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Equitable Access to Deeper Learning: A Focus on Students With Disabilities

By Contributing Blogger — August 12, 2015 2 min read

This post is by Rafael Heller, Principal Policy Analyst, Jobs for the Future.

As the deeper learning movement expands, how will we ensure that it also includes?

Over the coming years, will we find ways to provide all children with meaningful opportunities to develop the full range of intellectual, inter-personal, and intra-personal capacities that we know to be critical to success in college, careers, and civic life (i.e., the “success skills,” to use David Conley’s shorthand)? Or will we look back in a couple of decades to find that while instruction has become a bit more vibrant and student-centered in the most affluent school districts, the “pedagogy of poverty” remains as widespread and as durable as ever?

Advocates for deeper learning have no official by-laws or charter affirming their commitment to equity. But concerns about equity have been central to the conversation thus far, and they will likely continue to play a central role in the movement as it goes forward. (Consider, for example, Carlos Moreno and Andrew Frishman’s recent announcement that Big Picture Learning, the Internationals Network, and the Hewlett Foundation have launched a Deeper Learning Equity Fellows project, meant to cultivate a new generation of school leaders committed to this mission.)

To provoke further discussion, and to help ground it in the best available research, Jobs for the Future has commissioned a trio of reports on equity and deeper learning. Two of them--one focusing on equitable access to resources for deeper learning, and the second focusing on deeper learning’s implications for English language learners and immigrant students--will be released in the next few weeks. Another, Deeper Learning for Students with Disabilities is now available on our Web site.

Authored by Sharon Vaughn, director of the Meadows Center at the University of Texas, and Louis Danielson, Rebecca Zumeta, and Lynn Holdheide of the American Institutes for Research, the report notes that of the more than 6 million students with disabilities enrolled in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools (13 percent of all students), the majority spend most of the school day in general education classes. And if those students--no small number--are to enjoy the full benefits of deeper learning, then general education teachers will need to know how to support them.

Fortunately, the paper goes on to argue, a number of specific, research-based instructional practices have been shown to be quite effective in helping students with various kinds of disabilities to learn deeply. And, just as important, they include teaching strategies that do not require highly specialized training--every general education teacher should be able to master a handful of key techniques and principles that can go a long way toward providing the support that most students need. Moreover, the paper points out, if the deeper learning movement is serious about providing meaningful instruction in self-regulation, cognitive processing, goal-setting, and other intra-personal skills, then it ought to look to the research in special education, which has a wealth of relevant expertise that can inform instruction for all children.

The opinions expressed in Learning Deeply are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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