Dr. Adai Tefera is a postdoctoral scholar at the Equity Alliance at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Adai’s research focuses on the consequences of education policy on culturally and linguistically diverse students, particularly those labeled with dis/abilities. Before joining the Equity Alliance, Adai worked as a Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for Education Policy Research at the University of New Mexico, and served as a fellow with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in the office of Congressman Chaka Fattah. As a graduate student at UCLA, she worked with the Civil Rights Project/Civiles Derechos Proyecto, and spent a number of years working with GEAR UP as a tutor, mentor, and researcher. Adai earned her Ph.D. in Urban Schooling and Masters degree in Public Policy from UCLA. Her dissertation focused on the consequences of high stakes exit exams on students of color with dis/abilities. She received her B.S. in Political Science with a minor in Ethnic Studies from Santa Clara University.
With continued awe at the potential of a second term, I watched the President’s inauguration on January 21, 2013. Fittingly, the day coincided on the same day of our nation’s observance and celebration of an inspired leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Eagerly awaiting the President’s speech on that Monday morning, I was struck by the delicate weaving of words from the Declaration of Independence and our “inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” While I recognize the rights referenced in the Declaration of Independence were not originally intended to be bestowed upon us all, including me – a Black daughter of Ethiopian immigrants – I must confess I have always found the making of the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence intriguing. Unquestioningly imperfect, the President reminded us of our responsibility not just to invoke words from the Constitution but also to embody them. For if “We are true to our creed,” he said, “when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.” It is not enough for us to resign to the belief that we are equal but it becomes incumbent that our actions reflect this value. He continued, “Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.” While our children – urban, rural, and suburban – have these inalienable rights we know they are far from being actualized. Read more
Maryellen Daston, Ph.D., has a background in biomedical research and technical writing. As a researcher, she specialized in developmental neuroscience. But when she started working for Project SEARCH®, her focus shifted from cells in a dish to the development of the whole person. As part of the Project SEARCH team, Maryellen is responsible for editing and writing content for the Project SEARCH web site, articles for professional journals, grant proposals, and other communications—including the recently published book, High School Transition that Works: Lessons Learned from Project SEARCH (Brookes Publishing Co.).
Erin Riehle, M.S.N., is a recognized authority and national leader in promoting employment opportunities for people with disabilities and other barriers to employment. She is a founder and Senior Director of Project SEARCH, an employment and transition program that has received national recognition for innovative practices. When she started Project SEARCH, Erin was a nurse manager at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Her motivation was to offer people with disabilities (who made up a significant portion of the hospital’s patient volume) the same opportunities for training and employment that were available to everyone else. She brought a business perspective to the field of disability education, as well as an ability to bring organizations together for a shared purpose.
Susie Rutkowski, M.Ed., is the Co-Director and Educational Specialist for Project SEARCH. She is a nationally recognized transition expert with specific experience in program development in career technical education and job development for young adults with disabilities. She served as the Manager for Disability Education at Great Oaks Career Campuses for over 12 years. During that tenure she, along with Erin Riehle, cofounded Project SEARCH. Susie has been instrumental in designing the Project SEARCH Training Institute modules and leading replication efforts for new Project SEARCH sites. She speaks and writes on transition-related topics.
“Rachel” was born with Down syndrome. As she approached the transition from high school to adult life, she and her family were faced with many hard questions and difficult decisions about what her next steps should be. Rachel wasn’t able to read, write, or count to 10, so it was not clear to those close to her how she would achieve any level of independence or become a contributing member of her community.
The hope for most typically abled high school graduates is that they will find gainful employment, or go on to college or other post-secondary training that will ultimately lead to a good job. When a young person becomes employed, they get the obvious advantage of improved financial circumstances. But even more importantly, they also benefit from the fulfillment, maturity, and sense of belonging that comes with meaningful work. Unfortunately, young people like Rachel with intellectual and developmental disabilities encounter more than the usual obstacles in getting to this significant milestone. The result is chronically high levels of unemployment for this population throughout their lives. For example, in 2008, the employment rate was 39.1% for people with disabilities and of working age (18–64 years), as compared with 77.7% employment for people within the same age group but without disabilities 1. From year to year, the size of this gap remains roughly the same, regardless of the state of the economy.
