Sustainable Inclusive Reform: A University-School District Partnership for Equitable and Effective Schooling



Innovation center education, Mount Pleasant, Community School, Inclusive district

District Partner

  • Mount Pleasant

Project Duration

From 2015 to 2017

Background and Purpose

A team of UNI faculty and 35 educators from the Mount Pleasant Community School District had taken up the urgent and critical task of becoming a more inclusive school district in order to ensure access and progress in the general education curriculum for all students. The faculty team had established an innovative Inclusive Education Teacher Preparation program at UNI for this cohort and began a collaborative, participatory research project to examine the process and results of partnering for inclusive school reform. The researchers worked with seven schools in one district to assist in reforming teaching practices to be more inclusive of students with disabilities. The researchers provided professional development to the teachers and paraprofessionals, including graduate coursework, support as the district revised its Special Education Service Delivery Plan, and in-classroom coaching for the educators. 

Using an action-research framework and mixed methods from both qualitative and quantitative traditions, the researchers examined topics related to:

  • building capacity in educators as they work toward inclusive change,
  • planning for systematic, inclusive restructuring, and
  • the impact of inclusive policies and practices on educational outcomes for all students.

The project addressed needs related to innovative research, policy, and practice. Anticipated outcomes included:

  • improving the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of inclusive educators,
  • addressing the shortage of special education teachers in Iowa,
  • improved Iowa compliance with Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)
  • narrowing the significant achievement gap experienced by Iowa's students with disabilities, and
  • creating and evaluating a sustainable process for inclusive change.


  • There are key features that distinguish educators who are persistently committed to inclusive education
  • Inclusive reform is an act of boundary crossing as educators negotiate the larger political context within the in-the-trenches, daily experiences of their inclusive practice 

Resulting Publications 

  • Petersen, A., Gallagher, D., & Cowley, D. Teaching in the in-between: Opportunities for and resistance to inclusive reform. Manuscript in preparation.
  • Cowley, D., Gallagher, D., & Petersen, A. The trouble with love is: Educators' voices of inclusive change. Manuscript in preparation.

Follow-On Grants 


Cowley headshot
Cowley, Danielle M.

Assistant Professor, University of Northern Iowa

Gallagher, Deborah headshot
Gallagher, Deborah

Professor, University of Northern Iowa

Petersen, Amy J. picture
Petersen, Amy J.

Associate Professor, University of Northern Iowa