Watnick, B. & Sacks, A. (2006). A Snapshot of Teacher Perceptions on Full Inclusion in an International Urban Community: Miami-Dade County, Florida. The Journal of The International Association of Special Education 7(1), 67-74.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools in Florida has one of the highest poverty rates of any large city in the United States with one-third of the population living in poverty. This city also has the highest percentage of immigration of any large city worldwide with 60% of the population classified as immigrants. The student population in Miami-Dade schools is comprised of over 217,000 Hispanic students, over 106,000 black students, and over 37,000 white students who use 10 different languages. These are urban schools with urban characteristics from beautiful student diversity to poor academic performance.
The Miami-Dade schools were given the opportunity to access a grant to implement three models for the practice of inclusion in their schools, of which 75% of the schools in the county chose to participate. The three models were: 1) external support model—provides accommodations to special education students without providing direct services, 2) in class internal support model—general education and special education teachers co-teaching students with and without disabilities, and 3) specialized support model—resource room available for pull out services. This article reports the results from a pilot study that utilized an open ended questionnaire to gather data about teacher’s perceptions of the inclusion practices in the Miami-Dade schools.
Teachers who were participating in the new models of inclusion at their schools reported many positive outcomes from this inclusive model of education; positive outcomes for students with disabilities, typically developing students, and students who are English Language Learners. Teachers noted benefits for teaching all these diverse learners in one classroom as a variety of accommodations and modifications were used that were appropriate for many of the students, and many of the strategies and techniques used for special education are considered good practice for ELL’s and other students as well. Teachers reported increased student achievement and success from being supported by two teachers in one classroom, as well as an increase in interaction and socialization between these diverse groups of learners. Other comments indicated on the questionnaires were how many more opportunities existed to expand on social and English language speaking skills. Survey respondents wrote about how accommodating ELL students in an inclusive classroom is much easier, how fragmentation in the schedule was overcome, and how many benefits were reaped for the teachers themselves from exposure to and practice teaching to all learning styles and utilizing different teaching practices. One of the main benefits reported in this study was the development of empathy and values as school buildings became to look more like caring communities.
This study is an example of how an urban school district with challenging urban issues can come together, commit to, and execute the reconstruction of a program to benefit all of their diverse students with and without disabilities inclusively. Perspectives gathered from this study were from the practicing teachers who work directly with these learners everyday, and they are convinced of the benefits this model of inclusive education provides for themselves and for all of the students they teach.