In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section School Improvement through Inclusive Education

  • Introduction
  • General Overview and Advances in Inclusive School Improvement
  • Using a Multi-Tiered System of Support as a Framework for Inclusive School Improvement
  • The Role of Administrative Leadership in Inclusive School Improvement
  • Integrated Educational Framework
  • Inclusive Policy Structure and Practice
  • Family and Community Engagement in Inclusive Schools

Education School Improvement through Inclusive Education
Wayne Sailor, Allyson Satter, Kari Woods, James McLeskey, Nancy Waldron
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0191


Inclusive educational practices have recently become a driving force for school improvement. These practices are rooted in a body of research which indicates that when students with disabilities are meaningfully included in general education classrooms and schools, academic and social outcomes improve for students with and without disabilities. However, ensuring that a unified educational system provides the support needed to be successful across the full range of diverse students (e.g., students who live in poverty, who experience high mobility, who require an accelerated curriculum, or who struggle to learn for any other reasons) can be a challenge. Inclusion requires system-level change and a rethinking of traditional service delivery models. Inclusive school improvement entails the reorganization of education systems, structures, and resources to better meet the needs of all students within one integrated educational framework. The purpose of this article is to provide examples of how equity-based inclusion can serve as a driver for systems-level change for schoolwide transformation. This article contains citations related to the essential features of inclusive school improvement, as follows: (1) we start with a general overview of the benefits of inclusive education and advances in inclusive school improvement; (2) we examine literature related to using a multi-tiered system of support as a schoolwide model to provide instruction and services for students when data indicate a need; (3) we look at the role that administrative leadership plays in guiding inclusive school improvement; (4) we examine the process of engaging family and community partners in inclusive school improvement; (5) we review literature related to changing traditional service delivery by integrating separate educational systems, such as general and special education; and (6) we explore organizational and policy change relevant to inclusive school improvement.

General Overview and Advances in Inclusive School Improvement

Ainscow 2005 argues that inclusive school improvement needs to extend beyond individual schools, and that it includes systemic change that challenges views of disability—not as inherent problems within a student, but as a process for identifying and removing barriers to improve participation and achievement of all students. Artiles and Kozleski 2007 and Artiles and Kozleski 2016 view inclusive education as the cornerstone of education reform, asserting that an inclusive education should not just be about students with disabilities, but also about increasing access, participation, and outcomes for all students who are marginalized. McLeskey, et al. 2014 defines inclusive practices and makes the case that inclusive schools require schoolwide systemic change that is focused on teacher practice and capacity building in areas teachers are motivated to improve. Furthermore, the authors agree with Liasidou 2015 that such a change requires time for planning before systemic changes are implemented. Waldron and McLeskey 2010 describes how comprehensive school reform can be used to focus on the development of inclusive schools. Sailor and McCart 2014 and Sailor 2015 define and outline current advances in inclusive school improvement and provide some suggested next steps for developing inclusive systems. In Sailor 2016, the problem is further described as framing education in terms of categorical, specialized services. Sailor argues for using a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) as a way to equitably distribute resources; that is, by matching resources to measured student needs. Choi, et al. 2016 statistically demonstrates the positive effects of an equity-based inclusive education model on student reading and math achievement.

  • Ainscow, Mel. 2005. Developing inclusive education systems: What are the levers for change? Journal of Educational Change 6.2: 109–124.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10833-005-1298-4

    Ainscow notes that focusing only on supports needed for inclusion can actually act as a barrier to progress. New ways of thinking, especially about definition and evidence, are essential to school reform.

  • Artiles, Alfredo J., and Elizabeth B. Kozleski. 2007. Beyond convictions: Interrogating culture, history, and power. Language Arts 84.4: 357–364.

    This paper covers the systematic intersection of race and disability, indicating that a disproportionate number of students with disabilities are also poor and belong to a minority group. Artiles and Kozleski lay the groundwork that, in addition to disability, inclusive education reform should take into consideration race, gender, class, and ethnicity.

  • Artiles, Alfredo J., and Elizabeth B. Kozleski. 2016. Inclusive education’s promises and trajectories: Critical notes about future research on a venerable idea. Education Policy Analysis Archives 24.

