We provided this document to illustrate the considerations and large amount of preparatory work required to implement an effective inclusive education policy. These are only the introductory sections of a longer document, which can be viewed at

Consortium on Inclusive Schooling Practices Issue Brief 1(1)
December 1996 CISP Publications and Resources


In 1975, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142)1 guaranteed the right of every student with a disability to a free, appropriate public education. Although many schools were already serving some students with disabilities at that time, the landmark legislation ensured that no student, regardless of the severity of his or her disability, could be turned away by the public education system. P.L. 94-142 also provided official sanction for the bureaucratic development of special education. The federal legislation, unwittingly spawned the growth of policies, rules and regulations at the federal, state and local level whose premise is that special education is separate education.

The Separation of Children from General Education

Since 1975, special education has continued to grow as a separate and separating system. That is, while significant strides were made in developing diagnostic and teaching strategies that could be used with students who have a variety of disabilities, those strategies were applied increasingly in educational settings that were "special" separate from the classroom, neighborhood school, and community of the student in special education. As students moved away from the general education environment, they also moved away from the accepted curriculum and expectations that applied to other students in the community. The general education teachers and school personnel began to abrogate responsibility for the education of students with disabilities, while, at the same time, these teachers were trained to believe that they did not have the expertise to work with students with disabilities. Separate governance and finance structures were developed to support the separate system of special education. And policies were developed throughout the entire educational system to support a special, separate system of education.

Advocates for inclusion2 support the need for specialized services and support not separate education. Advocates are concerned about the often lower expectations for students in special education as well as the social isolation that results from students going to essentially (if not actually) different classes and schools with other students not from their community. While families and advocates have been working on a student-by-student basis to return segregated students with disabilities to the general education classroom, their efforts have often been met by a culture and negative attitudes towards students with disabilities. These attitudes are embodied in a labyrinth of state and local policies which make students inclusion the exception, not the rule. Families and advocates are now working to mitigate against the plethora of policies, laws, rules and regulations that separate children with disabilities from the general education school, classroom and student. It is their hope that policies that support the philosophy of specialized services and support in the general education environment may then inform and promote inclusionary practices and student placement decisions for all students with disabilities.

Policies that have the effect of segregating students by disability may be found both in general education and special education. Their effect may be by omission or commission. For instance, by omitting any mention of students with disabilities from state standards documents, policy makers may be sending a signal to local districts that the standards do not apply to students with disabilities. By not referring to general education, age-appropriate curriculum objectives on student Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs), special education teachers send a signal to parents and general education teachers that the curriculum is not pertinent for these children. Other policies segregate specifically in their language. A state special education funding formula that provides a district special education dollars based on the number and type of special education classrooms established by the district, encourages the district to set up separate special education classes. Similarly, general student aid funding formulas that do not provide a district with the basic per pupil allocation for any student with an IEP encourage districts to remove those differently funded students from the general class so that they can be accounted for, and funded by, special education.

Standards-Based, Systemic Reform

In an effort to help state and local policy makers, practitioners, and families determine if the general education policies of their state or district support the inclusion of students with disabilities, a framework was developed. The framework was developed using the prevailing paradigm for educational reform in virtually every state standards-based, systemic reform. This paradigm posits that if high, rigorous standards are created for all students and clearly communicated to educators, students, parents, business leaders, policy makers and the community at large, then all will focus their efforts on the same goals. In this way, the curriculum takes on a heightened importance in the educational equation. It is assumed that all students, both rich and poor, those who speak English as their primary language or not, should reach the same high standards. Furthermore, standards-based reform assumes less state and federal regulation to provide local districts and schools the maximum amount of flexibility that might be needed to help students reach the standards. The tradeoff for greater flexibility, is clear student standards, for which districts and schools will be held accountable. In this model, it is the actual outcomes of the system whether or not students achieve the standards that matter. Hence, student evaluation becomes the primary measure of the system. Districts that consistently fail to get students to reach those standards are, in some states, in jeopardy of being dissolved into neighboring districts or taken over by state officials.

Standards-based, systemic reform further calls for aligning all facets of policy to support the standards so that the reform may be system wide. The proposed framework is based on six major policy areas in which any educational initiative may be addressed: curriculum, student assessment, accountability, personnel development and professional training, finance and governance. Current educational reformers seek to ensure that the student standards become the foundation of the curriculum and student assessment. Furthermore, reformers seek to hold schools and districts accountable for ensuring that students actually obtain those standards. They seek to align teacher and other personnel development policies so that educators are required to: (1) have the same knowledge and skills as those asked of students, and (2) know how to teach those standards to students. The standards-based, system wide approach to educational reform provides the context for most current state and local education policy, and hence, the content for our framework.

