It's time to end segregation of special education students, professors say

It's time to end segregation of special education students, professors say
Pictured facing camera, from left: Amy McCart, Wayne Sailor.

The time has finally come to end the separation of special education and general education students, researchers at the University of Kansas argue in a new publication. Not only does research show that all students have higher achievement in fully integrated environments, but support and public policy for schools to make such a switch are coming into place as well.

Wayne Sailor, professor of and director of the Schoolwide Integrated Framework for Transformation Center and Amy McCart, associate research professor in KU's Life Span Institute and co-director of the SWIFT Center, authored an article in the journal Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities arguing the "stars are coming into alignment" for full inclusion in schools. Such a change would reverse a trend in the United States since Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Amendments in 1975 to separate students based on perceived disability and re-examine the idea of special education.

"Even though the preponderance of research shows that all students, not just students with disabilities, fare much better educationally when integrated with general education, there still is segregation in the schools," Sailor said. "The EHA was never intended to create an entirely separate system, yet that's what happened. Special education became a place instead of educational supports."

The authors argue that viewing special education as a way to examine the disabilities of an individual student and react to them is an outdated idea. Instead, educators should examine how they teach, the educational environment and shift resources to benefit all students. KU's Schoolwide Integrated Framework for Transformation Center, or SWIFT, is working with 64 schools in 16 districts in five states to implement their model of fully inclusive education. The center provides support that benefits everyone from state education officials to teachers, administrators, students, parents and community members.

By refocusing the existing educational approach to general and special education and expanding inclusiveness for students covered by Title 1, those from low-income backgrounds and English language learners, SWIFT addresses the question of whether inclusiveness can improve educational outcomes.

"The answer is 'yes, quite dramatically,'" Sailor said. "If you put the SWIFT framework in place, all students show improvement."

Sailor and McCart argue in the article there are six critical issues facing public schools, especially chronically low-performing schools, which must be addressed to bring about reform:

  • Fragmented support "silos" and lack of family partnership with schools
  • The achievement gap that exists between subgroups of students based on social, language and/or disability characteristics
  • Student engagement and behavior that impedes learning
  • Lack of implementation of both systems-level and student-level, evidence-based interventions with fidelity
  • Lack of knowledge sharing and resource availability
  • Lack of sustainability and replication of successful schoolwide models of inclusive education

Simply pointing out problems or obstacles is not enough to bring about change, so SWIFT braids together five domains for inclusive school reform. All of the domains are backed by research, and further evidence is growing. A multi-tiered support system or MTSS, which provides interventions and support for students at varied levels of intensity, and Universal Design Learning curriculum and instruction are key among them:

  • Deeply engaged administrative leadership committed to transformative inclusive education
  • MTSS where all academic and behavioral instruction is delivered through a schoolwide data-driven system utilizing Universal Design Learning
  • Integrated educational framework where "silos" are dissolved and collaborative teaching structures emerge at all grade levels
  • Family and community partnerships are formed in which families are actively engaged in both the organizational makeup of the school as well as their child's education
  • District-level support and integrated policy structure that is fully aligned and removes barriers and misconceptions surrounding implementation is put in place

Further information on the five domains, including videos detailing each and the SWIFT project, are available online.

In addition to growing bodies of evidence and research showing inclusion in general education can improve educational outcome for all students and implementation of the SWIFT program in schools in five states, Sailor and McCart point out that support is growing at the federal level. Arne Duncan, secretary of education, has publicly stated that in regard to school inclusion, "all means all," and other high-ranking education officials such as Michael Yudin, assistant secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, have supported his position. Melody Musgrove, director of the Office of Special Education Programs, stated "the stars are coming into alignment" for true inclusion, the inspiration for the article's title.