Helen Anderson is the Manager of Curriculum and Research at Harmony Movement, a not-for-profit organization that delivers educational programming on equity and inclusion to youth, educators, and social service providers, empowering them to become leaders of social change. Helen completed her Ph.D. in Theory and Policy Studies in Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto, focusing in her research on social justice and anti-racism education. She has taught at Sir Wilfrid Laurier University and has worked with numerous community service organizations to address issues such as racism, food security, gender-based violence, youth violence, and homophobia.
What is it that stands in the way of truly empowering educational experiences? Fear. Fear of who we could be and fear of who we are. Fear that others will misjudge us. Fear that their judgments will be correct. Fear of losing power. Although fear may make school equity movements feel slow and fruitless, hope can remind us of the powerful tools we have at our disposal that make a difference in youths’ lives.
At a time when educational equity is clouded with fear, I look for hope. I found that hope recently at a conference on education that transformed the way I think about teaching and learning. The Lost Lyrics Symposium, was a conference focused on creating an education system from the ground up, guided by the needs and input of young people, parents/guardians, and community members. It highlighted the need to address the disconnect between the lived realities of many students and their experiences of school. Read more
Helen Anderson is the Manager of Curriculum and Research at Harmony Movement, a not-for-profit organization that delivers educational programming on equity and inclusion to youth, educators, and social service providers, empowering them to becomes leaders of social change. Helen completed her Ph.D. in Theory and Policy Studies in Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto, focusing in her research on social justice and anti-racism education. She has taught at Sir Wilfrid Laurier University and has worked with numerous community service organizations to address issues such as racism, food security, gender-based violence, youth violence, and homophobia.
I was teased a lot in school as a child, mostly for getting high marks. I worked hard and was an eager learner. As a white, heterosexual, Christian student without a disability, I enjoyed participating in an education system where my knowledge, learning style, identity, culture, and experiences were valued and affirmed. I was called a geek, a nerd, a teacher’s pet.
The taunting was hurtful. I felt ashamed, embarrassed, excluded. At times I felt worthless. But at the end of the day, I knew there was something good about doing well in school. I knew that high marks paid off, they came with a reward, both in school and in society. It didn’t ease the sense of social isolation I felt, but I knew I was being teased for something I was good at, for something that others valued.
I share this story here to draw an important distinction between different forms of bullying and their impacts. While all bullying is hurtful and can have a negative impact on a student’s academic performance, engagement with the education system, and sense of self-worth, there is a difference between bullying based on mean-spirited or negative behaviour such as the taunting I’ve described above and bullying based on systemic discrimination.
Elaine Mulligan is the Assistant Director of NIUSI-LeadScape, a federally-funded technical assistance project that supports principals of inclusive schools. Her responsibilities include designing and delivering professional learning, coordinating LeadScape’s online resources, and coaching principals to support their transformation of school cultures and practices.
In working with educators through our various projects, I hear a lot of different viewpoints on Response to Intervention (RTI). Many states are encouraging districts to focus on RTI approaches in an effort to improve state assessment outcomes for groups that have historically not scored well on these tests (e.g., students with disabilities, English language learners, students in particular racial/ethnic groups). Districts are implementing mandatory professional development and support teams, and schools are rechanneling instructional supports and redesigning schedules to support intervention processes. There is a lot of activity and attention around RTI, from preschool through high school. Some educators consider RTI a great success and report great improvements in student achievement, while others see it as a series of bureaucratic hoops to jump through that impede student support processes. Which is it?
Dr. Edward Fergus is Deputy Director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at New York University. A former high school teacher, he has and continues to provide technical assistance and analysis on education policy and research to school districts. He has published various articles on disproportionality in special education, race/ethnicity in schools, and author of Skin Color and Identity Formation: Perceptions of Opportunity and Academic Orientation among Mexican and Puerto Rican Youth (Routledge Press, 2004). He is currently the Co-Principal Investigator of a study of single-sex schools for boys of color (funded by the Gates Foundation), the New York State Technical Assistance Center on Disproportionality, and various other research and programmatic endeavors focused on disproportionality and educational opportunity.
