Updated: Jun 22, 2021
In March 2021, Dr. Carol Quirk was the speaker at a Town Hall held in Lake Forest, Illinois, where she presented on “The Power of Inclusion.”
Chala Holland (00:06):
Thank you. Good evening, everyone. I am Chala Holland, principal of Lake Forest High School. I would like to thank you for taking the time to join us for an evening keynote and discussion focused on our district’s work of fostering an inclusive learning environment. We’re excited to have Dr. Carol Quirk join us as an expert in this field, and also as a great resource to our district in district 67. It is my hope that you learn more about the topic of inclusion and why it is that the center of our work to reach, meet, and exceed the learning needs of every single student in our district without exception. While there may be attempts to make this discussion into something more than it actually really is, at its core, it directly connects to our mission, vision, and core beliefs about students. And it challenges us to put our words into actions with students at the center.
Chala Holland (01:06):
I’m very proud of district 115’s core values. Every student has an incredible capacity to learn. Our responsibility is to create an environment that maximizes the potential for each student’s growth, including the willingness to take risks and learn from mistakes. Another value: our school is only as good as its teachers, and therefore we must develop, invest in, and retain passionate and committed teachers and staff. Students thrive when they are actively engaged in solving problems that matter. And when we support them socially, emotionally, physically, and intellectually. Respect is the keystone for all of our work. We demonstrate this as members of a learning community and operate with high integrity at all times. So those are all of district 115’s core values. Our core values of an inclusive education are: all students belong, all students benefit from general education, all students are competent and able to learn all students learn from each other, and all students deserve to attend school with their siblings and neighbors.
Chala Holland (02:18):
Personally, I cannot imagine anyone who would not want this for their child. These values are experiences that every single student deserves. We have a great opportunity to embody these values, not just through what we say, but through the educational experience we offer. This requires us to move away from complacency and learn, stretch our limits and grow. We will only be able to maximize the learning potential of Lake Forest high school students if we, as a district, are willing to do whatever that takes. I’m constantly inspired by this work and I’m so proud to work with other educators and our feeder districts, district 65 and 67, to be our best for students. I would like to introduce one of our educators and administrators who is a strong advocate and champion for students, Dr. Jenny Sterpin, our director of special education. Thank you.
Jenny Sterpin (03:20):
Thank you, Dr. Holland. Good evening. I have the honor and privilege to introduce Dr. Carol Quirk. We met Dr. Quirk two years ago at the TASH Conference, which is the largest inclusion conference. TASH works to advocate and advance inclusive practices across communities through advocacy, research, policy, professional development, and directly working with families and students. The inclusive practices that TASH validates through research has shown to improve outcomes for all students. We’ve personally seen these gains at Lake Forest high school as well. Dr. Carol Quirk is the founder and chief executive officer at the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education. Otherwise known as MCIE. MCIE is a non-for-profit organization, working with schools across the United States to build teacher capacity for equity and inclusion for all. For the past 30 years, Carol has worked with state agencies, school districts, individual schools, and families resulting in systematic change and improve student performance in over 100 school districts.
Jenny Sterpin (04:33):
Carol has also had the unique opportunity to work internationally in Asia, Europe and Australia. Carol received her doctorate degree from John Hopkins University and her master’s and her bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut. Carol has received numerous community awards and was also named the president’s committee for people with intellectual disabilities in 2011 and 2012. During the 19-20 school year, we began partnering with Carol court in the MCIE staff. Our faculty and staff engaged in focus groups, completed surveys, and individually met with the MCIE staff to share their core beliefs and knowledge around inclusive practices. Many strengths emerged from these individual conversations, including that Lake Forest high school has a very clear vision, which is to support inclusive practices. Additionally, 97% of their teachers and faculty are absolutely willing to do the work to be able to create inclusive practices across all classrooms.
Jenny Sterpin (05:39):
Last spring, that work provided district one 15 specific recommendations in order to guide our work for the 20-21 school year. We engaged in a new master scheduling process to better support inclusive practices and our world history and biology courses, which has impacted so much of the work that we’re doing. Our entire leadership team has engaged in a book study with Dr. Quirk as well, in order to better support our teachers and their learning and growth, as well as our own. We have learned so much this year. Carol’s team has provided ongoing professional development for our teaching assistants, as well as our teachers, on how to adapt and modify a curriculum, how to ensure that we’re meeting IEP goals in the general education setting, and how to function as a collaborative team to best meet the needs of our students. As teams continue to build capacity, their ability to reach more students is evident. As we welcome Carol Quirk, I want to highlight one of our special education teachers, Joe Harmsen, who’s been instrumental in leading our inclusive practices for all students at Lake Forest high school. We are very excited to have Mr. Harmsen join us tonight as our moderator, as we engage in a question and answer session. But please welcome Carol Quirk for the keynote presentation, titled “The Power of Equity and Inclusion.”
