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The Biggest Barriers to Inclusive Education

Updated: Jul 7, 2021

Inclusive education is educating all students in age-appropriate general education classes in their neighborhood schools, with high-quality instruction, interventions, and supports to succeed in the core curriculum. Inclusive schools have a collaborative and respectful school culture where students with disabilities are presumed to be competent, develop positive social relationships with peers, and are fully participating school community members.

When schools move toward changing their culture and instructional practices to fully include every student in their community, collaborative teaming of professionals leads to improved instructional practice. With increased collaboration, overlapping, and sharing of roles and responsibilities replacing role isolation, change is essential.

As such, inclusion is a change process rather than an event. The process involves fundamental changes in the work-lives of teachers, with a significant impact on their identity. Both principals and teachers will be challenged to monitor student progress and teacher satisfaction as they continue to make adjustments as necessary.

While the practice of inclusion is challenging, there are numerous benefits to all students and educators.

For nearly 30 years, research has consistently demonstrated that the inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classrooms results in favorable outcomes.

Despite the benefits, there are still many barriers to the implementation of inclusive education.

Leadership: lack of vision and support for a shared understanding through dialogue, resources, or skills development

Attitudes/Beliefs: an unwillingness to embrace a philosophy of inclusion or to change existing practices

Instructional Practices: an inadequate understanding of general education practices and how students with disabilities can participate in general education instruction while providing specialized instruction in unique education goals

Professional Development: an absence of adequately skilled personnel and a limited investment in training for professionals to assist them in learning and implementing inclusive practices

Resources: funding shortages for materials, equipment, and technology as well as barriers resulting from overcrowded facilities and inadequate time for planning and collaboration between staff members

Educator Preparation: a disconnect between university course content and program focus on the skills and knowledge required to teach students with disabilities in general education classrooms successfully

Physical Barriers: economically-deprived school systems, especially those in rural areas, and poorly-cared-for buildings that restrict accessibility

Curriculum: a rigid curriculum that does not allow for experimentation or the use of different teaching methods, or that don’t recognize different styles of learning

Organization: education systems are rarely conducive to positive change and initiative when decisions come from the school system’s high-level authorities whose initiatives focus on employee compliance more than quality learning

Standardized Assessments: the increased emphasis on accountability measures like standardized assessments for all students coupled with many policymakers not understanding or believing in inclusive education prevents it from moving forward in a meaningful way

Overcoming the many barriers to inclusive education will be difficult. Decades of research show better outcomes for people with disabilities when they are included. Authentic inclusion is happening in schools and districts around the country and the world (some nearing 90% inclusion rates or above for many years). This progress did not just happen, but is the result of careful planning led by educational visionaries and strategies that promote effective inclusive education.


Tim Villegas is the Director of Communications for MCIE, Editor-in-Chief of Think Inclusive, and the host of the Think Inclusive Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @TheRealTimVegas.


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