The Complexities of Inclusive Education: How Cultural Histories Shape the Ways Teachers Respond to Multiple Forms of Diversity

By Elizabeth B. Kozleski, Professor & Chair, Special Education Department, University of Kansas, and Molly Baustien Siuty, CEEDAR Center, University of Florida, Doctoral Student, Department of Special Education, University of Kansas


Inclusive education is an educational agenda that, in its ideal form, can transform educational policies, structures and agencies. Its implementation demands new patterns and routines in what counts as education, the delivery of opportunities to learn and the forms and processes of student participation. In this article, we make a case for inclusive education as an education agenda for equity that redresses marginalization in several forms. In our view, an inclusive education agenda calls for seismic shifts in how teachers are socialized into the profession, including a curriculum that encompasses critical, contextual and technical knowledge and application. We also advance the notion that teacher education must be a transformative venture in which teacher candidates reframe and renegotiate their own identities as they prepare to teach students whose cultural histories, practices and values may challenge the dominant notion of schooling.

In this article, we make a case for inclusive education as an education agenda for equity that redresses marginalization in several forms. In our view, an inclusive education agenda calls for seismic shifts in how teachers are socialized into the profession, including a curriculum that encompasses critical, contextual and technical knowledge and application.


In the U.S., state and local governments hold sway over national efforts to align and standardize schooling. Preschool through 12th-grade education is the domain of local school districts who devise the curriculum, purchase the textbooks, hire the teachers and build the school buildings. For the most part, locally elected school boards hire and fire their school superintendents, although local city mayors, in some cases, appoint local superintendents. Teachers unions are most powerful in the northeastern and West Coast states, although most school districts do have teachers unions. Nearly half of the 50 states (n = 24) have laws that prevent unions from requiring that all teachers join.

Local property taxes pay for local schooling, with states supplementing local tax dollars to try to even out the per-pupil expenditures between local school districts. Federal dollars are awarded to states, which in turn distribute dollars to local school districts. However, federal support of local education constitutes, on the average, less than 25 percent of the funding that fuels public education. Annual assessments of student progress are developed and managed at the state level. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is highly sampled, but is not designed to be used to assess local practice.

There are approximately 110,000 public schools in the U.S. educating about 52 million students, with the 100 largest school systems in the country educating about a quarter of all students. The largest number of large school systems (i.e., districts serving more than 100,000 students) are in the southeastern part of the country. At about 1 million students, New York City is the largest school system. Some of the smallest school systems have less than 100 students. Educational gaps persist in the U.S., with African American, Latino, American Indian and low-income students perennially posting some of the lowest assessments. Graduation rates for students with disabilities and American Indians are a little more than half the number of students from these two populations who attend school.

In recent years, teacher education programs have faced harsh criticism from politicians, business leaders and the general public. These critiques have prompted attempts to professionalize teacher education through universal teacher quality standards and performance assessments (Cochran-Smith & Fries, 2001). In spite of several reform initiatives over the last century, the historical legacy of teacher education is one that perpetuates a white, middle class status quo (Ladson-Billings, 2006). Even when teacher education programs do address diversity or social justice, they are often treated as peripheral to the core pedagogical content, resulting in the ghettoization of diversity. Universal policies to further standardize and regulate teacher education do not challenge the deeper social and cultural inequalities within pre-K-12 and higher education. They are thus unlikely to produce the necessary change that will increase equity for historically marginalized communities (Whitty, 1997).

Approaching equity as a homogenization project within these arenas, operating at different scales amidst numerous political and power dynamics, seems misguided. Focusing on standards or indices of equity and learning might bear fruit, but as attempts to create the Common Core Learning Standards and national approaches to assessing student learning are implemented, things get muddled. Assessment and its results seem to take priority over learning. The Common Core, at present, is losing rather than gaining support.

Systems and complexity theory offer some explanations, as we discuss in the following sections.