Jenny Sterpin (07:10):
Carol, you’re on mute.
Carol Quirk (07:13):
Jenny, thank you so much for that warm welcome, and I’m really pleased to be here. As Jenny said, we have been working with Lake Forest 115 and 67 for the past a couple of years and are at least a year and a half. And I am really impressed with the leadership and with the values and vision that you all have and, and have shown. I’m going to share my screen so that you can see, rather than look at my face, you can see a backdrop of what I’m going to be talking about. Jenny shared some of our experiences over the last many years. I think when I think of inclusion and the power of inclusion, the result is what we see in families and children and in teachers who have come to understand what the power of inclusion is for children who may not have been included in the past.
Carol Quirk (08:11):
When we think about inclusion though, we know that there are many different definitions. Or we have a definition, but many, if you ask many people, they will have different definitions. So I want to start out by presenting to you a definition that we have when I’m engaged with folks in conversation. And today I was meeting with four different state education agencies involved in a project called advancing inclusive principal leadership. And that is how principals can lead an inclusive vision in their schools. And at the state level, they were still struggling with how do we help our districts in schools have a common and shared understanding of inclusion, especially when so many teachers think that inclusion is a place. We hear the phrase,”let’s put that student in inclusion,” or “can that student go to the inclusion class,” or “are you an inclusion teacher?”
Carol Quirk (09:10):
And so if we are thinking about inclusion as a place you go, that’s really limiting. Just like special education is a service, it’s not a place. Inclusion is not a place. It’s what we do as human beings, as we engage with each other. One of the definitions for inclusion was put out by an organization called Inclusion International. That “inclusion is not a strategy to help people fit into the systems and structures that exist.” In other words, it’s not about saying, “is this student ready for inclusion or to be included?” It’s about saying, “are we ready? Do we have the capacity to include each and every child who lives in our community?” Inclusion is about transforming those systems and structures to make it better for everyone. So a lot of the work that I do with my staff at MCIE is we work with schools and we work with districts primarily to look at the organizational structures, the roles and relationships, the understandings and the traditions, the policies and procedures to say, “what are the barriers that prevent us from being fully inclusive?” So inclusion is about creating a better world for everyone, not asking everyone to fit into a single mold. So I’m going to show you a very, very short video. And this is not about inclusive schools per se, but about inclusion in general.
Carol Quirk (10:53):
And it loaded really well before.
So inclusion is about us being ourself. The presupposition is that the more we can be of ourselves, the more we can bring them to any kind of situation. Inclusion is about creating freedom from fear and anxiety. Our unconscious biases can be running these fear programs in us. They can be generating anxieties. We might not even know why. This is why it’s important to be able to understand what they are and how we can actually work with them for ourselves and others. Of course, it’s about feeling we belong. So we punished this feeling you belong. And part of that is actually understanding how we actually feel we belong and the biases that can actually make us feel excluded. And inclusion is about something that happens every day. And then of course, we are running these programs in our heads every single second of every single minute of every day.
It’s just not just an event. So inclusion is about what we’re doing every day, all the time. It’s about understanding different perspectives. And as we’ll see, our unconscious biases and these implicit associations can change. The field can change our perspectives from difference on other people, on the situations that we find ourselves in. And inclusion is about changing mindsets. Understanding our own unconscious biases, our own implicit associations, that we’re changing that mindset. Being able to understand how these operate in others. It means that we’re leading and we’re changing other people’s mindset. And of course, inclusion is about engaging everyone. It’s about all of us.
Carol Quirk (13:32):
Okay. So no in that video, as they were talking about inclusion, they weren’t talking about any particular institution so much as how we engage with each other and how we open ourselves to each other. In a conversation with the state director of special education in Georgia she was talking with her staff about their efforts to promote inclusive practices in that state. And she reminded them that what they needed to think about was asking the question “is this school built for me?” Not, “am I able to get into that physical building and go into those classes,” but “is that school and are those classrooms built for me? Do I have a sense of belonging?” There’s a lot of research that has looked at what it means to be a member of a community, whether it’s a faith community, a school community your physical geographic neighborhood and what that does to you psychologically.
Carol Quirk (14:31):
And what this research has shown, and most of it is with college age students, not high school students is that the more you feel like you have a sense of belonging and a sense of membership to a community, the more likely you will be to be motivated to engage and motivated to learn. And in fact some of the studies were with brain research where they actually connected things to the brain and not being a medical doctor. I can’t explain it all, but they connected areas of the brain. And they looked at the impact on different areas when an individual was deliberately excluded from a group versus individuals who were included in a group. And it actually lit up areas of the brain that are commonly associated with pain. And so they concluded that when you don’t feel included, when you feel excluded or humiliated or left out, it actually highlights aspects of your brain that interpret it as painful.
