Overview and Vision

Reform efforts in general and special education have often followed parallel but separate tracks. Unfortunately, the reforms in general education had limited attention given to students with disabilities and special educators have not entered or been invited into the dialogue generated by these reforms. Special education and other programs addressing the needs of young people with disabilities cannot evolve in isolation from broader national policy interests and reforms. Together, special and general educators must seek to redefine what they do and the results they will achieve for students with disabilities and their families.

The Research Institute was developed out of the need to enhance the dialogue between general and special educators and to identify practices that appear to be effective with all students. Building on the extant research in secondary special education, authentically based achievement standards, and school restructuring processes, the Research Institute developed and implemented a strategic program of research. The mission of the institute is to expand the current knowledge base related to practices and policies in secondary schools that enhance learning, achievement, and related post-school outcomes for students with disabilities.

The elaboration of a vision of high quality learning for youth with disabilities is central to all efforts to improve educational policy, practice, and research. Developed through school-based action research programs, this vision integrates the elements of authentic pedagogy (Newmann & Wehlage, 1995) with the essential attributes of learning experienced by youth that learn differently and in diverse ways. This elaborated vision of learning, which we refer to as Schools of Authentic Inclusive Learning (SAIL), will illustrate the potential for learning by all students in diverse and inclusive classrooms. In developing a full understanding of authentic inclusive learning, the Institute will be guided by two principles: Schools and educators from a diverse set of organizational and demographic settings must be full partners in the discovery, development, replication, and dissemination of effective practices that enable youth with disabilities to achieve high standards for academic learning. 

Research programs and designs must enable participating schools and universities to enhance their capacities for action research, continuous professional learning, redesigning preservice teacher preparation, and improving the educational outcomes for students in participating schools. 

Over the five-year Institute several key activities are being undertaken: recruiting and training graduate students and teacher-researcher teams at participating schools, designing and conducting action research programs for five integrated strands of inquiry, documenting the progress of the Institute in informing the vision of authentic inclusive pedagogy, and disseminating findings to key audiences using information technologies and a network of outreach and dissemination partners. 

The field studies undertaken at each action research site will examine interventions and practices affecting youth with the full range of disabilities, disruptive youth, youth with multiple and severe disabilities, and other students who are served outside of regular classrooms. Figure 1 provides a conceptual framework that aligns the Institute’s research agenda with the model of successful school restructuring.



Newmann, F. M., & Wehlage, G. G. (1995). Successful school restructuring: A report to the public and educators by the Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools. Washington, DC: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


File last updated: February 7, 2003
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