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Inclusive Education: An Online Forum


Share Last month, Education World reported on a new booklet about inclusive schooling from the National Institute for Urban School Improvement. Today, we bring you news of an online forum designed to provide teachers, parents, and advocates with the opportunity to virtually meet the author of that booklet and share questions, ideas, and experiences regarding inclusive educational practices.

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.

Can Inclusive Schooling Deliver?

This Education World story discusses some of the benefits of inclusive schooling. What inclusive practices have been instituted at your school? Have they made your job easier or harder? Have they improved the educational experiences for all students? Share your thoughts on today's message board message board.
According to David Riley, of the NIUSI Education Development Center, both parents and educators have favorably received the booklet, which is being disseminated throughout the country, particularly in urban school districts. "The easy availability of temporary technologies," Riley told Education World, "allows us to provide interested educators, parents, and advocates with this opportunity to contribute to conversations about the booklet and about developing and expanding inclusive practices in their own schools. We're anticipating that the conversations will have a broad range of representation, geographically and philosophically, as well as by role."

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:

  • Share the booklet Improving Education -- The Promise of Inclusive Schooling with your colleagues and principal.
  • Enlist the support of your school leadership team.
  • Initiate dialogue that helps stimulate conversation and promote these kinds of changes.
  • Contact the National Institute for Urban School Improvement for information and advice.

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 protected] or by calling 800-225-4276 ext. 2105.

Linda Starr
Education World®
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06/06/2000