-disabled peers. It is a step in the right direction. But, there's a lingering question: does it fully benefit the students it serves?

Unfortunately, the answer is "no." Despite its intended goal of mainstreaming all students with disabilities into the general education population, full inclusion still falls short of providing adequate education for all. One major problem is the way districts try to fulfill it.

Also, some students with disabilities aren't adequately placed. It may be due to below-basic skills in reading, writing, or math; intellectual or emotional disabilities; or the student’s inability to access the education. Either way, this inability to reach certain students reveals the limitations of full inclusion.


What Is Full Inclusion?

Full inclusion is the practice of including students with disabilities (in particular, those with learning disorders) in the same educational program as their non-disabled peers. The reasons are two folds:

• it gives students with learning disabilities more access to educational material and lessons they would not have had in a special education setting, and

• it adheres to civil rights and educational laws such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disability Act (ADA).

Its Flaws

As noble and ambitious as full inclusion is, it still suffers from a fundamental flaw: not all students have the same educational levels or degrees of disability. In many cases, students with intellectual disabilities such as mental retardation will not be able to access the educational material in an Algebra class, or students with physical disabilities such as quadriplegia will never join a varsity baseball team.

Inclusion into a general education classroom usually relies on effective accommodations. Accommodations are practices, technology usage, or assistance to help students with disabilities to access the educational material and lesson being taught.

Also, it works well when the students have mild or moderate forms of disabilities. The students may be able to read, write or do math at levels near grade level (usually two to three grade levels off). But, a little help such as repeating information, supplying notes, or giving the students a flexible seating arrangement can help them access the education being taught.

However, some students—even if all they have is a specific learning disability such as auditory processing disorder—may be severely affected to a point that they can not keep up with the curriculum despite all the accommodations made. For these students, they need a special day classroom to address their educational needs.

When mentioning inclusion, the term Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) often pops up

Student Designation Is Critical

Another obstacle that can affect the effectiveness of full inclusion is the practice of screening and labeling students.

An example can be those labeled "SDC." SDC (Special day class) students, have academic skill levels that are far below their age and grade levels. They need extra help and modification—a change in the curriculum—to their education. Also, they spend more than 50% of their school days in a special education classroom.

When mentioning inclusion, the term Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) often pops up. The term often refers to the idea of placing a student in an environment that would be the least restrictive on their chance of getting an adequate education. In many cases, however, “restrictions” can have different meanings.

For students who are slightly below grade level in certain skills (usually called a Resource or RSP student), a restrictive environment may be the slow-paced or unchallenged curriculum of a special day class. For an SDC student, a general education classroom may be restrictive in terms of the complex and challenging material usually presented in these courses. Restrictive, in the case of LRE, is anything that restricts a student’s ability to learn.

While full inclusion has its advantages, it also has some disadvantages. It’s not for every student with a disability. Despite its restriction, it is just one more approach educators can use to help a student with disabilities get a free and appropriate public school education like his/her non-disabled peers.

How Can Schools Fix the Problem?

Full inclusion is a lofty goal. However, for school officials to obtain this educational prize, they must use various educational programs. They may include better screening of students, the use of remedial or reading recovery courses, and better tutoring systems. Also, some schools have utilized a system in which the special education teacher or instructional assistant will work in collaboration with the general education teacher in the same classroom.

The following programs have been used by various districts to help with mainstreaming:

  • Response to Intervention (RTI). It helps in offering preventative measures. Also, it helps school officials keep numbers of referrals for special education down.
  • Co-Teaching or Co-Taught: two teachers (one general and the other special education) teach in the same class. The special educator will monitor students.
  • Assessments such as Woodcock-Johnson (to measure their abilities).

Questions & Answers

Question: What are at least 5 disadvantages of inclusive education?

Answer: 1. Most districts rush the process or inclusion in order to look good. In many cases, the student may not be ready or has skills or disabilities that are better handled in a separate and smaller environment.

