Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Effective Leadership Makes Schools Truly Inclusive

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Effective Leadership Makes Schools Truly Inclusive

Article excerpt

There's been much commitment and extensive legislation intended to make schools inclusive for all students but not much real progress in improving student outcomes. Here's what some successful schools have done.

Over the past 25 years, U.S. schools have educated increasing numbers of students with disabilities in inclusive classrooms. In 1990, 34% of students with disabilities spent most of the school day in general education classrooms; by 2011, that percentage had increased to 61% (McLeskey et al., 2012). As inclusive programs have been developed, many seem to assume that inclusion will produce significantly better achievement for students with disabilities. This hasn't proven true: Most students with disabilities educated in inclusive schools continue to lag far behind peers in reading, writing, and math (McLeskey & Waldron, 2011).

At least part of the reason students with disabilities continue to lag is that before No Child Left Behind was passed in 2001, schools in most states weren't held accountable for the academic outcomes of students with disabilities, and, as inclusive programs were being developed, the emphasis was more on inclusion than efficacy. That has changed, as most students with disabilities nowadays are included in state accountability systems and must be provided access to the general education curriculum, while local schools are held accountable for ensuring that these students make adequate yearly progress in core content areas.

Given the pressure on schools to improve achievement outcomes for students with disabilities, researchers have begun seeking out schools that are effective and inclusive to figure out what they're doing to achieve such success. We recently conducted a case study of an effective, inclusive elementary school (McLeskey, Waldron, & Redd, 2014; Waldron, McLeskey, & Redd, 2011), and one of the authors and a colleague examined the role of the principal in an effective, inclusive school (Hoppey & McLeskey, 2013). We also located case studies of effective, inclusive schools conducted in the northeastern U.S. (Hehir & Katzman, 2012) and in England (Dyson et al., 2004). These few investigations provide an outline of the factors crucial to developing and supporting effective inclusive schools.

The case studies suggest three must-haves for an effective, inclusive school to be developed and sustained:

* Strong, active principal leadership to ensure that teachers share core values and an institutional commitment to developing an effective inclusive school;

* A data system that monitors student progress; and

* A school-based system of learner-centered professional development to improve instruction.

In the following sections, we describe each of these must-haves for effective inclusive schools.

Commitment to core values

More than anything else, a commitment to a set of core values by teachers and administrators is part of what makes inclusive schools successful. These schools valued all students and committed themselves to improving the achievement of all students, including those with disabilities. These shared values are especially important because many teachers feel they are not sufficiently prepared to meet the needs of students with disabilities and thus may not support the development of inclusive programs (Scruggs & Mastropieri, 1996; Waldron, McLeskey, & Redd, 2011). This commitment also motivates teachers and school administrators to engage in the difficult work of school change (Leithwood & Sun, 2012).

Three of the case studies described how principals provided leadership to develop this commitment (Hehir & Katzmann, 2012; Hoppey & McLeskey, 2013; Waldron et al., 2011). When the principals began work at these schools, they brought with them strong core values related to inclusion and student achievement that ultimately became part of the vision for their schools. …

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