Federal officials have shown a financial commitment as well, with the Office of Special Education and Educational Programs granting a $24.5 million award to KU to establish the SWIFT Center and to implement the SWIFT model in 64 schools as well as build state and district capacities to widely scale up and sustain the practices when the Center resources are no longer available to them. The grant, the largest in KU history, was part of a long line of recognition of KU's leadership in the field. The university's Department of Special Education is regularly rated No. 1 in the nation. While the stars are coming into alignment for increased inclusion in schools, Sailor said the results from schools that are already fully inclusive show that students can benefit.

"Our job is to carry the idea of inclusion down to the level of the kids in schools. If you look at a fully functioning SWIFT school, there are not these divisions. All students are fully connected to the general education curriculum and educational outcomes are better for all ," Sailor said. "If you look at the five domains as five big pieces of a jigsaw puzzle you'll see that when you get all five pieces in place as a coherent picture, you will get dramatic improvement."

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Feb 11, 2015
"educational outcomes are better for all students" Apparently this is political propaganda not science. This quote is an absolute and hence knowingly false. They do not have results that say all students do better. At best they have results saying that on the average test scores improve. In any social reorganization there are going to be winners and losers. At the minimum some students will do worse than if there was no change.

Feb 11, 2015
Not only does research show that all students have higher achievement in fully integrated environments


I was in advanced classes in High School and I hardly learned anything in the science and math classes because I had already self-taught a year or two before and so on. The teachers could scarcely get through a lesson because of all the "I don't understand X" questions from other ADVANCED students.

Classes only progress at the pace of the least advanced student in the class, which hurts the majority of people in the class. Your test scores improve perhaps because the normal people make fewer mistakes simply because you didn't get to cover as much material anyway, because you had to go as slow as the slowest person in the class.

Feb 11, 2015
Lrrkrrr you have proven yourself incapable of learning new things for example the nature of the dark matter halo which has been explained to you many times and which you refuse to accept because in doing so you would have to admit that you were wrong.

IOW your own concepts take precedence over established facts. Special class was created for delusional people such as yourself.

Feb 11, 2015
I taught in the public schools for 35 years. For the last 10 inclusion became the fashion. Special Ed classes were limited to 10 students per class but when the "included" the special ed student into a regular classroom setting they would often exceed that mandate. It was impossible to cover my class material effectively when you had 28 in a class, 9 with extreme behavioral problems, 2 with varying physical disabilities and 3 with emotional distress. That did not take into account the convicted felon in class as part of a court ordered program. When you make a classroom into a dumping ground it becomes a dump. Reasonable inclusion is one thing but a mass exodus from special ed to save money on special programs is not a solution to anyone's problem.

Feb 11, 2015
An important component of this process is to review those that have done/attempted this. Johnson City Schools, in Broome County, New York started this process toward the end of the 1980s. Their successes and setbacks will be a manual for carrying this project forward.

There are two groups that I have the most concern about. The first are those students who are just a bit behind. They have the potential for slowing down the advances of the students who are learning the material faster. Any inclusive class needs to address this.

The other group includes those that are severely delayed and disabled. They need diaper changes, need to be fed; and, may, at times, scream out. Any plan needs to address these students, also. Maybe there is a good reason why many disabled students are segregated for part of the day.

Feb 11, 2015
The goal of this program is based on a faulty assumption- that "the achievement gap" should not exist. When you expect all students to achieve the same results. There should be differences in achievement levels between excellent students and average, between average and poor, and between poor and learning disabled. If you accommodate students tot he point where the achievement gap is closed entirely, not only do you ensure they learn very little, but you ensure that they will expect the same accommodations from the rest of life- and colleges and employers will not provide them.
Classroom integration of students with severe behavioral issues is a terrible idea. I don't know what science they are using, but every teacher I have ever spoken to about this issue has been adamant that integration disrupts the learning of non-disabled students, and teachers have to spend an inordinate amount of time with the disabled students, neglecting others. Special ed needs revamped- not axed.