2. Students can get lost in a large classroom; especially, if there are no collaboration among the students.

3. Students with disabilities tend to do everything possible to hide their status...even to the point of acting out.

4. Scheduling is still random and may lead to situations where the teachers and students are not compatible.

5. While co-teaching can help, they are often hastily put together and the special education student is placed in a situation in which he/she is relegated to a minor role in the classroom that turns out to be ineffective (again, districts tend to rush into implementation of these matters and don't consider compatibility of students and the teachers -- as well as teachers designated to work with each other in the same classroom).

Question: What are some advantages of inclusive education?

Answer: Advantages will be for students deemed as RSP or have disabilities that have minimal or no impact on their academic skills/knowledge. In many cases,these students are already mainstreamed and are being monitored in a general education course, rather than being taught by a special educator. Also some of these student are getting special education services for speech and language disorder, which is traditionally a pull-out or push-in system -- and rarely have students placed in a special education class. In addition, students with disabilities with hearing or vision impairment,ADHD, or some form of paralysis that doesn't affect them academically or intellectually may prosper from being placed in a situation where they can access the same curriculum as their peers (often, this last group of students will be covered under Section 504, which is a law meant to protect and accommodate for students with any form of disability). Finally, it will work for students who are on the cusp of being exited from special education services. The advantage for these students is that they are (1) being exposed to the same curriculum as their non-disabled peers with the use of accommodations (modification are not needed because that would mean a drastic change their their curriculum). (2) given the same opportunities to pursue courses designed for higher education.

Question: What are the disadvantages of inclusion?

Answer: Much of this information was mentioned in the article; however, here is a succinct answer to this: the disadvantage is that some students will be misplaced - in many cases, school officials eye full-inclusion as being cost-effective or a sign that the school is doing the good thing by educating all. In a sense (at least with the latter), school officials will overlook proper placement and ignore the student's educational needs (even blowing off much-needed accommodations to support the student in need. In a sense, it reverts inclusion into becoming nothing more than window dressing.

Question: What are the disadvantages of inclusion in the teaching of mathematics?

Answer: It's the same for other courses; if the student is not ready for inclusion (assessed to be below average or not able to meet grade standards) or needs modification to his/her math lessons, the disadvantages will outweigh the advantages. A student with disabilities that happens to have average or above-average math skills overall (and usually they are gauged in several areas in math), then inclusion will be an advantage.

Question: Do inclusion classrooms work ?

Answer: They potentially can, only if they are co-taught by able-bodied general and special education teachers, the student is appropriately placed and is at or near the academic skills as their non-disabled peers, and/or their plenty of support and understanding of accommodation tools and methods from everyone involved (usually called stakeholders in education).

© 2014 Dean Traylor


Canary from New York on January 08, 2020:

I am presently co-teaching a Kindergarten class with a wonderful Special Education teacher. Fortunately for our students, we have been able to work closely together and work closely with our students every day, addressing their academic and social needs.

Although very challenging at times, we carefully plan, prepare in advance, pay close attention to data gathered each time meet with each child, and a continually check-in with each other. Based on what we observe, we plan the next steps for our students, and so far, we have been able to help each child make progress.

It's very demanding but so rewarding to see even our most challenged students growing and flourishing.

We have been very fortunate.

Brenda clayton on February 19, 2019:

Not on board. My grandson has at least half in his class that have severe behavior/learning problems. Kids that want to learn has almost impossible task due to constant disruptions. Another grandmother volunteers in AM n I volunteer in pm. My grandson likes quiet and has not progressed like last year due to constant noise.ive worked in school for over 30 years n this is worst I've seen. My grandson chooses to eat alone due to their behaviors. So if this is inclusion answer is NO.

charmaine ne on July 31, 2018:

I am all for inclusion when appropriate. However, after working in a school for the last few years I am appalled at what is allowed to go on in classrooms. Not only do a good number of students not get the individual help they need to succeed, but the other students are many times not allowed to learn in a safe and disruption free environment. I have seen classrooms being evacuated several times a day on a normal basis due to students with emotional problems that have chronic dangerous behavior problems. In my opinion the district just doesn't want to spend the money for an optional setting. I do not believe the law was set up for this type of classroom setting. It is truly unbelievable.