Carol Quirk (15:34):
So no matter who you are, in our physical building, outside of our building, in sports and extracurricular activities, do we engage like every other person in our community? Do we have a sense of belonging and appreciation? When we think about is this school built for me, we want to also think about inside of those activities in the school building, are we accessing and participating in the social and academic opportunities available to everyone else? Some schools have policies or procedures about who can access certain courses. And of course, AP courses often have an academic criteria, but there are even some predisposed notions that staff sometimes have about who can or cannot or should or should not benefit from participating in different activities. And if we eliminate that can and cannot should and should not and offer up opportunities. And also not just the opportunity, but intentional support and encouragement, we’ll look at increased engagement. And with increased engagement, we’ll have increased learning.
Carol Quirk (16:46):
So learning is obviously one of the primary reasons that we send our children to school. And why did I say one of the primary reasons? When we think about the purpose of education, we are educating our children to become contributing members to our society, our larger society within our neighborhood community and outside of that community. And of course we want them to learn, but if we think about valued membership, meaningful engagement, as the necessary conditions for learning, we know we need to work on that as well. So when we ask, “is this school built for me?” We also need to think about what do we need to do to build that school. And critical to that building is planning. And that’s where, you know, for 67 and 115, I cannot stress how amazed I am at the careful thinking of the leadership in understanding their need for planning and understanding their need for conversation and thoughtful time and collaboration given to this subject.
Carol Quirk (17:54):
How we make change is not by enacting a policy on paper, but it’s really by engaging people to understand their concerns, their fears, their current capacities, their need for further development and how we can support people in a change in order for the good of the children. So in inclusive schools, we do want to look at what the benefits are. Now, when I named these benefits like academic gains, increased motivation, self-esteem, and having a sense of community. I’m not mentioning these benefits as only benefiting students with disabilities. The conversation about inclusion has really changed in the last 30 plus years. In 1975, as most of you probably know, the Education for All Handicapped Children law was passed. And two years later the regulations came, which said that all public education had to accept all children. And what many districts did is they built buildings or they created separate spaces, because if you think about the late seventies and early eighties, that’s all we knew.
Carol Quirk (19:04):
We didn’t know about inclusion. We didn’t know that a student with an intellectual disability would actually benefit academically when they were in a physical classroom with children who were working on grade level standards. When we formed MCIE back in 1988, we were first called the Maryland Coalition for Integrated Education. And we thought about integrating children into regular classes as if they were coming from another space. Just like we integrated back in the days of civil rights. By thinking about integrating we’re thinking of children as belonging or coming from someplace else. And around 1990, the word inclusion was introduced. And by that it changed everything because what we were saying with inclusion is that you belong. You don’t come from someplace else. You’re already there. And it’s our job to figure out what the services are and supports that will make you successful alongside your peers who don’t have disabilities.
Carol Quirk (20:09):
So here we have a diverse group of students and the concept of inclusion in education did come from the world of disability. And it’s really in the last 10 to 15 years that we in the inclusion world have been saying to each other, across the United States, “If we’re talking about including one group of students, and we’re not talking about other students who may not be benefiting, maybe marginalized, maybe left out, then we’re really not inclusive.” So let’s put these students in a school, we’re putting them in the school house. And the first aspect is that they have to be there. We at MCIE with some of our colleagues in New Hampshire and Indiana and Oregon have been talking for quite a while about defining inclusion not as a place, because we don’t want it to get stuck with that as the end, because just being there is not sufficient.
Carol Quirk (21:07):
Just being in an environment with peers doesn’t mean you’re going to be accepted and appreciated. It doesn’t mean your participation is going to be meaningful. But we’ve realized that as we talk about membership participation and learning, we want to emphasize that you can’t accomplish all of that if you’re not there to begin with. So being there as the first part. Membership and the sense of belonging comes about through the actions of the adults, who model for the students how we value each other. Participation and engagement also comes about from the adults who work together collaboratively to adapt the lessons and to intentionally look at the supports needed for social engagement and supporting peers and understanding kids who are different, whether it’s disability or some other difference. And with all of this, we get our outcomes where students can say, “this school is built for me. My academic and social success is built upon my membership sense of belonging and meaningful participation in this school. This is where I want to be, and this is where I’ll become who I’ll be in the future.”
Carol Quirk (22:16):
So I’m gonna talk a little bit right now about research. This is from an article where I have some citations. It was published by the Atlanta Institute. Tom Hare, out of Boston, spearheaded this paper. And they looked at 40 years of research. So between the late 1970s and 2016, when this was published. The body of relevant research showed overwhelmingly that inclusive education produced superior academic outcomes. While at the same time, they noted that there are still a fair amount of what they called segregated practice. There’s a lot of attention being paid to this internationally. The United Nations, UNESCO, and other international organizations are all publishing documents related to promoting inclusive education.
