The NYC Special Education Collaborative is now The Collaborative for Inclusive Education.
Nearly a decade ago, the New York City Charter School Center created the NYC Special Education Collaborative when it merged a consortium of borough-based special education cooperatives into a citywide membership program in order to codify the charter sector’s commitment to serving students with disabilities. In the early days the Collaborative focused a lot on compliance, ensuring students received the supports and services they were entitled to under the law. As the sector began to grow and increase capacity, the conversations evolved into developing classroom structures and approaches that best served students with disabilities – and that meant inclusion. We sought to ensure all students, regardless of ability level, felt valued and supported to learn in the same classroom with each other.
Growing this philosophy and related skillsets in charter educators led to conversations about other students who may not feel included in mainstream classrooms – specifically, multilingual learners (MLLs). In 2015, our team and programming expanded to include more supports around how to serve this population.
As we continued to dig deeper into these two special populations, though, it became impossible to focus our work solely on students’ ability level or language proficiency. We - as well as many in the sector - felt that it was necessary to explore further the many questions around why students may or may not feel included in their classrooms and schools. What mindsets, biases, and practices do the adults in the building bring that create an inclusive (or not inclusive) culture for students? To whose culture are we most responsive and why? What are the consequences when students don’t feel valued or included?
In a truly inclusive educational environment, students should not all be getting the same thing (equality), but rather all students should be getting what they need to be successful (equity). We believe this access to equitable opportunity cannot be limited to conversations about (dis)ability or language learner status as these ignore the multiple identities of our students, and the intersecting forms of oppression they face as they exist in more than one marginalized group. Deep discussions and unpacking of racism, ableism, language discrimination, and identity discrimination are thus requisites to conversations about inclusive education.
It’s a lot and none of it’s simple, but the name change signifies our and the charter sector’s commitment to redefine inclusion to explicitly address overlapping systems of inequity that impact students with disabilities and culturally and linguistically diverse students in education. While changing the name of or rebranding an organization is not typically an easy decision, in this case, it was a no-brainer.
It’s about great public schools that provide inclusion, equity, and access for all.
By Melissa Katz