The Mystery of Wide Variation in Rates of Inclusion: Does Money Make a Difference?
Keywords:special education; inclusion
Inclusion has become a strong value in educating students with disabilities. Historically, beginning with the passage of PL 94-142 (1975), the inclusion of students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment has become a focal point for litigation and a rallying issue for advocates. Yet, it is not generally known that levels of inclusion vary wildly across states and school districts. In one state, recent data show variation from 34% to 91% in the proportion of special education students who are “fully included” in general education settings. Opportunities for inclusive education should not depend on where a student resides. This study attempted to formulate an explanatory model for district inclusion levels based on demographic and economic characteristics. Using data from all 501 school districts across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, including comprehensive demographic and financial information, and combining data from over 200,000 students, enabled multiple regression explanation of only 7% of variation across districts. Understanding factors that promote or detract from the probability of any one student having an inclusive school experience should be of great interest to all stakeholders, from families to policy makers.
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