Feb 11, 2015
The only thing missing to this article is the beginning..."Once upon a time..." Yes, let's do away with separating special education from average and advanced students! Of course, since these esteemed professors do not have to teach in a class of 30 or more students, where the teacher's time is spent repeating instructions or re-teaching concepts to those students, why should they worry? After all, they are only concerned for special ed students, not the rest of the student body.

This is simply a continuation of a decades-long concept, where "we must do all we can to help special education students, but ignore the average or gifted ones since they will learn anyway". Teachers no longer help the above average student, because they are too busy trying to help the special ed. Oh, that's right...teacher's time is unlimited.

Feb 11, 2015
John hit the nail on the head. Integration will work when AI replaces teachers and students will all be free to learn at their own pace and according to their own abilities.

Feb 11, 2015
double post

Feb 11, 2015
With an exception to Deaf Education!
The LRE mandate is a spin-off from IDEA. The LRE is characterized as the educational mandate where a child with a disability must receive a free and appropriate education. The education is designed to meet his or her educational needs while being educated with peers without disabilities in the regular educational environment to the maximum extent appropriate.
Mainstreaming was the precept behind PL 94-142, which was a legislation pushed through by congress in order to allow students with disability to be educated alongside their non-disabled peers. Unfortunately, Deaf people were lumped together under the disability category and were forced to go to schools where their communication needs were not met.
There is very little evidence that shows deaf and hard of hearing students actually succeed on the same level as their hearing counterparts. (excerpts from "Deaf Beneath")

Feb 11, 2015
This is another example of the "one size fits all" mentality of providing services to children with special needs. At different times in their school career, a student may require pull-out services, self-contained classroom placement, or a team teaching approach where both a general ed teacher teams with a special ed teacher in a combined class. The decision on these placements is a collaborative decision, and does not rest only with the educational staff. The needs of the individual child should drive the services, not the ability of what the school can provide. My own special needs child needed different types of placements based on her developing skills and her placements changed as she grew. She is now successfully beginning college. Inclusion is important, but it is NOT a panacea, any more than self-contained and segregated schools are the complete answer. Let's be honest, and work together to find flexible solutions.

Feb 11, 2015
I think that classrooms move at the speed of the slowest student. Is that what we really want.

Feb 11, 2015
I grew up in a special ed classroom and it was hell on earth. I think all the teachers and kids who had to work and learn in that setting would agree. And I challenge anyone to find a former special ed student who thinks it did anything but cause harm. (And sadly, you will find few of us who are not in prison.)

However, both my kids are in GT classrooms and they are doing wonderful.

I don't have the answer. But I do know that special ed does not work in creating individuals fit to enter society and creating individuals suited for the workforce should be the goal of any education system.

Feb 11, 2015
This is complete nonsense. I have been a high school math teacher for 30 years, and have seen first-hand the effects mainstreaming special education students into general education classes. This proposal comes from a university program with a vested interest in adopting their model. These are the same types of eggheads in their ivory towers who gave us open-space classrooms, whole language instead of phonics, etc. the same mentality that supports Common core and standardized testing, and every other new trendy educational fad that comes along. This is the triumph of political correctness over common sense.

Feb 11, 2015
I know this will be unpopular but I disagree with integrating special ed students. Now I'm not talking about kids with average intelligence but some sort of physical impairment, or an impairment that makes their method of communication different. I'm talking about kids who are severely impaired cognitively. I have a dear friend with a child with cerebal palsy. He went to school for 16 yrs and could not point out the color blue or the number 3. Call it what it is - socialization and tax payer babysitting. It doesn't help the kid. It crowds the classroom and adds to the responsibilities of the teacher. No one wins, least of all the students.

Feb 11, 2015
We have already dummied down our educational system just to insure that "no child is left behind" and now you think the kids with learning disabilities need to be in classrooms with students that do not have a learning disability, These kids are segregated because their educational process is entirely different, they do not gain knowledge in the same way as most kids. What do you think that a 15 year old child who is 6 years old mentally will gain by being in a classroom with normal 15 year old kids.

