Out of Practice: Inclusive Education and The Teaching of Special Needs Students in Southern California Public Schools

Date of Award


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First Advisor

Rebecca Overmyer-Velazquez


As public schools within the United States are facing pressure to alter the general education classroom setting into a more accommodating learning environment for students of all abilities, teachers of these classrooms are hesitant to undergo such a transition. Many advocates for inclusive education insist that the integration of students with special needs and typically performing students can be a mutually beneficial learning experience. Current literature concerning inclusive education of children with disabilities exhibits two areas of focus: teachers’ differing attitudes towards the efficacy of inclusive education within a general education classroom setting, and the overrepresentation of racial/ethnic minority students, who are often referred into segregated (non-inclusive) special education programs. To what extent do teachers’ academic and personal biographies impact how they perceive the efficacy of including a myriad of students with special needs in a general education classroom setting? This study utilizes a combination of quantitative and qualitative methodology, comprising surveying and interviewing a sample of twenty-seven special education and non-special education (general education/multiple subject) public elementary and high school teachers. The survey questions inquired about teachers’ experiences and views involving classroom inclusion as a feasible and beneficial option for both students with special needs and their typically performing peers. In addition to the surveys, teachers were invited to partake in an interview to supplement their survey responses in more depth. After reviewing the responses, it is evident that an overall lack of time, academic training, and experience with students with special needs largely contribute to teachers’ confidence (or lack thereof) with inclusive education. Teachers of color were also more likely to acknowledge the abundance of minority students within special education, which suggests ‘color-blindness’ may be a factor in non-minority teacher’s perceptions. Almost every teacher indicated that all students deserve a right to a quality education despite any disabilities. However, as the responses suggest, a quality education is not feasible for all students, particularly when the teacher does not feel confident in his/her training. This study reveals that this particular sample of general education teachers do not feel as though they can successfully accommodate the academic needs of students in special education due to their lack of training and experience. The benefits of inclusive education continue to be obscured behind teachers’ self-proclaimed lack of confidence and inability to provide a proper education for all students. An effort to properly educate and train these teachers may reduce this lack of confidence.


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