The disproportionate representation of Black and Latino students in special education is not new. Disproportionality in special education since 1968, is a critical federal concern. In 2004, the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education was founded with funding support from New York State Education Department – VESID the Technical Assistance Center on Disproportionality – www.steinhardt.nyu.edu/metrocenter/tacd). Read more
Chris Forlin is Professor of Special and Inclusive Education at the Hong Kong Institute of Education. Her research and publications focus on change paradigms in special education; inclusive education policy and practice; along with curricula and pedagogy for teacher education, with innovative research in working with systems and schools to establish sustainable inclusive education. She currently advises to the Hong Kong government task force on developing a New Senior Secondary School Curriculum for students with intellectual disabilities and is a consultant to the Vietnam Ministry of Education and Training on developing curricula for preparing teachers for inclusion.
When asked to blog I initially thought I would talk about teacher education for inclusion which is one of my specific areas of interest. We have been actively promoting inclusion and ‘education for all’ for nearly four decades now but has teacher education for inclusion really kept up with this change? Can we claim as teacher educators that we are meeting the needs of adequately preparing teachers for inclusion? I have taught pre-service (or pre-surface as one of my undergraduates wrote about it in her assignment – Freudian slip or a simple spelling error? – not sure which is worse!) and in-service teachers for the past 18 years so it seemed a natural topic to select. Then I read the posting on this website from May 13, 2009, when President Barack Obama delivered the commencement address to the 2009 graduates of Arizona State University (You can access the full speech via http://www.niusileadscape.org/wk/). During this speech he asked the following questions:
“Did you study education? Teach in a high-need school? Give a chance to kids we can’t afford to give up on – prepare them to compete for any job anywhere in the world?”
Whitney Oakley is the principal of Sylvan Elementary in the Alamance-Burlington School District in Snow Camp, North Carolina. She is member of the NIUSI-LeadScape community of inclusive school principals, transforming Sylvan’s practices to be equitable and inclusive of all students. Whitney’s current initiatives focus on meeting the needs of Sylvan’s changing population, with increasing numbers of culturally and linguistically diverse students and families struggling in the current economic downturn. This blog is a direct response to Dr. Randy Bomer’s discussion of Leadership in the interest of economically disadvantaged students.
As a principal of an elementary school with steadily increasing numbers of economically disadvantaged students, I have seen a shift in focus on academic as well as systemic strategies in our approach to student success. Randy Bomer’s discussion of deficit perspective is well-taken as political issues surrounding school performance have highlighted the fact that schools are struggling to achieve adequate progress within the economically disadvantaged subgroup. In a position as a school leader, I have acknowledged perplexities surrounding students that fall within this category including, student identity, priorities, and the role of the school itself.
Sherman Dorn is a Professor of Education and an historian at the University of South Florida. His published work has included histories of debates over dropping out, dropout policies, special education, funding equalization in Florida, and high-stakes accountability.
Principals are more likely to keep their faculty focused on student learning if they can shift the everyday conversation in their schools away from assessment as testing students and towards talking about assessment as testing instructional decisions. It is very hard to change our historical uses of “student testing,” but principals have the power to do so in their own schools.
Mica Pollock is an Associate Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Building on her experience investigating claims of discrimination in schools at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Dr. Pollock studies how youth and adults struggle daily to discuss and address issues of racial difference, discrimination, and fairness in school and community settings.
A fundamental debate erupts whenever U.S. educators discuss “achievement gaps.” Do educators’ everyday actions really contribute that much to racial disparities? Or are such disparities caused by parents, by peers, by “society,” by “poverty,” by children themselves?
We need to get much better at discussing this issue in education. As I have shown in my research, simplistic debate over who is “to blame” for “achievement gaps” often keeps us from adequately serving children of color in particular. For example, when people argue that disparities are caused solely by particular players (e.g., “parents”), they miss out on potential collaborations that would support student success. When people relentlessly blame actors other than themselves for student outcomes, they fail to figure out which of their own actions might assist children better.