Carol Quirk (23:05):
So, as I was preparing for this today, I was pulling some of my old journals. And I found this from 1994-1995. And this, I brought this up because this was a synthesis of research to date. So here they were almost 20 years after the law was passed. And they were looking at all of the research that had been conducted in that time. And what they found was that, although well intentioned, the separate system has not resulted in improved learning. So the discussion then was that we have special education over here, general education over here. We have a director of special ed, director of teaching and learning. And we have students who go to special ed, students who go to general ed. And that only in the cases where kids with disabilities were included and where their lessons were adapted, were they really successful and had successful outcomes.
Carol Quirk (24:09):
So I just pulled, there’s lots of studies, but I pulled a couple that had more large-scale research. This was in Indiana. Now most of the research that I’ve read they may be small groups. They may be large groups. They may focus on children with learning disabilities or emotional disabilities. They may focus on social outcomes or academic outcomes. They may look at the extent to which students with intellectual disabilities are included in one geographic area over another. This study looked at students with learning disabilities and they had I forget, well over a thousand students. And they had students with disabilities in general ed and included in general ed, and then in traditional self-contained classes. And they also had students in gen ed without children with disabilities in their classes. And they found that more students with disabilities may progress in math when they were included, versus when they were in small self-contained classes with a special ed teacher. Typical peers. Now, this is interesting because typical peers made more gains in math when they were with students with disabilities.
Carol Quirk (25:25):
In 2006, now this study looked at the outcome of 11,000 students, and they actually looked at a variety of districts from all over the country. This was a longitudinal study. They have a second study that’s coming out now, but this one looked longitudinally over time. And we’re looking at students with mild disabilities to more severe disabilities. They found that the amount of time in gen ed was correlated to fewer absences, fewer referrals for disciplinary problems, and more post-secondary employment. And what was interesting to me here was that they literally looked at the amount of time included in high school and the percent of those kids who had jobs after school. And the more time you had in gen ed as a child with a disability, the more likely you were to get a job.
Carol Quirk (26:24):
So this study asks the question, “does access matter?” And they looked at the amount of time in gen ed. And what they found was that there was sorry, this is a different one. This study found that 1300 students they use an extensive statistical model. And they found that the more time, again, this was mostly elementary to middle school students. This was not high school, but again, the more time in general ed, the more likely you were to have high achievement. Now in this 2016 study, they looked at several different studies and they did an analysis and included students with disabilities had higher academics and clearly outperformed students who were, in their words, segregated or in special ed only classes.
Carol Quirk (27:17):
Now here’s another interesting chart because they looked at students with disabilities in the three categories that are generally reported for participation in general ed. And they separated out students from families that had low income from families with medium to high income. Now we know there’s a discrepancy. Students with low income often perform lower than others, but here, these are all students with disabilities, for both family, kids, and families of low income and medium to high income. They all performed better when they were in general education 80% more of the day than if they were removed for more and more time. This study looked at the benefits for students with disabilities beyond academics, and they found that if you were included, you were less likely to have a discipline referral, more likely to belong to a school group. So that’s that membership. More likely to have competitive employment in an after high school and more likely to live independently after school. So we know that there are a variety of ways to include.
Carol Quirk (28:32):
And I, the reason I put this up here is because we could go through, from an academic point the number of ways that a student could be included by the actions of adults, which include engaging in collaborative planning, setting up small group instruction within the class, cooperative groups small learning communities peer assisted learning is something that we know through research not only benefit students who are receiving the support from a peer, but that the peers who are providing the support actually demonstrate higher understandings, higher level critical thinking in that subject matter as a result of that engagement.
Carol Quirk (29:17):
The book over there that says “High Leverage Practices” was recently published by a group funded by the U.S. Department of Education. And they looked at tiered interventions as one of several, what they call high leverage practices that promote positive outcomes for all. And by tiered interventions, what I mean is that as a school looks at the student performance data, and as 115 and 67 both are doing, and you identify perhaps a subgroup of students who are at risk for failing or underperforming, you then look deeper into that learning and identify where those error patterns are, where are the skills that they are missing that they need to go to a higher level and either designing or selecting interventions that match that need. Now notice that I didn’t say by disability, but rather by your instructional performance. So many schools and districts are figuring out how to reconstruct school schedules to enable an intervention time. At high school you can create classes. At middle and elementary school it’s a little bit more of a challenge, but schools are restructuring how they designed those intervention periods for kids who need more and creating enrichment time at the same time. So, you know, if we have gifted and talented students who are way outperforming their peers, when we’re looking at their grade level performance, we don’t want them to be bored. We want to provide enrichment experiences. So how are we looking at enrichment as well as specialized services for students who need more in order to be successful?