System Entropy. Examining injustice often seems to occur from a 10,000-foot level — looking across our schools, districts and states to compare and aggregate outcomes — while solutions typically are focused on local response. Why? Because policy is structured to demand change at the local level. Little effort is spent examining how contributions to current levels of inequity are embedded in distal policies. While local systems may understand that they are not alone, the challenges that a school district in Wyoming faces are often both similar and very different than those faced in Florida, Vermont or Texas. Consider the intersection of size, geography, history, economics, local culture, school demographics, teachers and the curriculum. On the surface, the task may seem straightforward, but local forces can produce very different effects. Therefore, actions within local contexts can differ widely, and rarely does a state leverage enough influence to counter the power of local context. This is particularly true in large school systems and sometimes small systems where the local bureaucracy and history is deeper and more powerful than the leverage that state education agencies can press. Systemic entropy, the loss of sufficient energy to propel substantial and meaningful change, is a product of insufficient attention to change levers at the local level and misguided attempts to standardize locally driven educational systems.[1]

 Accountability. Local, state and federal policymakers seem to design accountability systems looking backwards in terms of demographics and the accompanying population differences in language, cultural histories, and ways of learning and sense-making. Most assessments are infused with assumptions of particular approaches to how knowledge accumulates and the ways in which students make sense of curriculum and problem-solving (Kozleski & Atkinson, 2013). Indeed, even for students from the dominant culture, specific tactics have to be learned to ensure that students know how to take assessments. This specialized knowledge is regularly available outside of school through special classes that families purchase for their children to do well on the tests. Because only some families can make these kinds of financial investments, we corrupt the purpose of accountability assessment by using it for purposes for which it was not intended: student categorization and teacher proficiency.

Assessment that improves access to learning through the design and fine-tuning of curriculum and pedagogy to meet learner needs is not accomplished through group administered, uniform assessments. Assessment that uncovers how a learner is making meaning of a task or knowledge area requires conditional assessment tasks to help a teacher understand what instruction and experiences a child needs in order to make progress.

Old assessment discourses that contributed to the social, political and economic subordination of indigenous and African American peoples resurfaced during the immigration tides of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Those same discourses exist today.

Whose English is the real English? Whose histories, mores, and geographies are legitimized in schooling? How do teachers navigate the cultural boundaries between and among students, families, and the official school curricula? These are controversial spaces to inhabit, to understand, to mobilize, and to learn in and from. How teachers conceptualize their work, the degree to which they are supported to examine their practices, and grapple with fundamental challenges with what and how we know places the equity challenges in schooling today at the heart of what we mean by inclusive education (Kozleski, Artiles, & Lacy, 2012, pp. 114).

The U.S., like many other countries, exists at a crossroad. Change inundates us, challenging our views of what an education means, what it should accomplish and who should be educated. Local history, custom and expectations respond to these challenges differently. Resources, vision and opportunities are perceived in very different ways, often by people who live side by side. Teachers are only as good as their opportunities and access to the best information about how humans learn. If education is the launching pad for exploring, innovating and inventing, how shall it be organized and what do teachers need to be able to do?

Dewey (1981) wrote that teachers can provide an important, if not the most important, social force in balancing the inherent tensions between democracy and capitalism “by developing democratic habits of thought and action” (p. 225) in our children. Thus, we need teachers who use their knowledge and skills to democratize their classrooms into inclusive centers of civically engaged citizens. This is our accountability measure.

Education in the U.S. is an amalgam of local school systems; not a tightly linked single system. Attempts to rectify outcomes, opportunities to learn and participation in learning cannot be achieved merely by setting standards and assessing student learning. Such endeavors mask the ever-present inequities that abound locally in terms of who counts, who is included and what kind of education we want for our children.

Inclusive Education as a Response to Marginalization

One challenge that U.S educators face is the absence of discourse on how culture permeates learning and human development (Rogoff, 2003). Our curriculum and the graded organization of schools produce institutionalized marginalization because we lack collective understanding of how cultural histories and experiences shape approaches to learning and knowledge-building (Cole, 2005). Because of this de-cultured view of learning, our teaching methods limit opportunities to learn for groups of students who lack tools to uncover the tacit or hidden assumptions built into the culture of schooling. Communities of practice in classrooms, schools, school districts and state education agencies are saturated with these assumptions throughout their daily activities. A number of markers of difference intersect within individual experience such as dis/ability, race, gender, ethnicity and language, enacting particular kinds of injustices for students because of the institutionalized racialized and minoritized practices that exist within schools and the communities they serve.

