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Curb cut theory applied to education

At a local United Way forum last week, keynote speaker Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder & CEO, PolicyLink, made an interesting observation. She stated that although curb cuts were installed to benefit wheelchair users, nearly everyone wound up benefiting from the change - bicyclists and stroller-users and wheeled luggage draggers. Bike lanes were designed to benefit those riding bikes, but wound up improving the traffic flow and benefiting automobile drivers as well.

Ms Blackwell's point was that programs that benefit the poor, minorities, and immigrants wind up benefiting everyone. Sort of the "all boats rise" economic theory, but turned upside down. I agree.

Might this curb cut theory also apply to educational practices? Might interventions we use with our struggling learners benefit every child in a school? Should, for example, might every child in our educational system benefit from:

  • Having an IEP?
  • Having his or her instruction personalized?
  • Using adaptive technologies?
  • Using adaptive learning programs?

I am not a special education expert by any means, but it seems like there must be some major take-aways from our work with kids with special needs that can help all kids.

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Reader Comments (6)

Yes! We talk about this at our school all the time when we talk about strategies that will help ELL (English Language Learners). When we implement the strategies in our classes, they help all of the kids so they really don't always need to be used with just the ELL stidents. I totally agree that the theory works.

February 8, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterlisa z

Thank you, Liz, for taking the time to comment. I am glad to hear others see this opportunity as well!

All the best,


February 10, 2016 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Here lies the truth. I am not meeting the needs of all of my students. It is something that plagues me everyday. As an elementary specialist, I see my students for 25-40 minutes per week. This does not allow for me to engage in the indepth instruction that I long to do. Eventhough I repeatedly chant the mantra - "Quality before quantity!", I still find myself in a race to get material covered. After two weeks, even I am bored over doing the same content. I want to do more. I have many proven strategies at my fingertips. However, I struggle to implement properly due to various constraints and limitations. Not an excuse. simply a fact.

This is how I believe instruction should be. I am a firm believer in Understanding by Design. Coupled with Danielsons' Instructional Framework, they provide an encompassing foundation for any pedagogical or methodology of instruction to be intensive, comprehensive, standard driven, structured, empirical, quantitative and qualitative. Together, UdL and Danielson leave little room for errors and lapses in accountability. Adding to this the application of the Curb cut theory, educators can not help but to provide more comprehensive instruction. The question is how can all of this delivered effectively within the restraints that many teachers face - time, resources, technology, training, institutional, district and administrative support? Whether we like it or not, "NCLB" should be the norm and not simply a goal. Every child should receive a quality, comprehensive, appropriate education that prepares them to be successful global citizens. Because when you really think about it, that's what every educator wants for ALL of their students.

So I don't quite understand how instructional practices are routinely reserved for a certain set of students. Why are intervention services and strategies provided as reactive necessities to individuals who have demonstrated a proven, documented need when it is the foundational philosophy of differentiated instruction? How much more successful our students would be if complete instructional resources were provided - not based upon budgets, debates of necessity and proven, documented need. But the sheer premise that all students are endowed with the inalienable right to an excellent, academically appropriate individualized learning career that indubitably prepares them to be successful, global citizens in any endeavor of his or her choosing.

Since when did meeting everyone's needs become a debate and when is it going to become a norm?

February 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDana Steele


I am in awe of your comment. Your final line is a classic. Any chance I could talk you into publishing a version of this as a guest blog post on the Blue Skunk? It deserves to be read.


February 12, 2016 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Yes, this is a great example of Universal Design, and this is a huge movement in education to use strategies that benefit students with disabilities to benefit all students. Using Universal Design, we can eliminate or greatly reduce the number of accommodations students must request to make a learning environment more accessible for students with disabilities, and it can reduce the number of students who need IEPs in elementary and secondary education and reduce the number of students who need to declare their disability with the disability services office in higher education, as they will not need to seek accommodations when the environment is accessible to them. I highly recommend all educators look up Universal Design in Education to learn more about how they can make small changes to accommodate a wide variety of learners.

July 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNicole M.

Thanks, Nicole. I appreciate comments from readers who are far more expert than I in the topic of the post.

Hope this seen and heeded by many in education.

All the best,


July 16, 2018 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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