Education Organizing Schools for the Inclusion of Students with Disabilities
Laura E. Bray, Laura E. Stelitano
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0234


Inclusion is a societal ideology and commitment to involving, empowering, and respecting the inherent worth and dignity of all people. This commitment to inclusion has been embraced and promoted by educational policies, institutions, and organizations. In terms of the educational inclusion of students with disabilities, the field commonly defines it as the instruction and provision of educational supports and services to students with disabilities in general education classrooms. While numerous studies have examined inclusive practices and instruction, the field has not coalesced around how to organize for inclusion. As such, there is not a consensus regarding the arrangement of and expectations placed upon resources (i.e., time, space, students, and personnel), as well as how these resources should interact, to facilitate the education of students with disabilities in general education settings. Examples of this include the placement and composition of students in inclusive classrooms; the allocation of resources to support inclusion; the structures and practices to support where, how, and how often special and general educators work together; and the assignment and roles of educators and support staff. With this being said, the literature base is filled with research that has touched upon and illuminated critical components of organizing for inclusion. For instance, the importance of school-wide reform models (e.g., multitiered system of supports/response to intervention) that provide a framework for the identification and delivery of educational resources to students with disabilities, the need for school leadership to foster environments and expectations that promote inclusive reform, and the necessity of collaboration between general and special educators in the provision of educational services and support. This article separates this literature into different “lenses” of analysis. In other words, it identifies different perspectives or points of view used when studying or discussing inclusive reform. These lenses include school-wide reform and frameworks, program delivery models, school leadership, and educators’ roles and working conditions. Within each of these lenses, we include both highly cited and more recent articles that provide insights on key elements of organizing for the inclusion of students with disabilities.

School-Wide Inclusive Reform and Frameworks

The influential Lipsky and Gartner 1997 pioneered the discussion on ways to restructure schools to include students with disabilities in general education classrooms. Ainscow, et al. 2006 underscores the importance of fostering a culture of inclusion that shifts educators’ beliefs, practices, and work. Causton-Theoharis, et al. 2011 and Sailor and Roger 2005 contend that organizing for inclusion requires a school-wide approach or framework that alters dominant educational structures, practices, and roles. In their handbook on effective inclusive schools, McLeskey, et al. 2014 presents research on effective approaches for implementing inclusive reform. One of the most common school-wide approaches for delivering educational resources to students with disabilities is known as multitiered system of supports (MTSS) or response to intervention (RTI). Brown-Chidsey and Steege 2011, Fuchs and Fuchs 2006, Hughes and Dexter 2011, and Jimerson, et al. 2015 describe research-based methods for implementing MTSS and RTI. Berkeley, et al. 2009 provides a national snapshot of the implementation of RTI. In the 2010s research has begun to explore additional school-wide organizational attributes that influence inclusive reform. For instance, Stelitano, et al. 2019 offers insights into the role that routines have in shaping how teachers support students with disabilities within different school-wide approaches to inclusion. Oliver and Barnes 2010 highlights the importance of reforming schools for the meaningful inclusion of students with disabilities from a disability studies perspective.

  • Ainscow, M., T. Booth, and A. Dyson. 2006. Improving schools, developing inclusion. London: Routledge.

    Presents a definition of inclusion that promotes equity, participation, community, entitlement, compassion, respect for diversity, and sustainability. Also identifies barriers to school-wide inclusive reform and solutions to improve learning opportunities. Much of this work focuses on the role of leadership in supporting school-wide inclusive reform.

  • Berkeley, S., W. N. Bender, L. Gregg Peaster, and L. Saunders. 2009. Implementation of response to intervention: A snapshot of progress. Journal of Learning Disabilities 42.1: 85–95.

    This article provides an overview of how all fifty states are using RTI. They examined data from the state department of education websites, as well as interviews with representatives in each state department of education. They found that most states are implementing RTI, although there is much variation in how they are doing this.

  • Brown-Chidsey, R., and M. W. Steege. 2011. Response to intervention: Principles and strategies for effective practice. New York: Guilford Press.

    This book serves as a guide for practitioners in the implementation of RTI.

  • Causton-Theoharis, J., G. Theoharis, T. Bull, M. Cosier, and K. Dempf-Aldrich. 2011. Schools of promise: A school district-university partnership centered on inclusive school reform. Remedial and Special Education 32.3: 192–205.

    In this mixed-methods analysis of a whole-school Schools of Promise (SOP) approach to inclusive reform, the authors note the importance of school leaders in creating, communicating, and upholding an inclusive culture. They also indicate the need for leadership in providing consistent and continual praise and reinforcement to staff in their implementation of inclusion. Additionally, the authors found that teachers needed to be willing to adapt to the roles and responsibilities required by inclusive reform.

  • Fuchs, D., and L. S. Fuchs. 2006. Introduction to response to intervention: What, why, and how valid is it? Reading Research Quarterly 41.1: 93–99.

    This article describes the RTI model and research on its effectiveness.

  • Hughes, C. A., and D. D. Dexter. 2011. Response to intervention: A research-based summary. Theory Into Practice 50.1: 4–11.

    This article provides a summary of research on the typical components of and evidence base for RTI.

  • Jimerson, S. R., M. K. Burns, and A. M. Van Der Heyden, eds. 2015. Handbook of response to intervention: The science and practice of multi-tiered systems of support. New York: Springer.

    This handbook provides an overview of the research that drives best practices for the implementation of response to intervention (RTI) processes within multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS).

  • Lipsky, D. K., and A. Gartner. 1997. Inclusion and school reform: Transforming America’s classrooms. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

    This seminal book provides an overview of the education of students with disabilities and discusses ways to restructure schools to include all students into general education classrooms.

  • McLeskey, J., N. L. Waldron, F. Spooner, and B. Algozzine, eds. 2014. Handbook of effective inclusive schools: Research and practice. London: Routledge.

    This handbook provides a summary of research on models and practices for implementing inclusion and improving educational opportunities for students with disabilities.

  • Oliver, M., and C. Barnes. 2010. Disability studies, disabled people and the struggle for inclusion. British Journal of Sociology of Education 31.5: 547–560.

    This article illuminates the connections between disability activism, the academy, and disability studies. Highlights the importance of the meaningful inclusion of students with disabilities.

  • Sailor, W., and B. Roger. 2005. Rethinking inclusion: Schoolwide applications. Phi Delta Kappan 86.7: 503–509.

    This article presents a school-wide framework for the schoolwide applications model (SAM). The framework includes six guiding principles for how schools may organize their resources and support for students so that all students, including those with disabilities, are supported.

  • Stelitano, L., J. Russell, and L. Bray. 2019. Organizing for meaningful inclusion: Exploring the routines that shape student supports. American Educational Research Journal.

    Examines the design of school models for inclusive education with educators’ routines. They provide insights into the affordances and constraints of school organization and design for inclusive reform.

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