A Relevant Retrospective on Critical Issues in Urban Special Education

In 2006 I was among the delegation of administrative and curricular leaders from Chicago Public Schools selected to attend the Critical Issues in Urban Special Education: Improving Outcomes for Students With Disabilities Institute at Harvard University collaborative workshop. Following the multi-day institute I wrote a summary report of the Institute from my literacy point of view and shared with the Chicago Public Schools’ participants and the Institute presenters and facilitators.

It is now 2014, nine years since the Critical Issues Institute, and four years into the shift to Common Core thinking and practice. I am like-minded with those who think that improved learning outcomes and high levels of literacy teaching and learning for our students are not present in enough urban classrooms.

Too many students in urban classrooms continue to experience deeply rooted instructional practices that inhibit rather than promote strategic, constructive, and effective thinking.

As a partner advocate for improved teaching and learning, I have an important question for you:

Does your school structure and classroom support system “minimize the impact of disability and maximize opportunities for children with disabilities to participate in general education in their natural community?” Not sure?

The big ideas and recommendations from the following panel of expert presenters from Critical Issues in Urban Special Education: Improving Outcomes for Students With Disabilities Institute 2006 (Harvard Graduate School of Education: Programs in Professional Education) should be of interest to you as you think about your response:

 The comments on this blog are gleaned from my written notes, companion support literature and power-point hand-outs from Critical Issues in Urban Special Education: Improving Outcomes for Students With Disabilities Institute 2006 (Harvard Graduate School of Education: Programs in Professional Education).

Beginning a Conversation on Literacy

My contribution to the literacy focus in Chicago Public Schools began in 2002 as a writer of professional development for high school reading specialists. I was, as Founding Director of the Center for Literacy Tim Shanahan then said, “one of the crew members tasked with flying the literacy plane while still building it.” Since that time, I have remained actively engaged in the literacy movement in Chicago Public Schools as a researcher and creator of professional development for literacy leaders, classroom teachers, and parents.

 After achieving National Board Certification in English Language Arts in 2010, I chose to stay in the classroom to construct a learning community within a Chicago neighborhood public school. I switched from a teacher trainer’s role into the more challenging role of a primary grade teacher during the transition between old state standards and Common Core State Standards.

 Armed with assessment instruments and data reports, I set out to create a community of readers, writers, and thinkers. I brought with me the institutional knowledge and history of literacy work in CPS in response to No Child Left Behind legislation. I chose strategies and activities among the science-supported and sustainable literacy practices that were seminal elements of Chicago Public Schools’ literacy foci (2001- 2010) and integrated them into a sustained instructional literacy flow. Through this effort, I discovered learning practices that “really worked” to support citizenship, partnership and optimal learning in my urban public school classroom.

 Since I also believe there is still some juice to be squeezed from the “literacy aviation” metaphor and, since the evolution of flight is not unlike the evolution of increased national performance standards in literacy, I am busy refining and redesigning our “craft” for the benefit of school administrators and literacy practitioners. (with CCSS we are all literacy teachers). But mostly, this work is dedicated to students who deserve top-flight instructional support from well-prepared instructional leaders.

 By using this blog as a platform to continuously push the conversation forward, I intend to share my formidable collection of original literacy workshops, graphic organizers, vignettes, lesson plans (rough, real, and refined) and relevant research (with occasional commentary) from national conferences I have attended. Check back at www.project-collage.com/blog for new entries.