Carol Quirk (31:05):
Here are some other books that have come out. And these are all books that have come out probably in the last five years. And I literally went on Amazon. I don’t know each and every one, I know several of these books but they have literally come out most of them in the last five years. So that’s not counting all of the literature that has come out and that’s on my shelves back there. Julie Causton is someone who’s written several books, and that was a book study we did on principal leadership for inclusive schools.
Carol Quirk (31:38):
Whitney is someone else who’s written a lot more about inclusion. So there’s no shortage of literature that tells us how, but the issue is, how do we get this into the hands of educators, especially educators who may have graduated from a university who was not as well-versed on these practices graduated 10 or 15 years ago or longer if you were me. So part of the change process is supporting teachers in understanding how we can reach all learners, so that children benefit from the change we engage in. So on a very practical basis, what does this look like in a school building? So inclusive education means something called natural proportions. Jenny I think mentioned before that we had supported them on scheduling, supported 115 and 67 on scheduling students in natural portions. So what this means is that we look at students by high need.
Carol Quirk (32:47):
When we started MCIE, we based our discussion of this around students with disabilities. And we started by saying, well, if a school had 12.5% of their children with disabilities out of a hundred children, 12 and a half of them might have a disability, you know, 10, 11, 12, 13. So then if you look at your classes or your subjects, you would distribute those students across there. So students would be present in the natural proportion in those classes or subjects that they were in the whole school population. As we have engaged with this we recently worked with a district that had 30 schools, and we were working very strategically with a few schools, very strategically over time, but we did a training for all of the administrative teams on scheduling and natural proportions. That way they could begin the process without having very intensive support from us. They could get a little bit of support and begin looking at how they were placing students.
Carol Quirk (33:58):
The second part of natural proportions is then you have to look at who’s going to be providing those specialized services within those classrooms. So in that sense, we may compromise a little bit on natural portions and group students so that the special educator could establish a relationship with that classroom teacher. So we’re always thinking about, not only the students and how they are meaningfully placed and engaged, but how are we looking at the adults and how they relate to each other so that we can get the services in there and establish that collaborative relationship. Special education doesn’t need to be provided only by a special ed teacher. There is nothing in Illinois law or in federal law that says a special educator provides those services. But we do expect that a highly qualified special educator will be a critical partner in the planning, delivery and assessment of those services.
Carol Quirk (34:55):
So another part of inclusive education is not having any inclusion classes, because as soon as you say, “that’s an inclusion class over there,” what is that class over there? Is that an exclusion class? Is that a class where students with disabilities don’t get to go, or teachers don’t have to have those kids? So we always want to be thinking about our language and how we can support all students to be general members of the community. Intentional support for social engagement. Some of the students who will be included may have intellectual disabilities, may use a communication device, may use a wheelchair, may have a different appearance because of Down syndrome or another genetic condition. And we want everybody to feel comfortable with engaging with each other. So that is reallya student by student decision often with the family about how that student may be introduced, how the adults will understand how to communicate with and plan for that student, and how to help the other students feel comfortable and engage with someone who may look and speak or communicate differently.
Carol Quirk (36:08):
Adapting materials and adapting lessons is not something that all special educators have learned. In teacher preparation, depending on the university and depending on what route the teacher took to become certified, they may have learned about certain specialized instructional methods, but along with those methods, there is adapting the lesson of the general educator or collaborating with the general educator to adapt it so that the student can participating. So that’s not always something that happens comfortably especially if the special educator hasn’t been taught in the content area. So that’s not rocket science, but it’s, it may be a new learning. Cooperative and collaborative learning groups, especially in high school and then changing the teacher roles and relationships so that folks are comfortable.
Carol Quirk (37:04):
And we never want to say that if a teacher has been teaching in a self-contained class, maybe for a really long time, and now we’re saying we really believe that it’s better for kids to be included, and we want you to change your relationship. That is not at all to say that what you’ve been doing for all that time isn’t a good thing because many teachers, most that I know, are dedicated. They wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing if they didn’t care for and about the instruction and outcomes for their students. So we want to honor that and bring their talents over. So it’s really a matter of bringing the talents and the strengths of those teachers and sharing it among the rest of the school.
Carol Quirk (37:49):
So as I wrap up here I just want to say that when we think of inclusion from our perspective and what we’d like to share with the partners that we have is that we see inclusion as a society where the neighborhood schools welcome all students who live in that community, engage them in learning, and form the foundation for their community to be inclusive. And the neighborhood school is where all students benefit from meaningful instruction, have friends, and are full members of their school community. So now I’m going to stop. And I think Joe is going to moderate questions that have come in from your school community.