Inclusivity acknowledges that re-forming communities of practice is a project that is continuous since new forms of difference emerge from intersectionality. Booth and Ainscow (2000) described inclusive education as a process in which participation is expanded while, in response, exclusion from mainstream schools dwindles. Waitoller & Kozleski (2013) defined it as a global movement that emerged in response to systemic exclusion of students who are viewed as different (e.g., students with disabilities, ethnically and linguistically diverse students and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds) from meaningful access and participation in education.

Inclusive education is a continuous struggle toward (a) the redistribution of quality opportunities to learn and participate in educational programs, (b) the recognition and value of differences as reflected in content, pedagogy and assessment tools, and (c) the opportunities for marginalized groups to represent themselves in decision-making processes that advance and define claims of exclusion and the respective solutions that affect their children’s educational futures (Waitoller & Kozleski, 2013, p. 36).

This concept of inclusive education as a continuous struggle reflects the notion that we are often unaware of the underlying structures that organize our work (Kozleski, in press). The margins and centers of inclusive education are in continuous flow, producing new margins and centers (Artiles & Kozleski, 2007). Recognizing and accounting for individuals and groups constitutes an exercise of power that moves individuals and groups into the flow of a system, refining margins and boundaries for who is included, thereby redistributing identity and power. Inclusivity requires moving from marginalizing to expanding processes that are made possible by disruptions and redirections within activity systems (Engeström & Sannino, 2010). For equity and inclusiveness to flower, these disruptions and redirections must happen in how we prepare educators for their work in inclusive schools. Certainly, teachers will prove critical in the quest for inclusion since they represent the front lines that will build inclusive classrooms and carry out inclusive practices (Hindin, Morocco, Mott, &, Aguilar, 2007; Ross, Bruce, & Hogaboam-Gray, 2006).

Educate With Diversity in Mind: Educator Preparation

Teacher preparation programs must prepare teachers to work with the full range of students they will encounter in their classrooms. While on the surface, dual certification[2] programs seem to move toward a greater capacity for culturally responsive teaching, they often take an additive approach to diversity, so that multiple and intersecting forms of diversity become an additional workload as opposed to being integral to teaching practice (Pugach & Blanton, 2012). Even when broadening the notion of diversity beyond ability, courses and instructors commonly spend greater time and focus on dis/ability rather than such identity markers as race, language, gender, sexuality or class. Moreover, dis/ability is rarely couched in terms of its intersection with race and ethnicity and the marginalization of certain minority groups within special education. Without a greater understanding of the role that power and privilege play within the education system, the most skilled teachers will run the risk of perpetuating inequity and exclusivity in their classroom. Pugach, Blanton, & Florian (2012) deem these dual certification programs as “transitional rather than transformational (p. 265).” Change agents must develop systems that can transform teacher preparation in order to prepare teachers for the broad spectrum of students they are bound to encounter.

Engineering change around diversity represents a particular challenge in that systems change is itself an exercise in cultural activity (Kozleski & Huber, 2010). In order to support greater cultural responsiveness, substantive change must begin with a critical analysis of current practices to evaluate the extent to which they privilege certain groups over others and perpetuate an invisible status quo (Kozleski, Thorius & Smith, 2014). Through a process of understanding and reflection, participants can identify elements of the system that are resistant to change or too weak to sustain it (Kozleski & Smith, 2009). Transformational change for greater cultural responsiveness in teacher preparation will require this type of critical analysis at all levels, including state departments, institutions of higher education and local school districts. Highly skilled teachers of the future must have the capacity to teach in increasingly diverse and complex classrooms. The system cannot be inclusive and simultaneously bifurcate the teaching profession so that only some teachers can work with particular groups of students.

