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IUPUI education faculty member co-edits book focused on improving urban education



INDIANAPOLIS — In education, students are sometimes marginalized based on disabilities or differences, real or perceived.

An Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis  professor has co-edited and contributed to a new book that explores how students, teachers, parents and community members can reform urban schools to provide equitable learning environments for students with diverse abilities and backgrounds.

Kathleen King Thorius, assistant professor of urban special education at the Indiana University School of Education at IUPUI, co-edited “Ability, Equity and Culture: Sustaining Inclusive Urban Education Reform” (Teachers College Press, December 2013) with Elizabeth Kozleski, professor and chair of the special education department at the University of Kansas.

Thorius researches how race, socio-economic status, language barriers and labeling of students as “disabled” affect their experiences. Kozleski’s research has focused on how to reform schools to break down those established barriers.

“Ability, Equity and Culture” examines ways to carry out reform as a means to promote inclusivity by eliminating categorization that complicates and adds to the oppression of marginalized learners. The book builds upon research conducted by the National Institute for Urban School Improvement, a 12-year, $12 million program Kozleski led that provided leadership for transformation and gathered data from major urban school districts across the United States.

Kozleski and Thorius solicited and edited contributions from 17 authors exploring a range of topics in inclusivity and school reform. The book is organized into five parts:

  • Examining theory and framework for systemic change.
  • Centering students and families in urban school reform.
  • Teacher efforts in transforming urban learning environments, building and district leaders’ roles in urban reform.
  • Intersections of macro, meso and local policies for urban reform.

Often students are classified by what may appear to be “disabilities” but may be constructed through cultural, ethnic and/or experiential differences.

“It’s within these contexts that students are being called disabled or put somewhere different,” Thorius said. “We’re trying to improve upon these through policies and practices that address structural inequities broadly to lessen the need for labeling students as disabled. Or if it’s necessary, to ensure that all along their education experiences, they’re accessing high-quality opportunities.”

Research has long shown that students found eligible for, and subsequently placed in, special education programs, as well as minority students — who are placed in such programs at disproportionately high rates – are often denied access to the best teachers, programs and opportunities for a quality education, which puts them at a disadvantage later in life.

Thorius, Kozleski and their research colleagues seek to address how policy and practice at classroom, school and district levels can increase our public school systems’ capacities to support and educate all children together.

Their book  addresses increasing understanding among many levels of the educational structure, with chapters covering topics such as creating youth-adult partnerships for student success and social justice; creating classrooms for all learners; teacher learning in urban schools; the role of the urban principal in leading school change; educational systems change at the state level; and making reform policy stick.