Joe Harmsen (38:31):
Dr. Quirk, I will serve as your moderator for this evening’s forum about equity and inclusion. Let’s get started with our first question. Dr. Quirk, is this conversation just about students in special education and how does this discussion connect with all students?
Carol Quirk (38:49):
Well, you know, the, this conversation began years ago talking about students with disabilities, and I wish that I could take credit for a change in how we — and when I say we I’m talking about within the United States — are thinking about inclusive education, which is it, can’t be only about students with disabilities while we’re ignoring another group of students who may not be benefiting. It’s got to be about all. So in that natural proportions conversation, while we started looking at scheduling students equally across, we now in our process are looking at well, what about students who don’t have a disability, but they’re struggling? What about students who are living in poverty and don’t have access to some of the attributes that families have when they have computers and other benefits at home? And you know, what about when we look at our data groups that are not as successful and what about students who are gifted? So we really want to be able to look at making the school community inclusive of everyone.
Joe Harmsen (40:03):
Conversations about equity make me feel like something is going to be taken away from my child. Is that correct? Where my child miss out on something because of this focus?
Carol Quirk (40:14):
So the, the definition of equity and inclusion has been something that’s been a hot topic lately. We have a lot more recognition of inequities in the year 2020 and consequently, a lot more use of the term and focus on promoting equity. The conversations that I’ve had is whether you can be inclusive, but not be equitable, or whether you can be equitable, but not be inclusive. And so just to say, that’s an ongoing conversation, but equity is not about it’s not a pie where one piece gets taken away and there’s less for everybody else. It’s really about fairness. It’s about recognizing what people need and giving them what they need in order to be successful. It’s not a removal from, it’s not a shift of resources, it’s not reallocating resources. So some don’t have what they used to have. It’s about building our capacity to recognize what people need and give it to them.
Joe Harmsen (41:19):
Great. Thank you. Dr. Quirk, can you explain what detracking is and how it relates to inclusion? In other words, can a district be equitable and inclusive while at the same time allowing students to have higher aptitude scores and grades to join the separate advanced classes?
Carol Quirk (41:37):
So there’s, I was looking this up before we had this conversation tonight because detracking has been talked about for a really long time. And we have zero research that shows tracking kids benefits anybody. When we were tracking from elementary to high school years ago, it was really a way for teachers to teach in a singular fashion, to a homogeneous group of students. So if we think about general subjects, they should not be, there should not be hierarchies in elementary, middle or high. Now the issue of AP in high school has more to do with your, you know, what you have on your transcript for college, et cetera. So think about this, Joe. Say you are a student who’s been all A’s, you’re an athlete and you are, you know, bound for Stanford. And say, I am somebody who has maybe a learning disability, maybe a C student. If I am allowed entry into a higher level class, that does not mean you can’t be there. And it doesn’t mean that Jenny who’s our teacher should be teaching at a lower standard. If it’s an AP class or a higher level class, that is the standard. But if I am given the opportunity to be engaged there, and I have role models that are demonstrating knowledge, and I have my materials adapted, I will probably, and there’s no studies on this yet, but I will probably perform at a higher level than I would if I was in a practice class.
Joe Harmsen (43:32):
Great, thank you. Another question. I like that my students are in classes with peers who have similar skillsets or learning level. How will my student be impacted if they were in a class with students of varying learning levels and needs?
Carol Quirk (43:48):
Well, it if this question is from a parent of someone who has a child with a disability, there is absolutely some comfort in thinking that they will be among other students like themselves who may share similar interests. You know, one parent of a child with a significant disability said to me, and she was a proponent of inclusion, “I want my child included throughout their school day in every opportunity that every other child gets, but I also want my child to be with other children like them so they have some identity with others that may have their disability.” It’s just not going to be in the classroom all the time. So I think you can have both worlds. The benefit about being in classes with different peers is that you’re expanding an awareness among children without disabilities to know that we’re all not the same. And to have the opportunity to gain empathy, to gain an understanding of difference.
Carol Quirk (44:50):
And we know through our experience, and there’s very, there is some research, but very little. That when general ed students have this kind of opportunity, they are more likely to enter the helping profession. And they’re more likely to be comfortable. So think about your general ed peers as your future doctors, your future neighbors, your future employers who it would be better for them to be comfortable with and understand a child like yours. There are then opportunities. What some schools have done is they’ve created a club for students who may have an interest in being with others who may be like themselves, but, you know, there may be other opportunities for that kind of identity connection.
Joe Harmsen (45:40):
Thank you, Dr. Quirk. What are some of the learning challenges or gaps that exist at Lake Forest high school? And how does this work help you address them?
