Collaborative Executive Summary

The League is proud to announce the launch of the Collaborative for Exceptional Education. This long-term program will significantly raise the bar on how the League and the Collaborative support the needs of exceptional learners across Colorado. Kaci Coats, Executive Director of the Collaborative, along with the Collaborative Core Design Team and Advisory Committee, have organized the development of the Collaborative’s mission and vision and are currently in the process of leading its launch. The League will continue to house the Collaborative as it takes wing over the following years growing into a full-fledged organization serving school leaders, educators, schools, districts and partners while also advocating for the needs of exceptional learners and the organizations who educate them.

Through its memberships, workshops, and consultation services, the Collaborative seeks to serve educators and school leaders in traditional, innovation, and charter schools and hopes to collaborate with district and state representatives to ensure that schools have access to high- quality trainings, resources, and support. — The League Staff

THE COLLABORATIVE OVERVIEW — By Kaci Coats, Executive Director

Across the country, students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or diverse learning needs are severely under-performing their peers in general education.  In Colorado specifically, less than eight percent of students with disabilities were proficient on state standards in both English Language Arts and Math. We also know this gap is more pronounced in areas affected by the achievement gap. [1]

[1] Colorado Department of Education. (2018). CMAS – Mathematics, English Language Arts, Science and Social Studies Data and Results.

We also are acutely aware of the following:

  • Historically, through the Response to Intervention (RTI) process, data shows that students from low-income areas and students of color were disproportionately placed in more restrictive environments than that of their white, affluent peers with the same disability types.[1]
  • It can often be difficult or impossible to parse out the effects of a disability when compounded with factors affected by being consistently underserved academically and language acquisition.
  • An analysis of Colorado’s teacher shortage areas reveals a decline in enrollment and completion of educator preparation programs, retention of existing teachers, and retirement of veteran teachers. These factors have required our state to recruit 50 percent of our educators from out-of-state.[2]
  • English Language Learners have been historically underserved in a variety of districts in Colorado resulting in a Consent Decree being established to create more measures to protect these scholars.[3]
  • Students in low-income schools are five times less likely of being identified for gifted services.[4]
  • Access to mental health resources vary greatly depending on income level. Nearly twice as many communities in the highest income quartile of median household income (43 percent) had mental health treatment resources compared with communities in the lowest income quartile (23 percent).[5]

[1] National Institute for Urban School Improvement (2008 study)

[2] Colorado’s Teacher Shortages: Attracting and Retaining Excellent Educators (CDE 2017)

[3] DPS ELA Dept & Consent Decree Overview (February 2018)

[4] Disentangling the Roles of Institutional and Individual Poverty in the Identification of Gifted Students (2017)

[5] American Psychiatric Association (2017)

The above research highlights some of the many dysfunctions and inequities that are evident across the educational landscape in Colorado. Over the last year, the Colorado League of Charter Schools has undergone a full landscape analysis and strategic planning process to address the following primary concerns:

  1. Funding challenges: How do we enable schools to receive the funding necessary to provide high-quality, equitable services?
  2. Structural impediments: How do we overcome structural barriers to the consistent, expert provision of services? 
  3. Gaps in practice: How do we build the capacity of charters to serve students in a manner that aligns with their differing leadership, mission, and service models?

While some of these can be addressed through teacher and leader support and development, many are actually systemic issues that can only be dealt with through strategic partnerships and advocacy at the district, state, and national levels. To begin this work, the League has developed the Collaborative for Exceptional Education in order to build strong school and district relationships, build capacity in schools, and to develop strategic partnerships with state and national agencies to become a change agent in the state of Colorado.

Mission, vision, theory of change

The mission of the Collaborative for Exceptional Education is to break down barriers and build schools’ capacity to serve their diverse learners. To do this effectively, the Collaborative will work alongside educational organizations at all levels (school, district, and state) to serve their exceptional student populations through:

  • onsite consultative support and resources, 
  • talent acquisition and development, and 
  • strategic state and local advocacy.

The vision of the Collaborative for Exceptional Education is for every school in the state to have equal access to high-quality educational leadership, advocacy, coaching and resources. Schools need to optimally serve their most diverse student learners including Special Education, Gifted & Talented and English Language Learners. The Collaborative is not a clearinghouse for professional services. Our greatest strength is that we truly work alongside and collaborate with our schools to inspire them (or re-inspire them) as we provide resources they need to measurably improve the impact they have on the exceptional student populations they serve.

Desired impact & end state

One of the Collaborative’s core values is to “Provide the highest quality while working to make the biggest impact.” So frequently in the world of education, organizations track inputs because the outcomes easily fluctuate based on uncontrolled factors. However, to be good stewards of public and private funds, the Collaborative must be heavily outcomes driven so that change is actually made. It is the goal of the Collaborative to have enough of an impact that we see improvement in the gap between the academic performance of our diverse learners when compared to typical learning peers, improvements in the graduation rates of our diverse learners, and the successful completion of these students’ post-secondary goals.  Additional areas that the Collaborative hopes to accomplish include:

  • More equitable flow of funds targeted to diverse learners.
  • Greater control over program design to increase innovation.
  • School & network access to specialized expertise.
  • Ongoing access to high-quality professional development.
  • Development of a talent pipeline in “hard to fill” subject areas with an added focus on diversity.
  • Higher retention, effectiveness, & satisfaction rates of professionals, with an added focus on diversity.
  • Stronger student engagement, behavior, & achievement.

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