Thursday, September 2, 2010

Inclusion Reform- Is It Really An Education Innovation? (Repost)

Wordle: inclusion & innovationI decided to re-post this entry, as I have found it to be continually relevant in regard to the design and redesign process associated with inclusive educational practice, the evolution of Response to Intervention, and the national focus on reducing drop-out rates. Slight changes have been made, but the essence remains the same.

When I think of reform, change and innovation in education I think of growth.  I try to be continually aware of the processes associated with this change. However when thinking about the impending changes to The ESEA and its increasingly direct link to The IDEA I find myself with some curiosities. 

How are our systems changing to meet the requirements, needs and directives of legislation and the push for evidence based practices?

Weather we acknowledge these changes as innovation or otherwise, education in this country is in a state of transition. As we look for ways to build capacities within our students we are concurrently struggling with the fundamental aspects of how to transform the capacity of the system. This requires systems-wide transformation, a paradigm shift, the wholehearted embrace of change.

As we look at inclusive practices and its role in the change process, educators, administrators and policy makers will be well served to view these initiatives as transformational. It is important that entire school communities be involved in thoughtful, carefully researched transition. Dramatic and imposed directives will polarize parents and teachers and create environments that are resistant to any change.

When we inquire about the nature and realization of  inclusive practice, we often ask questions about the values and priorities that guide our practice. Research has identified that in order for inclusion reform to be successful, the organizations (in this case the LEAs) guiding systems and strategies must change with the innovation.

Additional thoughts that arise when inclusion reform is on the table seem to focus on some recurring issues. Issues related to pedegogical philosophy and foundation seem to be at the root of addressing inclusionary practice.

Thought 1--Do we value all children equally?
This is a loaded question. Is there really such a thing as equal treatment? Should there be such a thing? Most teachers do value their students equally. In fact, I can’t imagine a single teacher who does not truly believe that they value all children equally.  Educators are passionate, and they must be. The issue however, lies in the term “equally”. The paradigm of inclusive practices is not dependent upon the “equal value” of all children, but rather respect, care and concern for the individual and the “unique value” of all students. So, I challenge that we adjust the question, thus giving us the information to establish a foundation for further dialogue.

Maybe the question should be- What does it look like when we value each student for their independent and unique ability?

Once we identify our collective and diverse answers to this question, only then can we explore what inclusion and inclusive practice indicates in regard to successful and purposeful implementation.

Next steps then lead to discussion of what inclusive practice means.

An aggregate definition of inclusion from multiple resources provides us with the following:
Inclusion and inclusive practice expresses commitment to educate each child, to the maximum extent appropriate, in their neighborhood school and in the typical school and classroom environment with their peers. It involves bringing support services to the child, an integrated set of coordinated services, providing means and ways to increase access to learning opportunities (rather than moving the child to the services).
Above all, inclusive practice entails a spirit and belief in each child’s ability to attain, and maintain a reasonable benefit from being in the classroom.

What does this mean for practice, and for transformation? While our research will most likely inform our practice, it is important that our systems are developed with student-centered, outcomes focused planning. Our beliefs and values will inform our individual investment in any process we undertake. However, we must not forget the one constant within any reform movement, it's not our education, it's theirs.

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