Preparing Teachers to Practice as Inclusive Educators

Teaching is a deeply personal and relational practice. The social, intellectual and political capital teachers draw on informs the rapid transactions within classrooms between and among teachers and students (Erickson, 2004). Not only do teachers draw on their own rich cultural histories, but the institutional cultures in which they practice also shape their practice. The school cultures reify certain kinds of knowledge through sorting, gathering and predicting — to the neglect of other types of knowledge. The curricula are based on particular epistemological assumptions about what constitutes knowledge, how knowledge is accumulated and what knowledge is used and for what purposes. For instance, indigenous cultures and other localized cultures such as those of the Ojibwe and Navajo nations, as well as cultures that have been deeply reliant on oral histories, sort, gather and predict in very different ways than the dominant pattern prevalent in many U.S. and western nation schools. The very recent history of Indian Boarding Schools in the U.S. is a reminder of the ways in which school may or may not account for and connect to the cultural histories and practices of students.

Teaching requires knowing students. That is, teachers must know students not as a general class, but students in particular, the ones assigned to a particular section and a specific time slot. That group of students brings a specific set of individual characteristics, histories, understandings and learning skills, and together they create a community that is specific to that constellation of individuals, which includes the teacher. This classroom constellation comprises culture in action, as the members seek to find patterns of acting and responding that rely on the mediational tools that the teacher and the students use to communicate, exercise choice and engage or resist the disciplined work of learning in a content area. Teachers assess, plan, evaluate, grade, explain, manage and communicate with external authorities all in the context of their subject matter. Teachers who have specialized knowledge of their content and their students are able to respond to the needs of their students, selecting experiences and examples that resonate, while teaching the fundamental concepts and tools of their discipline. Teachers matter (Kozleski, Artiles, & Skrtic, 2014).

One of the partnerships that founded with a local school district focused on helping teacher residents hone their teaching practices as well as providing them with spaces to think critically. The intent was to help teacher residents develop three lenses to engage social justice, equity and opportunities to learn for all students. First, a technical dimension of the program mediated residents’ conscious choices of teaching pedagogies and contributed to their knowledge development and how they came to know it, grounded by their teaching practice in particular contexts. We conceptualized the technical dimension of teaching as the cultural mediation of what teachers know, as well as their know-how. A second dimension, the context, addressed the historically situated topology of teaching, which occurs within the complex social and geographic networks of schools. For instance, identity is composed of topologically connected self-concepts (Kozleski, Gibson, & Hynds, 2012). The team that worked on this project extended the contextual dimension of identity to “anyplace, anytime, any connections,” including virtual and imagined connections with social constructs such as race, gender, culture, power and abilities. A third and final dimension, the critical, was defined as the arena in which teachers came to understand the role that cultural and justice forces played in the design of formal schooling processes. The critical dimension required an examination of whose interests are served by the design of political, social and learning structures for curriculum, assessment and passage from one grade to another and ultimately to graduation.

Using technical, contextual and critical domains as a way of conceptualizing how we taught, we used a framework to foreground particular perspectives each semester: identity, culture, learning and assessment. The program provided opportunities for teacher residents to be immersed in an urban school setting from the first day of their program, think critically about issues surrounding the four themes and interrogate their own thinking about what it means to create learning spaces with students with a variety of backgrounds, skills, interests and abilities (Kozleski & Waitoller, 2010). Through immersion in the school setting and by working closely with more experienced teachers, new teachers had access to communities of practice and were able to become what Lave and Wenger (1991) refer to as full participants by virtue of their daily presence, proximity and practice. Through participation, teacher residents had opportunities to examine their identities and, through participation with other professionals, redefine how they understood the work and practice of educators (Lave & Wenger, 1991).

Teaching is a political practice in which the dominant culture is threaded through the teacher and the curriculum in ways that grant access to some students and deny it to others, so it is imperative that teachers are conscious of their role in selecting what to “deconstruct, conserve and transform.” Critically reflexive practice requires thinking critically about personal beliefs, values and assumptions about the world we live in and how these ideologies impact interpretations and interactions with others (Cunliffe, 2004). The UITE program created reflective spaces in which teachers could engage in critically reflexive practices to explore their identity and examine their teaching practices. In seminars, coursework and ongoing individual and collective conversations, the site coordinators and professors asked open-ended questions, described practices and shared observations that were designed to shift teacher residents’ perspectives from action to reflection. These spaces offered teacher residents the opportunity to reinterpret events of the day. Activities included weekly written reflections (journaling), seminar discussions that focused on teacher identity over a sixteen-week semester followed by semesters that foregrounded re-mediating culture, the social nature of learning and the roles of assessment in learning and development.