Inclusive Policy Goals in Standards-Based, Systemic Reform

In this framework, the major policy goals for standards-based reform are:

  • Curriculum - curricula that embodies high expectations and standards for achieving individual potential;
  • Assessment - measurable results for teaching and learning;
  • Accountability - responsibility among all stakeholders;
  • Professional Development - necessary training and tools for all personnel;
  • Funding - funding that maximizes the use of every education dollar; and
  • Governance - central leadership and support with local control and responsibility.

In addition, the framework is based on the following overall assumptions:

  • The education needs of students are not defined by an assigned category or level of severity of disability ;
  • To the maximum extent possible, students with special needs should be meaningfully included in the regular education program;
  • Educators should strive for culturally-competent, family-centered policies, based on a clear vision of high expectations for the education of all children, including those with severe disabilities, in inclusive environments; and
  • Technology plays an integral role in virtually all aspects of policy development and school practices, including the acquisition of skills necessary for all students to function in an information age.

Given the context of standards-based, systemic reform what would be the major policy objectives for general education in inclusive schools? First, in the area of curriculum, we submit that different instructional approaches and materials be made available that could be appropriately used with a variety of student populations, but that all curricula use the same student standards as their foundation, for instance, communication skills, problems solving skills. Advocates have long been concerned that the funding stream from which a student receives additional support can dictate and define the curriculum for that student. For instance, Title I students (formerly Chapter I) often received the "compensatory" curriculum, special education students may receive the "functional" curriculum or the "deaf curriculum." Variations in curriculum and instruction would not be based on a disability label or any particular category of funding.

An inclusive policy goal in
assessment would be that states and districts utilize a variety of student assessments to test student proficiency in the standards. The assessment policies and procedures would require specific accommodations for student disability, such as having tests provided in braille, and allowing students to take tests untimed. In addition, states and districts would require testing adaptations and alternative assessments for students unable to take the official assessments, even with accommodations. Coupled with this, states and districts would eliminate testing exclusion policies that allow districts to categorically exclude students with IEPs from the testing process altogether, since each student would be assessed in some fashion. Student test scores for those with IEPs who took a modified or alternative assessment would be reported separately from the general student population in district reports.

accountability policies would rely on student achievement data from every student within a school or district. (Currently many states allow districts to exclude students who have taken an adapted or alternative assessment from state accountability reports.) Assessment data for students with disabilities would be disaggregated from the general student population for evaluation purposes. In addition, special education accountability would rely on indicators of student success and the quality of the teaching and learning environment (as does general education accountability), rather than merely on compliance monitoring based on the students' due process rights. Examples of general education quality indicators include: the instructional climate, curriculum, instructional methodologies used in a district, and district professional development plans. Alternatively, accountability based solely on compliance monitoring assures that proper notification was given to each family for the procedures of testing, qualifying for special education, and creating and reviewing IEPs for their child in special education. However, a compliance review never monitors student achievement or the overall quality of the educational program.

An inclusive policy goal in
personnel training and professional development supports and encourages the involvement of all personnel in addressing the learning needs of a diverse student population, including students with disabilities. Included in this would be state certification requirements that focused on adapting curriculum and instructional practices for a variety of learning styles. Pre-service, field-based teaching experiences would be conducted in inclusive classrooms to the maximum extent possible. Training for existing personnel would be conducted jointly for all service providers general and special education teachers, paraeducators and specialist. Classes would be co-taught and/or curriculum content from various fields integrated, with an emphasis on making accommodations and designing learning supports. The overall focus of training would be on the similarities among student needs, and making appropriate accommodations as necessary, rather than student differences that are often then translated to deficiencies.

funding policies would seek to link various streams of education funding to one another and to the basic student aid formula. First, inclusive funding policies would allow a variety of categorical funds (e.g., special education, limited English proficient (LEP), migrant education, and Title I) to be combined to serve a student population who may: (1) qualify for more than one category of funding, (2) be so pervasive in a particular school population that to provide general support to the whole school is more efficient, or (3) individually not qualify the school for a significant amount of resources, such as a full-time teacher or classroom aide, but in combination can. Second, inclusive funding policies linked to the basic student aid formula would ensure that as the basic aid formula rose, so did the special categorical funding and vice versa so that special programs would not be pit against the basic program in a particular school. Finally inclusive funding policies would ensure that a district received the same amount of money for a particular student regardless of where the student received services. That is, the funding system would be placement neutral.

governance policies would principally unite the lines of authority so that local and state leaders would feel a greater sense of ownership for all students, rather than just the "regular" student population. This would require an administrative structure within the educational system that serves all students, rather than maintaining separate systems for general and special education and other student populations. In addition, school-level, local site councils (through site-based management) would have authority over special education as well and would be provided adequate training to consider the needs of students with disabilities to be included in their planning.


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