In almost every school or district we conduct inclusive practices training, we often encounter the same assumptions about cost and staffing requirements.
- “If we are to be more inclusive, we will need to pay for special education teachers.”
- “We must not have a sufficient number of paraeducators – we have many students who require one-on-one support.”
- “Where will we get the money to implement inclusion – it surely will cost more than what we are doing now.”
- ”With inclusive education, every class will need a co-teacher and we don’t have enough special education teachers to go around.”
These misconceptions about the operational realities of inclusive practices often stand as barriers to real progress when including students with disabilities in the general education classroom. They often reinforce existing practices that exclude many from the least restrictive environment, create “places for students" outside of the general education classroom, and maintain the status quo.
With the strain on educational funds and resources experienced by almost every school district during the past three years, it is expected that educators use current resources wisely and avoid wasteful spending. In almost every instance of concern over the cost of inclusive education, there are other factors at work that limit our view of the opportunities and possibilities.
In the March/April 2013 edition of Inclusive Schools Network newsletter and website, we focus on the myth of the high cost of inclusion. Before we list some of the tools and strategies you will find in this edition, let us briefly respond to these ‘misconceptions’ and point the way to solutions to these concerns.
First and foremost, do we put the needs of each student first in our planning? If this is not done, it is very easy to over-support or under-support based on assumptions and low expectations. Student need is the only basis upon which to develop a schedule of supports. Yet, often we reverse the process by putting available places, student eligibility labels or adult preferences ahead of what each student actually needs to be successful in achieving his or her IEP goals. This error leads to inaccurate assignment of teachers, paraeducators, and others. They can easily be assigned to provide services where they are not needed and can be absent where support and assistance is truly needed.
Second, after over 25 years of working directly with schools and school districts in implementing inclusive practices, we have found that they typically already have sufficient resources available – they are just not being used effectively and efficiently. This leads us to carefully re-examine how we are currently using the resources we have; our certified special education teachers, paraeducators, related service personnel, reading and math specialists, and others. It is not unusual to find we are trying to apply 1960-style solutions to today’s needs in our schools. For example, do we still have places versus services orientation? Do we sort students into places (resource, self-contained, learning labs) first and think about what actual instructional support needs they have after we assign a person to support them? In other words, do we ask the students to fit into what we have available instead of what they actually need?
Third, we must be certain there is role clarity for all educators in an inclusive classroom. Do special education teachers and their general education partners understand their roles? Do both parties know, understand and utilize the various options for delivering collaborative instruction in the classroom? Is one adult carrying the full load for instruction while the second adult merely observes or wanders, or perhaps intervenes inappropriately? Does the general education teacher welcome the second adult? Is there a true partnership or it is less than authentic?
Fourth, are we over-using a single model of support? Do we understand that inclusion is not synonymous with having a special education teacher co-teaching in every classroom serving a student with disabilities? Co-teaching is one model of providing personal support to students in the general education class and is generally the most intensive. Co-teaching is a wonderful model, can be highly effective if implemented appropriately, and represents a key point along the continuum of services. We also must recognize that the same teacher providing co-teaching services for part of the day may find the needs of the student dictate a less intensive level of support during the remainder of the day. Stetson and Associates, Inc. has termed this support "Support Facilitation". This approach carries with it all of the requirements for quality standards for co-teaching such as collaborative planning, support role clearly defined in advance of instruction, both teachers engaged at the instructional level, etc., but may be allocated across two general education classrooms during the same period of the instructional week or across two classrooms (9-9:45 and 9:45-10:20) during the same class period. This is never used as a cost saving technique but as a response to the reality not all students require bell-to-bell co-teaching in the general education classroom.
Finally, teachers must embrace the reality their roles must flex throughout the day or week to meet the needs of the students they serve. While we may currently be more comfortable in a resource room or self-contained classroom, our service may be needed in a variety of settings throughout the day. We must be certain that our own concerns do not limit the opportunities for students. “Getting out of the box” is a responsibility of teachers – not a personal preference. Many supports and excellent professional development options are available for those hesitant to embrace new roles.
While there are many other points to be made here, these are certainly some of the most important. In the original legislation for children with disabilities (and continuing today) cost cannot be the determining factor for services provided to the student. Luckily, services in inclusive settings are typically less costly than some older traditional models and certainly more effective!
Frances Stetson, Ph.D.
President, Stetson & Associates, Inc.