We’ve all heard educator talking about “the gap”. The gap is real. There is a gap between our kids and their typically developing peers. And as our kids get older, that gap widens.
Once I had a teacher tell me that my kiddo was doing great in an inclusive environment now but, at some point, the gap would become too wide and an inclusive classroom would no longer be her best academic setting. I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t have a comeback. I just responded that we were going to keep her included as long as possible. And then I was sad.
While attending the 2020 Indiana IEP Resource Center’s Focus on Inclusion Conference, I had the pleasure of attend a session by inclusive education guru, Paula Kluth. She talked about the gap. And for the for the first time ever, I felt empowered! Paula said (quoting a study by Kurth and Mastergeorge from 2010), there is a gap between general education students and students with disabilities. The gap is real. But the gap that is truly concerning is the gap that exists between students with disabilities who are educated in inclusive classrooms and those students with disabilities who are educated in segregated settings.
Another presentation that I attended featured Sandi Cole, director of the Center on Education and Lifelong Learning, and Hardy Murphy, Clinical Faculty IUPUI School of Education and the Center on Education and Lifelong Learning. Their soon to be published research, The Relationship of Special Education Placement and Student Academic Outcomes, highlights how real this gap is. They found a statistically significant difference between students educated in general education settings and those educated in segregated settings. Learn more at https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/cell/resources/index.html
This was empowering for me to hear because now I have my response when an educator suggests that the gap is too great for my child to be educated in a general education setting. Now I will be able to respond with “Yes, that gap is great. But let’s look at the gap that will occur by segregating my child.”
So you think your child would benefit from a more inclusive setting but what now? What if our school district doesn’t support inclusion? What if building administrators aren’t supportive? What if teachers just don’t get it? As a parent, what can I do?!
Here are my suggestions:
- Get educated & know your rights. Read the research. Attend conferences. Email, call, reach out to the experts. Talk to an advocate.
- Share educational opportunities with your child’s team. Ask that next year’s teacher/aid attend inclusive educational training over the summer. If you are in a position to do so, offer to help cover the cost or help locate scholarships.
- Get to know your administration. Teachers are great. Principals are great. But if you want to truly change the cultural of your school, you need to go higher. Set up a meeting with your Director of Special Education and ask his/her thoughts on inclusive education. Share your view. Ask what you can do to help promote inclusive education.
- If you want to change the amount of time that your child spends with his/her typically developing peers, schedule a time to meet with members of your team prior to the IEP. Do not wait to bring this up at the end of your IEP meeting. This is often a lengthy discussion and trying to cram it in at the end of a long and stressful meeting will not yield good results. If your child’s teacher is not supportive, go up the chain. Do not hesitate to get the Director of Special Education involved (you can invite them to your IEP meeting!).
- Know that inclusion is a journey, not a destination. It is an often-elusive goal that we must all continually strive towards. No journey will be perfect or without stumbling blocks. When things go awry, we must all learn from our mistakes and move forward with our child’s best interest at heart.
DSI Program Coordinator