Last month, Education World reported on the publication of a new booklet on inclusive schooling issued by the National Institute for Urban School Improvement (NIUSI). (See What Does an 'Inclusive' School Look Like?) For the next two weeks, NIUSI is offering you the opportunity to converse virtually with the author of that booklet, to pose any questions you may have, and to share your own ideas about and experiences with inclusive education with other teachers, parents, and advocates.
Dianne L. Ferguson, lead author of the booklet Improving Education -- The Promise of Inclusive Schooling is facilitating the free online event, being held from June 5 through June 16 at NIUSI's Urban Forum.
The National Institute for Urban School Improvement, funded by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs, was created to facilitate and unify reform efforts in general and special education in the nation's urban school districts. One of NIUSI's primary missions is to support the expansion and improvement of inclusive practices in those schools. The NIUSI is currently working closely with 90 schools in five urban school districts -- Denver, Chicago, Boston, El Paso, and Washington, D.C. -- helping them develop inclusive practices that, according to Riley, "will break down barriers to communication, coordination, professional growth, and student achievement."
"Inclusive education strengthens all students and communities by reducing educational fragmentation and providing a school environment in which all the resources are used to improve outcomes for all the kids," said Riley. "The ways in which we've done things in the past have been very isolating. Given the natural diversity that exists in our schools, trying to develop programs just for kids with disabilities is too narrow an approach. It perpetuates a dual system of education and reduces opportunities for both student achievement and professional growth.
"More than 50 percent of new special education teachers -- twice as many as general education teachers -- leave within their first four years," Riley noted. "It has been a very isolating job, with little or no structure or support within schools. Inclusive education can change the culture of the teaching profession in ways that benefit both teachers and students, by encouraging co-teaching and by making sure that all human and fiscal resources are used in the best interests of the entire student body."
According to a recent NIUSI press release, inclusion is not just about mainstreaming children with disabilities. "It's about embracing the idea that diversity is the reality and that each child is a unique learner," said NIUSI's director, Elizabeth Kozleski. "In order for each child to maximally benefit from education, we need to organize our schools, curriculum, and teaching with this reality in mind."
Riley offers these suggestions for teachers who are interested in developing or expanding inclusive practices in their own schools:
And, of course, take part in NIUSI's online forum on inclusive schooling June 5 through 16!
Improving Education -- The Promise of Inclusive Schooling can be downloaded from the NIUSI Web site using Adobe Acrobat Reader. Printed copies in English and Spanish can be ordered in quantities of 25 or more by e-mailing email@example.com or by calling 800-225-4276 ext. 2105.
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