    DOI: 10.14507/epaa.24.1919

    Artiles and Kozleski offer their observations on the future of inclusive education, noting the considerable distance between concept and implementation. Of particular concern is that inclusive education is defined to include all students, regardless of their needs, but research focuses mainly on students with disabilities.

  • Choi, Hoon, Jessica M. Meisenheimer, Amy McCart, and Wayne Sailor. 2016. Improving learning for all students through equity-based inclusive reform practices: Effectiveness of a fully integrated schoolwide model on student reading and math achievement. Remedial and Special Education 38.1: 28–41.

    DOI: 10.1177/0741932516644054

    The authors report the results of a three-year quasi-experimental comparison group analysis of student outcomes from seven urban elementary or elementary/middle schools that implemented the Schoolwide Applications Model (SAM), the precursor to the SWIFT framework, and seven matched comparison schools in the same district. Schools implementing the SAM model had significantly larger growth in math scores, but not in reading, compared to the matched schools.

  • Liasidou, Anastasia. 2015. Sustainable inclusive education reforms. In Inclusive education and the issue of change. By Anastasia Liasidou, 105–115. New York: Springer.

    Liasidou explores the role of sustainability in the process of inclusive education reform and argues the importance of considering sustainability when engaging in inclusive transformation. She identifies factors that contribute to or prevent sustainable inclusive school reform.

  • McLeskey, James, Nancy L. Waldron, Fred Spooner, and Bob Algozzine. 2014. What are effective inclusive schools and why are they important? In Handbook of effective inclusive schools: Research and practice. Edited by James McLeskey, Nancy L. Waldron, Fred Spooner, and Bob Algozzine, 3–16. New York: Routledge.

    This chapter describes an inclusive school as one that provides comprehensive and ongoing support to better meet the needs of a diverse range of students. In an inclusive school, professionals work collaboratively, all students are educated together with the support they need to succeed, and all are active and valued members of the classroom and school community. The authors offer suggestions for schools to increase the effectiveness of their inclusion efforts.

  • Sailor, Wayne. 2015. Advances in schoolwide inclusive school reform. Remedial and Special Education 36.2: 94–99.

    DOI: 10.1177/0741932514555021

    School reform requires a cultural shift that must occur for inclusive education to be the norm. In this article, Sailor lays out three practices that make up equity-based inclusive education: Multi-Tiered System of Support/Response to Intervention, Universal Design for Learning, and Collaborative Teaching. He then walks through three steps to improve educational outcomes for all students: braiding funding, integrating academics and behavior, and scaling up through implementation science methods.

  • Sailor, Wayne. 2016. Equity as a basis for inclusive educational systems change. Australasian Journal of Special Education 41.1: 1–17.

    DOI: 10.1017/jse.2016.12

    Sailor maintains that inclusion is a “wicked” and unsolvable problem in its present form, and thus needs to be reframed to achieve equity in education. He reviews supporting literature that addresses structural elements, administrative elements, implications for teachers, implications for paraprofessionals and teaching assistants, instructional innovations, and whole school inclusive educational arrangements.

  • Sailor, Wayne S., and Amy B. McCart. 2014. Stars in alignment. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities 39.1: 55–64.

    DOI: 10.1177/1540796914534622

    This paper by SWIFT Center directors Sailor and McCart outlines the thirty-five-year history of inclusive education efforts and makes the case that it is time for such efforts to manifest at scale. Sailor and McCart address issues in defining inclusion, advocate for a schoolwide approach to inclusive education using the SWIFT framework as an example, and note emerging effective practices in school reform.

  • Waldron, Nancy, and James McLeskey. 2010. Establishing a collaborative school culture through comprehensive school reform. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation 20:58–74.

    DOI: 10.1080/10474410903535364

    Building a collaborative school culture requires the entire school community to be on board and participate. This paper walks through the steps a school leadership team takes to initiate and implement change efforts. The authors emphasize the role of professional development, and how principals and school leaders depend on each other to support the transition to a collaborative school culture.

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