Carol Quirk (45:50):
Well, one of the things we’ve recently started doing is doing a data dive and looking at not just the demographics, but looking at differences in suspension. And we’re beginning to look at academics and looking at where there are differences across the board. Across the country, kids with IEP, kids with disabilities are underperforming. So that is a gap. And when you think about it, students, for example, with learning disabilities or emotional disabilities who don’t have any cognitive disabilities, they may have some neurological support needs if they have ADHD or executive function disorder, but the special ed supports should be raising them to grade level. So that’s, that is something really to be looking at. What are those supports?
Carol Quirk (46:40):
We’re also we haven’t had this discussion at Lake Forest high school yet, but in the field there’s discussion about testing as well. And are the ways our children are given tests, is that testing mechanism actually interfering with their demonstration of skills that they may actually have? So there’s, there’s a lot to unpack there. Students who live in poverty are underperforming. And in Lake Forest high school, students who are Hispanic are underperforming. So, you know, I’ve been invited into this conversation to take a deeper dive, to understand what those factors are and how they might be addressed.
Joe Harmsen (47:21):
Excellent. Thank you, Carol. We have a great question. We know that kids form racial biases by seven years old. We also know that if we don’t explicitly talk about race, kids fill in the blanks. What resources can you share with families and teachers in our predominantly white district to help facilitate conversations on race, skin, color, and differences?
Carol Quirk (47:47):
That is such an amazingly great question. My organization is predominantly white and we do have a few people of color or a few people who have other different identities. And you know, we realized early after the George Floyd murder that, and the Black Lives Matter movement came about, that if we are out there talking about being inclusive, we cannot not have this conversation. We have to have this conversation. And so we had some silence in our rooms when we were meeting and we work really hard by beginning with a book study, and then we did another book study together, and now we’re at a point where our staff and we did this, we have weekly staff meetings, and whoever’s hosting the staff meeting comes up with the, with the discussion. And I can tell you the conversation has shifted completely around and it’s conversation.
Carol Quirk (48:52):
So the analogy here is that to prepare for this question, I looked up a few things. And if you just Google “talking to children about race and equity,” there are a bunch of resources. So there’s one called healthychildren.org. And there’s a whole article about talking to children about racial bias. It talks about strategies to talk with your own child, how you can be a role model. So that’s healthychildren.org. There’s another website called center for racial justice in education. And it talks about how to talk to children about racial incidents.
Carol Quirk (49:30):
I can give you an example from my own life. I live in a mixed race community and when my son was eight years old, as it happened, all the boys in the neighborhood were black and they played together since they were babies. And when he was 8 they were all outside rough housing. And one of the larger boys got on top of him and all of these kids called each other the N word. And so he used it. And when I found out I was hugely embarrassed and went around to all of the families and made sure they understood that that was not something that was acceptable or appropriate. And I had to have a conversation with him to understand that just because his friends, all of his friends said that, he did not have that privilege. So I think, you know, educating ourselves and understanding a lot of these nuances is how we can teach our kids to understand, especially if they’re white, where they stand in this relationship. There’s another one that I found that’s called Children’s Alliance and it’s there’s resources for parents and caregivers. And it talks about selecting books you know, recognizing your role in that. So I really suggest that if you’re concerned about this, you could get a bunch of kids together to read, or at least have those conversations and be serious about it.
Joe Harmsen (51:04):
Excellent. Thank you, Carol. How will the school district know when they are truly an inclusive learning environment? What will be the evidence?
Carol Quirk (51:15):
So to me, the evidence is language, and this is not a data point. So this is not something we’re going to measure. We could say that we’re inclusive if we narrowed the achievement gap. We could say that we’re inclusive if a suspension rates are equal or equitable across all different subgroups of race or gender. That doesn’t mean they’re great. We, it’s not just that we don’t want gaps. We want everybody to progress, but if we look at the language we use, and if we’re talking about the sped class, we are immediately stereotyping a group of children who enter that room. If we talk about those kids, where do they belong? And we’re thinking about them as a group we could be labeling. So I think the language that we use and how we’re talking about Emily and Jenny and David and Carol, how we’re talking about children and youth, is how we will really see if we’re inclusive.
Joe Harmsen (52:29):
Thank you for those insights, Dr. Quirk, another great question. My daughter does not need the extra support. However she has different teachers or faculty in our classroom throughout the week, providing instruction. What is the role of these teachers and how do all these people work together?
Carol Quirk (52:48):
Some of them may be teachers. Some of them may be speech therapist. Some of them may be teacher assistants. So each of them will have somewhat of a different role. Lake Forest is very, very fortunate. You have an abundance of staff. We’ve worked with inner city districts. We’ve worked with rural communities. We’re working with a suburban community right now in Maryland. And we’re working with a rural community in Delaware. You really are very fortunate. But to the question of the roles, typically the general ed, say I’m the general ed classroom teacher, it’s my subject matter that I am responsible for teaching all of my kids, no matter who you are in my class. The specialists who come in are there to either provide a direct support to students who need more. And some may come in in a targeted way. Some may be assessing how a student’s doing so they could provide me with advice.
