Background: In 1975, Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) requiring schools, to educate children with disabilities in inclusive classrooms alongside their peers without disabilities to the maximum extent appropriate. Some scholars argue that educating children with disabilities separately allows them to receive more targeted, intensive instruction than they would be able to receive in an inclusive classroom setting. Advocates of inclusion counter that educating children with disabilities in an inclusive setting enables them to develop important academic and social skills. This study asks, “Is the United States trending toward including more students with intellectual disability in general education classrooms?”
Author: Matthew E. Brock, Assistant Professor, The Ohio State University
Original Citation: Brock, M.E. (in press). Trends in the educational placement of students with intellectual disability in the United States over the past 40 years. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
Data: This study used federally reported data that are publicly available as mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Data were included for students aged 6-21 years old with a primary label of intellectual disability who were educated within regular public schools and other settings, such as private schools, hospitals, or correctional facilities.
- From 1976-1983, the proportion of children with disabilities educated in inclusive classrooms decreased.
- From 1984-1989, overall trends are less clear, but children with disabilities were increasingly educated in separate classrooms.
- From 1990-2014, the proportion of children with disabilities educated in inclusive classrooms increased initially, and then plateaued.
Discussion: First, this study suggests that the U.S. has not made consistent progress towards educating children with disabilities in inclusive classrooms. Second, for every year of the last 40 years, most children with intellectual disability were educated in classrooms where they spent little-to-no time alongside peers without disabilities. Further, there is evidence that there are factors outside of the severity or nature of a child’s disability that are driving these trends. For example, there are significant differences in placement rates between and within states. In 2014, a child with a developmental disability in Iowa was 13.5 times more likely to be educated primarily in an inclusive setting than a child with developmental disability in neighboring Illinois. In Ohio, large urban districts tend to disproportionately place children with disabilities in non-inclusive settings. Overall, these results underscore the need for further research into other factors driving the educational placement process for children with disabilities, and the need to increase access to high-quality inclusive placements for students with intellectual disability.