Throughout these themed semesters, teacher residents reflected together on videotaped lessons, narratives from their classrooms and reflections on the assumptions that drove their classroom actions, anchoring their discussions with close analysis of classroom activity. Site professors and teacher residents became increasingly skilled in mediating the conversations so that, over time, the teacher residents were able to deepen their commentary and provide leadership for the discourse.

Transactions between and among students and teachers not only shape the accumulation and expansion of transmitted knowledge and discovery, they form the web of cultural practices that determine what is valued, permitted and suppressed (McDermott & Varenne, 1995). Assumptions made about students’ backgrounds, home life and access to resources and support undergird decisions about who may need special help, who can flourish with a bit of extra attention and whose needs are too complex to address (Tyler, Yzquierdo, Lopez-Reyna, & Flippen, 2002). The biases that underlie triage decisions (e.g., distinguishing between who needs extra attention or more complex interventions) are often unexamined in the rush and bustle of daily life in classrooms and schools. Moreover, when teachers come up to breathe and reflect, they are buffeted by school processes and procedures that require them to sort and count in particular ways.

In complex human systems, historicity, privilege and cultural practices play a major role in determining who has access to levers of change and how that access is granted.

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Context is more than the obvious structures, interactions, processes and outputs of a system on any given day. In complex human systems, historicity, privilege and cultural practices play a major role in determining who has access to levers of change and how that access is granted (Bates, 2013). Systems development needs to account for context locally, regionally, by political boundaries (such as states) and nationally (Fixsen, Blase, & Van Dyke, 2012). Understanding this contextual complexity helps to clarify why attempts to improve the quality of novice teachers need to account for regional variation in the constellations of culture, economics and work force traditions such as a reliance on union/management relationships or the focus on a history of professional bureaucracies.

Increasingly, cities, suburbs, small towns, and rural areas are sharply divided by demographics, values and expectations for their local education systems (Henig, 2013). Disappointing outcomes and multiple demands seep into local and state policy, converging in debate about curriculum, assessment and performance outcomes. Preparing teachers for each of these contexts is difficult. Indeed, the work of preparing teachers is to make explicit the impact of these diverse contexts on how locality impacts the ways in which schools and school systems operate, and continue to prepare teachers using the best information from learning sciences and education.

Build Capacity at the Local Level

Teachers work in communities of practice (Aladjem et al, 2006). They are deeply affected by the norms, work conditions and standards of practice that they encounter in the schools where they work. Together, these factors are closely linked to teacher efficacy and the likelihood that teachers remain in practice (Cochran-Smith et al, 2012). Drawing on work from a number of scholars, teaching and professional teaching identities comprise an “in progress” activity in which the conditions of schooling, school cultures and individual agency and identities interact (Cochran-Smith et al, 2012; Kozleski, Artiles, & Skrtic, 2014). Preparing excellent teachers will not substantially change the teaching force unless the early teaching years are full of daily practice that solidifies knowledge of evidence-based practice, holds teachers accountable for what they have learned, and provides the tools and contexts for producing excellence in the emerging professional self and for designing and implementing content knowledge through pedagogy, and carefully crafted and assessed instruction.

The work of creating professional collaborations between school districts and teacher education institutions needs to be supported and encouraged through state education agency (SEA) support for the time, effort and resources that it takes to develop and maintain such partnerships. The sites where teachers learn to teach are critical to the development of grit, self-determination, collaborative and other dispositions that will enable them to emerge as successful teachers who stay in the profession, honing their skills and capacities to serve a full, diverse range of students. Special educators along with other teachers are part of the whole teaching force. They are anchored by much of the same foundational understanding of schools, including the design, delivery and assessment of effective learning opportunities in core content areas. They also have specialized knowledge that expands their ability to serve students through individualized, carefully calibrated instructional approaches to reading and numeracy and ongoing assessment that guides ongoing adjustments to learning plans (Brownell, Sindelar, Kiely, & Danielson, 2010; Pugach, Blanton, & Boveda, 2014). Local education agencies (LEAs) need support to create shared professional learning communities that encompass special educators, acknowledging the overlaps and differences in roles, professional identities and the cultural practices of their everyday work at the elementary and secondary levels.