Carol Quirk (53:46):
Speech therapists may provide a lesson to students with and without disabilities related to say, if it’s a language arts classA teaching assistant may be providing support to any student who needs it, or if there is a student who has a teaching assistant on their IEP, meaning they’ve been assigned an extra adult support that teaching assistant will be there to specifically ensure that they can participate in a meaningful way. Now, the trick of this is fading out. So to Lake Forest credit some of the conversations we’ve been having with teaching assistants is how you can show your power of inclusion by moving yourself back when needed. So you’re not sitting down next to the student a hundred percent of the time of the class pointing and prompting, but that you’re standing up. You’re an educator, you’re standing up, you’re standing away and providing as much as needed and as little as needed.
Joe Harmsen (54:49):
Great, thank you. How can my child or student better understand the needs of other students in the classroom so he can collaborate effectively with all types of learners?
Carol Quirk (55:01):
Ask. I think the best thing to do is ask. And sometimes ask the student themselves. And they may or may not be able to always answer the question. But it’s much simpler than it may appear. And generally I’ll let me just tell a very quick story. I was observing the student, it was an elementary student. He had down syndrome and I was there to review what was going on and see if they needed any assistance, which out frankly, they were doing great. This student, he had down syndrome and he, he was slow. He had what’s called hypotonia, low tone. And so frequently as they were going down the whole way, all the kids are, you know, moving together and he would get further and further behind because he just wasn’t as fast. And he did have a couple of friends in his class. And I’m hanging back because I’m trying to not be a shadow and observe what’s going on. So we’re coming down the stairs from the gym back to the class, particularly difficult. So he’s further and further behind. And one of the friends came with, came back with him and he knew I was trailing. And the peer, he looked up at me and he said, “Hey, it’s okay. I got this.” And he is like, you know, we don’t need you. And cause he didn’t know why I was there. So peers are really gonna, they’ll be fine.
Joe Harmsen (56:25):
Excellent. Thank you. My daughter learns best in a separate small group setting. She does not understand the material covered in the general education setting. What evidence supports this will work for all students.
Carol Quirk (56:40):
So if we were to place your daughter in a general ed classroom, that would not be, and just place her there and say you have an IEP, and now you’re going into US history and you have a general ed teacher and maybe a teaching assistant. That that’s just not enough. If your child has been in a small group self-contained class, at some point, your team has decided that that was what she needed in order to learn the subject matter. The thing is we know, and we being the general we, we in the field know that we can adapt. There’s not an expectation that your daughter’s going to learn the same grade level content as everybody else in US history, but there are big concepts in us history. There is vocabulary in US history. And even for a child who may use an augmentative communication system, you can program that vocabulary into that communication device so that you’re positioning the student not to be passive and just getting information, but so that they can communicate answers.
Carol Quirk (57:53):
Now it’s not just about communicating it and teaching them, you know, to press a button or a key so that the answer comes out, but working with them. So it could be that during an intervention period where kids may be going to math or some type of subject to help them and what they need that your child does have some pre-teaching in the concepts and vocabulary so they can participate with their peers. So it doesn’t mean there’s not a hard line you’re in self-contain all day and you’re just included without supports. The key is the supports and the collaboration between general and special ed.
Joe Harmsen (58:33):
Great. Thank you, Dr. Quirk. Our last question: I’m so excited that Lake Forest high school was making these shifts. What training and professional development is being provided for faculty so they can better understand how to approach diverse learners?
Carol Quirk (58:47):
Well, I don’t know all of the professional development, I’m only in a part of it. I’m working with the leadership team. We’ve been doing a lot of work with the, the teaching assistants. We ran a, I think it was 15 hours worth of workshop coursework with them. They were awesome. And that subject matter ranged from teaching literacy skills and numeracy skills to fading your support and providing support, understanding disability. We are hoping to develop a course over the summer that might be available next year on adapting curriculum for students with significant support needs. We’re having conversations so not all of it is, you know, professional development per se. Some of it is, you know, engaging staff to understand what their barriers are and how we can help move it along.
Joe Harmsen (59:42):
Great. Thank you so much for sharing your personal stories and professional insights into inclusion and equity, Dr. Quirk.
Chala Holland (59:54):
Yeah. So thank you so much for taking the time to be with us this evening, Dr. Quirk. Also I want to thank our community members for joining us tonight. We appreciate it receiving your questions. Thank you for answering and also having you all join us in our learning. We are planning to have a follow-up to this town hall in May and hope that you can join us. Then we’ll be sure to share the information with you until then. We hope that you are walking away better informed, and also very inspired. So thanks again, and have a wonderful evening.