A $2.5 million gift from longtime donors Bill and Nancy Thompson to Chapman University’s Thompson Policy Institute (TPI) on Disability in the Attallah College of Educational Studies will make a tangible and transformative impact on the lives of California’s students. TPI works alongside the disability community to develop and improve equitable, accessible and nurturing learning and community environments for all through integrated research, policy and practice.
The gift will provide funding for the Inclusive Schooling Initiative (ISI), a program created to address the persistent challenge of inadequate inclusion between general education classrooms and students with disabilities.
“The ISI and the work of the entire team at the Thompson Policy Institute helps to make the vision of Attallah College—to transform teaching, learning and social communities toward an inclusive, equitable and just world—a reality,” explains Attallah College’s Dean, Roxanne Greitz Miller. “We are incredibly proud of this next step toward our shared goals.”
Dr. Audri Sandoval Gomez, TPI director and lecturer at Attallah College, expressed her excitement about the initiative. “We envision substantial and lasting change as this initiative takes root. Its potential to drive transformation in California’s legislative policies, educational practices and the overall well-being of students with disabilities is remarkable.”
The core objective of the ISI is to elevate the benchmarks of inclusive schooling across California over five years by actively creating and implementing innovative inclusion models across the state. TPI is working closely with the California Department of Education (CDE) and with dedicated technical support from Supporting Inclusive Practices (SIP), part of the CDE’s special education division. SIP provides technical assistance to educational communities to pursue inclusive and equitable systems.
Dr. Meghan Cosier, TPI executive director and associate professor of education at Attallah College, underlined the significance of these demonstration sites, explaining, “They will serve as beacons of best practices, showcasing effective teaching and learning methods that amplify access for students with disabilities within general education settings. With legislative support, strategic investment and our role as agents of change, this program holds the potential to revolutionize inclusive school practices and policies throughout California.”
Creating Inclusive Classroom Models
The Inclusive Schooling Initiative is a potential game-changer. Despite commendable efforts, California continues to be one of the most segregated states in the U.S.–only 58% of students with disabilities spend at least 80% of the school day in general education classrooms. The goal is to reach 70% by 2025.
Demonstration sites are pivotal educational platforms. Educators, administrators, policymakers and stakeholders can learn from these methodologies within genuine educational contexts by showcasing tangible models of effective teaching and learning practices.
Leveraging early funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, TPI embarked on an initial journey to implement innovative, inclusive practices with Poway Unified School District in San Diego County through the Strategic Practices for the Advancement of Inclusive Schooling (SPAIS) project. SPAIS focuses on increasing access and outcomes for secondary students with disabilities who are Black, Latinx, students experiencing poverty and homelessness, and students with disabilities, including students with the most significant disabilities in general education settings.
Two years of dedicated collaborative support yielded significant progress across six schools. Notable achievements included a remarkable 7.6% surge in students with disabilities being immersed in general education settings for at least 80% of their school day, alongside a 6.4% reduction in students with disabilities in segregated environments.
The impact on inclusion within the district has been profound, with TPI’s ongoing commitment leading to direct professional development for principals, teachers, instructional assistants and district staff.
“Through our work at Poway, co-taught classrooms (involving both general education and special education teachers) have [increased] from 56 to 85,” highlighted Cosier. “This underscores its indisputable effectiveness of TPI collaborative work with Poway.”
Addressing Systemic Barriers to Inclusive Education
While substantial progress has been achieved in this beginning phase, the $2.5 million funding from Bill and Nancy Thompson will fully realize the initiative’s potential. With this new investment, TPI and SIP will establish demonstration sites across the state, each contributing to elevated inclusion rates for children with disabilities and improved social-emotional and behavioral outcomes.
“Bill and Nancy Thompson are invested in making a real impact in the world,” said Matt Parlow, Chapman’s executive vice president and chief advancement officer. “Together, we are creating a more inclusive and equitable future for all.”
Sandoval Gomez expanded on this potential impact, stating, “Once we develop and establish additional sites, then on average, exponentially more children will transition from more segregated to more inclusive educational environments.”
In collaboration with Supporting Inclusive Practices, TPI will engage with the California State Assembly’s office and the California Department of Education to collaboratively address systemic barriers to inclusive education, thus propelling inclusion throughout the state.
“New partnerships cultivated through ISI will expand access to expert educators and district personnel who can engage in discussions about our work and its impact on children and youth,” Cosier said.
Cosier and Sandoval Gomez are excited about the transformative potential of the Inclusive Schooling Initiative, envisaging a revolution in the education of students with disabilities across California.
“This pioneering endeavor is set to solidify TPI as the foremost advocate and champion of educational advancement for students and individuals with disabilities,” Sandoval Gomez concluded. “Together, we can dismantle barriers, challenge stereotypes, and inspire a generation of confident, capable learners primed to flourish.”