Learner Variability and Special Education Initiative

Why This Matters

The State of Special Education in Our Country

About Our Initiative

  • Overview
  • Training & Support
  • Collaborators
  • Using our Voice
  • Alumni in the Field

All students learn differently, and students with diverse learning needs are in every classroom. More than 13 percent of Teach For America corps members teach in special education contexts.

In 2014, Teach For America launched the Learner Variability and Special Education Initiative to:

  1. Collaborate with parents, schools, communities, and organizationslike Learning Ally and Understood.orgto create supportive and differentiated learning environments.

  2. Recruit general and special educators who believe in the unique potential of each student.

  3. Bring together our community of corps members, alumni, staff, and partners to work toward change in classrooms, schools, and education policy to better support diverse learners.

We are building partnerships and pilots to support our corps members and alumni across the country in embracing all learners. In addition to partnering with colleges and universities for teacher certification, the following partnerships supplement and support our work:

  • Teach For America’s Eastern North Carolina region is developing an “Embracing All Learners” professional development sequence that includes training with The Hill Center and the Friday Institute’s MOOC-Ed on Learning Differences.

  • Our Alabama region piloted a partnership with Understood.org for training to better support parents and teachers.

  • Our Miami-Dade region piloted a partnership with Learning Ally around training for all educators on universal design for learning and response to intervention.

  • Alumni and staff from our Atlanta, D.C., and Los Angeles regions are participating in Teach For All-Oak Foundation Learning Differences Fellowship and collaborating with our global partners on how to better support all learners across contexts.

  • Our Milwaukee region partnered with Independence First to provide corps members and staff with first-hand training on disability etiquette and awareness.

These programs build on the training and support we offer all of our corps members.

We are thrilled to work alongside organizations that are doing incredible work to support all learners. Our involvement with the Reimagine Learning initiative has led to strong collaboration with The Center for Individual Opportunity, The New Teacher Center, Understood.org and many more organizations and individuals. 

We are also excited to partner with organizationsuch as Eye to Eye and Ramapo for Childrento bring high quality professionals into the field who have a strong background, experience, and mindsets around embracing all learners.

We continue to learn from organizations such as the Council for Exceptional Children, National Center for Learning Disabilities, and specialized schools like AIM Academy, Denver Academy, The Hill Center, and others who push our thinking around best practices for supporting our diverse learners.

Jennifer Krystopowicz (D.C. Region ’07)

Jennifer started teaching at Tyler Elementary School eight years ago. Today, she works as Tyler’s Leadership Initiative For Teachers ambassador. The individualized high expectations and support she provides students led to Jennifer being honored with a 2012 Rubenstein Award for Highly Effective Teaching by chancellor Kaya Henderson (New York ’92).


Jackie Rodriguez (D.C. Region ’05)

Jackie is a professor of special education at the college of William and Mary in Virginia. Her dissertation for her doctorate from the University of Central Florida focused on her work with United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Jordan, where she lived and researched for a year. She is on the board for the Division of International Special Education Services of the Council for Exceptional Children.

Thoughts From Our Educators

A close head shot of a young man with buzzed black hair smiling in a classroom, wearing a gray shirt and pink sweater.
Gary James
D.C. Region 2010
All students, particularly those of color, from low-income communities, or placed in special education, reflect messages projected on them by society. You can set up your classroom so that the messages projected on them are, ‘You are smart, you are capable, you are worthy. I view you as my equal.’
A close head shot of a young man with blond hair gelled up, smiling in front of a gray background, wearing a blue and white striped shirt.
Joey Gallagher
Milwaukee 2014
As a teacher, I work every day with students who have emotional or behavioral learning disabilities. It is up to me to learn the differences of my students and cater to them, to ensure that they feel empowered to learn in the manner that best fits them.