An explosion of research on learning has helped to advance how learning scientists conceptualize optimal learning contexts and designs (Bransford & Schwartz, 2001; Pea et al, 2012; Scribner & Cole, 1975). A 2013 report sponsored by the National Science Foundation details critical features of learning that include understanding that mastery of knowledge and skills emerge from decisions about how to access and use information distributed across resources, and then applying that knowledge to authentic, complex situations (Computing Research Association, 2013). The report goes on to highlight the importance of a focus on conceptual and analytical capabilities that ensure that learners are able to function, adapt and problem-solve in diverse contexts.

Further, persistence, engagement and stereotypic threat are among the socio-emotional aspects of cognition that have important implications for learning. Another influential group of learning scientists outline the important features of what they call connected learning: “learning that is socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward education, economic, or political opportunity.” (Ito et al, 2013, p. 4.) Thinking of learning in these ways has implications for moving away from the organization of high schools, in particular, in discipline-specific arenas. Instead, high schools become spaces where generative scholarship occurs, and where teachers lead their students in solving complex, local issues, drawing on the reservoirs of expertise available through the Internet and partnerships with local and community-based groups, organizations and institutions. In this way, learning involves empathy, support, motivation, persistence and the emergence of expertise through application. This kind of approach to learning involves centering learning on the complex problems of the 21st century, draws on developing expertise in a number of content areas, maps onto student engagement and supports the development of a set of mind-tools that will serve students in multiple ways throughout their lifetimes.

Inclusive education requires a high-level skill set in which the effective inclusive educator excels at content knowledge as well as the design of learning spaces where students with multiple capacities and experiences can engage in learning.

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Inclusive education requires a high-level skill set in which the effective inclusive educator excels at content knowledge as well as the design of learning spaces where students with multiple capacities and experiences can engage in learning. Sustaining engagement and progress, even though what and how students perform may be very different, would be the hallmark of such a learning domain. A workforce that is poorly prepared compounds its vulnerabilities. A group of poorly prepared or supported teachers creates a network of poorly designed learning environments. Similarly, a critical mass of high-quality teachers is able to support student-learning gains in schools with high-need students (Heck, 2007). Schools with high levels of teacher quality provide more equitable learning opportunities school-wide. Partnerships between universities and schools can leverage structural changes in schools as well as reshape the professionalization of teachers.


Educational discontinuities are shaped by structural, economic, political and cultural fissures that give students from non-dominant cultures less access to higher education and thus to teaching careers at a time when we need them more than ever. In this article, we presented inclusive education as an agenda for substantial shifts in the way we organize, conceptualize and work within the policies, structures and agencies that inform teacher education. The dominant assumptions that undergird teaching and learning largely have gone without critical reflection, and those that fall outside of the perceived standard of normalcy have been relegated to the margins. Inclusive education can be a vehicle for examining and challenging these tacit assumptions. This cycle of critical investigation should be ongoing with constant renegotiation of the margins to produce new and more inclusive centers (Artiles & Kozleski, 2007).

Inclusive education as a tool for decreasing marginalization will require significant changes in the systems that prepare teachers and socialize them into the profession. As we’ve noted, teacher education programs must prepare teachers to teach with diversity in mind by valuing culturally responsive practices as an integral part of their practice rather than an additive skill set (Pugach & Blanton, 2012). Moreover, teachers’ notions of diversity must account for the varied ways cultural makers of difference intersect to impact identity. We believe that it is imperative for teachers to be prepared to locate sources of power and privilege within the school system in order to uncover and dismantle the mostly invisible status quo.

