Urban Collaborative joins ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College


Kelly Jasper
Urban Collaborative logo

The Urban Collaborative has a rich history of collaboration with school districts — more than 100 in 25 states — committed to leading inclusive and equitable education. It has resources, sponsors and partners, consultants and data-driven review processes, and annual meetings of education leaders from the nation’s largest urban school districts.

What it hasn’t had — until now — is a bridge between research, policy and practice, with the backing of a college dynamic enough to excel in both research and educator preparation.

This fall, the Urban Collaborative joins Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. It was formerly an initiative of the nonprofit Education Development Center.

Lauren Katzman, Urban Collaborative executive director, joins MLFTC as associate research professor. She answers a few questions about the move, new opportunities introduced by the partnership and thoughts on inclusive and equitable education practices in schools.

, executive director of Urban Collaborative

Lauren Katzman

Question: What is the Urban Collaborative? 

Lauren Katzman: The Urban Collaborative is a professional learning community focused on equitable and inclusive practices. It’s a 26-year-old organization that started in Massachusetts with 15 school districts and has grown into a national network of more than 100.

Q: What role do school districts play? Why are they members?

LK: We enlist school districts as members, not people, because when you look at creating inclusive services, you have to look at the whole district. You can’t just look at one school or one classroom or just special education. 

People come to our meetings to discuss their work as district leaders together. It’s not only special educators; it’s special educators, student support services, assistant superintendents, superintendents and special education directors. Our meetings go to different cities and we learn about what’s going on in those host cities. This November, we’re focused on the intersection of disability and race with Chicago Public Schools. The host district brings problems of practice — a dilemma, something that does not have an easy answer — and presents to everybody who’s there for feedback. Invariably, they’ve all experienced something similar. 

To be in charge of inclusive practices for a school district can be an extremely rewarding and at times, very lonely experience. The Urban Collaborative, then, becomes a home for people. Members say they can breathe. They connect with each other. They’re surrounded by people who understand their work. 

Q: Why bring the Urban Collaborative to a university?

LK: The reason I want to do this work at ASU is to bridge research, policy and practice. I’ve been in those three arenas and they talk in different languages to different people, but we all need each other. 

I’ve been in the field of education for 36 years. I was a teacher for 14 years and I didn’t know until I left that I didn’t really know how to teach kids to read. I thought I knew. But I didn't know what the research says, which is really clear, or what policies might be in place to support literacy. I didn’t have all the access as a practitioner. I didn’t have all the right access as a practitioner. 

Here’s another example. District leaders can see that students of color who are classified with a disability receive more disciplinary actions. Higher education is working to understand and find effective ways to address why this is happening across the country. When those working in schools know what is happening across the country and understand many of the reasons why, they can better develop district and school policies and practices that address the issues.

We can do so much better in education. I'm optimistic in this role because I feel like the Urban Collaborative is filling the gap between research, policy, and practice.

Q: Of all the colleges you could have partnered with, why did you choose MLFTC?

LK: One, ASU has been known in the field of special education as being one of the best institutes of higher education in the country. So many amazing things have come out of ASU —  the Equity Alliance, the seminal works of Alfredo Artiles and the strong teacher education, Emotional and Behavioral Disability and Applied Behavior Analysis programs. There are some great forward thinkers in the field at ASU.

Two, ASU is No. 1 in innovation. It's a culture. The parameters are to do amazing things.The Collaborative plans to do great things here and grow capacity as much as possible. 

Third, MLFTC’s special education faculty is amazing. The expertise here is crucial. They've embraced this organization. I hope the Urban Collaborative can make the university a beacon for special education and leadership around inclusive practices. I also hope ASU can become a resource to the district in the Collaborative. 

Q: What happens next, now that the Urban Collaborative is a part of ASU?

LK: I'd like to research the effect the Collaborative has. When I was a district leader and when I was a student, the Collaborative was where I learned about the field of special ed. What I’ve been told and what I’ve experienced is that this organization improves the knowledge base of leaders in the districts, it allows us to build a community where we can work with each other to grow and improve the policies and practices of a district, and it gives districts examples of what they can do. When we ask districts to present, we tell them they do not have to have it figured out. They bring their successes and barriers and it helps break down the isolation of working in districts while helping others.

Overall, members are really excited to be a part of the university and connect with the research and resources. Soon, I’d like to grow students at ASU to do this work. I want to connect them with this community so that they see and understand the importance of inclusive practices and district leadership. There’s a misconception that this is just about special education. It’s not. At an inclusive school, everybody gets what they need. 

When I first started teaching, we understood inclusivity as access to school. Now we’re focused on whether students get access to education. We have a mantra, which is: Special education is a service, not a place. It’s about access from where you are. School should be an environment where every child is educated to their highest potential and as adults, we should never limit our perception of what a child can do.

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