Feb 12, 2015
They can do all the "research" they want, but special needs kids disrupt learning for the other students. My son had a special needs boy in his mainstream classroom for four of his six years in elementary school. This boy would get so out of control that the other students had to be removed from the classroom while he rampaged. The class would spend hours on end, day after day, year after year, in the library waiting for that kid to calm down enough that it was deemed safe for them to go back to class. How, exactly, is that improving the education of the other 17 kids in the class?

Feb 12, 2015
I also have a daughter in elementary school right now. Last year I went in to help with an art project. There was a special needs kid in her class who has a full time aid. The aid assigned to him did his entire art project, then wrote his name on it, while he sat in his chair and made noises that made the other kids laugh. How the heck is that helping anyone other than the aid, who gets paid for doing second grade art projects?

Feb 12, 2015
We had a distinguished professor from Yale come in to speak to us. He said we should be doing 2-3 hours of original research for each hour of class we taught. I asked, "how many hours do you teach weekly ?" he said 4 and his TA's ran weekly discussion groups. I asked, "how many TA's do you have?", again he said 4. I asked who does the research, the TA's he said, how many tests he gave in a semester he said 2, a mid term and a final. I asked how many papers he gave and he said 1. I asked how much time he spent correcting them and he said the TA's did the "scutt" work. I asked how often he walked his students to lunch, stopped to write out bathroom passes, called parents, filled out progress reports, met with counselors, referred students to the nurse, covered classes for other professors who were out ill, did lunch room duty or walked the halls to look for problems to "nip in the bud? He looked at me like I had 3 heads and said "that's not my job." We laughed, we left!

Feb 12, 2015
I'm wondering if the assumption with the comments here is that to be in placed in a special ed classroom a child must have a low IQ?

That is not the case, not now, and not in the past. It is not uncommon for children with the highest of IQ's (over 140) to be placed in special ed. Often these children have spectrum disorders, ADHD, dyslexia, even hearing and sight issues etc.

Special ed is often the dumping ground and we can do better. That is what this article is talking about.

Feb 13, 2015
This article is way too broad and makes no sense for real "special ed" students". I have three levels of special ed students. In the lowest group, some of the students have difficulty speaking and writing. Most of them do not speak in a normal way, and would not fit in to a regular class. They seem comfortable with each other and accept each others differences. Some kids talk and act normally, but their skill level is way too low for a regular class. They would not be able to get the individual attention that they receive in these classes. They need constant monitoring to get them to do their work and some cannot follow instructions well at all. They need help with scissors and glue sticks. Nice kids but low skills.

Feb 13, 2015
I also have a daughter in elementary school right now. Last year I went in to help with an art project. There was a special needs kid in her class who has a full time aid. The aid assigned to him did his entire art project, then wrote his name on it, while he sat in his chair and made noises that made the other kids laugh. How the heck is that helping anyone other than the aid, who gets paid for doing second grade art projects?
Well just think - soon we will all have virtual personalities which will be doing the exact same things for us while we are busy making noises and entertaining ourselves and others.

Of course handicapped virtual personalities will be as shallow as their originators and as such won't be very entertaining for very long.

But wait!! Soon thereafter defects will be treated and eliminated in the womb and then everybody will be entertaining! Except of course for those in religious refuges for the natural-born who will be even more boring than they are now.

Feb 14, 2015
IQs significantly below the mean should be educated separately from normals. Just as IQs significantly above the mean should take AP classes and college preparatory.

Mindless egalitarianism is just that, mindless.

Feb 15, 2015
The kind folk who wrote this report should be put into mainstream schools as 'relief teachers' for six months-- I don't think they'd survive any longer !!

After their reality check, would they withdraw their proposals ? In a perfect, perfect world with well-mannered kids, optimum staffing etc etc, it could, perhaps, be made to work after a fashion. As it stands, it would only encourage home-schooling...

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