We made these arguments with the recognition that teachers work in communities of practice (Aladjem, et al, 2006), which significantly impacts teachers’ identities (Cochran-Smith et al, 2012; Kozleski, Artiles, & Skrtic, 2014). Thus, LEAs must support sustainable learning communities committed to professional development by sharing expertise and consuming cutting-edge research on teaching and learning in the 21st century. Indeed, inclusive education will require highly skilled teachers with the capacity to support a wide range of students.

The program for preparing inclusive educators that we described combines three domains of effective inclusive practice: (a) technical, (b) contextual and (c) critical (Kozleski, Artiles, & Skrtic, 2014). In this way, teachers become adept at choosing effective pedagogical practices for diverse populations of students, while locating them within the complex social and cultural histories of their specific contexts. Moreover, the critical domain emphasizes the political nature of teaching and schooling. Through critically reflexive practice, teachers become conscious of their own identity and histories and are better able to locate their role in promoting inclusivity within their own classroom (Cunliffe, 2004).

Freire (1990) stated, “The educator has the duty of not being neutral” (p. 180). Teaching is a highly political act and, yet, the underlying assumptions and biases that undergird pedagogical decisions go largely unexamined (Waitoller & Kozleski, 2015). Moreover, the educational systems, including those that prepare and socialize teachers to the profession, operate within a status quo that perpetuates dominant notions of teaching and schooling that produce marginalization. Inclusive education has the potential to be a transformative tool to reframe the educational policies, structures and agencies in teacher education to produce teachers who view their practice through an equity-centered lens.


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Kozleski, Elizabeth, Kathleen Thorius, and Anne Smith, “Theorizing systemic reform in urban schools,” in Elizabeth Kozleski and Kathleen Thorius (Eds.), Ability, Equity, and Culture: Sustaining Inclusive Urban Education Reform (New York City: Teachers College Press, 2014): pp. 11-35.

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[1] To address such entropy, local community organizing groups often work to aggregate power across within and across local geographies, discovering that such aggregation “trans-locally” can provide more leverage both locally and nationally. See for example the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools.

[2] Subject area or early childhood certification, along with special education certification.

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Elizabeth Kozleski, Professor and Chair, Special Education Department, University of Kansas

Prof. Elizabeth B. Kozleski chairs the Special Education program at the University of Kansas. There she leads the specialization on the intersecting oppressions of disability, race, ethnicity, language, gender and sexuality in education and society. Her work theorizing systems change for equity, inclusive education, and professional learning for urban schools is well recognized nationally and internationally. She was awarded the UNESCO Chair in Inclusive International Research in 2005. Her research interests include the analysis of models of systems change in urban and large school systems, examining how teachers learn in practice in complex, diverse school settings, researching multicultural educational practices in the classroom to improve student learning and the impact of professional learning schools on student and teacher learning. She has led a number of national technical assistance projects, including the center for principals in helping to build inclusive schools, NIUSI-LEADSCAPE; NCCRESt, the national technical assistance center on disproportionality; and the National Institute for Urban School Improvement (NIUSI), which provided support to urban schools working on creating inclusive schools for all learners. Dr. Kozleski co-edits a book series for Teachers College Press on Disability, Culture, and Equity. Dr. Kozleski has presented her work at scientific conferences in Africa, Asia and Europe, as well as throughout the United States, and is currently working with an international coalition of researchers studying equity. Professor Kozleski began her career as an early childhood educator and became a special educator working in Virginia and in Boulder, Colorado. Her undergraduate and master’s degrees are from George Mason University. She received her doctorate in special education at the University of Northern Colorado.

Molly Baustien Siuty, M.S.Ed., doctoral student in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas

Molly Baustien Siuty’s research interests include systems change for equity and social justice in teacher education, inclusive education and urban education. In addition to her studies, Molly works as a State Facilitator for the CEEDAR Center, a national technical assistance center aimed at supporting state departments and institutions of higher education to create aligned professional learning systems in teacher education and licensure. Molly comes to Kansas with five years of classroom experience in the New York City public school system. She earned a master’s degree in Special Education and Leadership from the City College of New York. A Teach for America alumna, she holds a New York State Professional Teaching Certification.