Teaching Ambassador Fellow Lisa Coates Discusses Weathering the Special Education Storm

Teaching Ambassador Fellow Lisa Coates Discusses Weathering the Special Education StormMy desire to become a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow was driven by my professional commitment to the equitable treatment and outcomes for students who have emotional disabilities. On a rainy Thursday last week, I was able to bring my voice to the table and sit down with Alexa Posny, assistant secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, and staff from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in a March 10 roundtable discussion.

“Where should the department place its focus for students with emotional disabilities?” asked Assistant Secretary Posny.

The power of that question was pivotal. In the moment that it was asked, my purpose as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow became clear. Policymakers and leaders in the federal government were listening to me.

I did not hesitate to share my concerns for stronger teacher preparation programs and professional development that centers on the leadership for learning and equity and accountability for students with emotional disabilities. Nor did I hesitate to discuss teachers’ needs for time and space to collaborate with a positive perspective for students with emotional disabilities.

Teaching Ambassador Fellow Lisa Coates Discusses Weathering the Special Education Storm Special education teachers faced with increasing complexity, rapid change, and global objectives find themselves weathering a storm of issues that have caused some to leave the profession. State, local, and federal regulations–which should be providing a life raft–instead all to often add to the problem.

One issue I raised in the discussion was value-added performance evaluation systems. Research on value-added models has focused almost exclusively on general education students, but it hasn’t addressed the needs and abilities of other populations. We discussed the need for greater thinking about special education students when using value-added measures of teaching effectiveness.

“Working with such a diverse group of learners, has made me become a firm believer that one-size does not fit all,” I told the group.  In addition, I gave examples and insights into what groups with unique needs endure personally, socially, and academically to meet NCLB’s standards and how such facts need to be put into consideration when determining teachers’ contributions to student growth.

Of course, we did not solve all of the problems of NCLB in one day, but we were able to address many of the special education issues I face every day. We talked at length about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which authorizes formula grants to states and discretionary grants to institutions of higher education and other nonprofit organizations to support research, demonstrations, technical assistance and dissemination, technology and personnel development and parent-training and information centers.

Most important, in the midst of the storm, I felt listened to.

Lisa Coates
Lisa Coates is a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches in Ashland, Virginia.

Read about Secretary Arne Duncan’s 3/15 visit with students with disabilities at Beers Elementary School in Washington, DC.

Read 3/15 speech to the American Association of People with Disabilities Secretary Duncan Vows to ‘Move Away’ from the 2 Percent Proxy Rule in Assessing Students with Disabilities.

1 Comment

  1. Unfortunately The majority of State Education Departments and their school districts have never and/or have not been complying with IDEA. This has been standard procedure since the inception of IDEA to this present date, (Long before the downfall of the economy). There has not been any accountability on the part of the Education system to do so.

    I have a great deal of respect for the dedicated Special Education Teachers and providers who are forced to teach under these impossible circumstances. Knowing what their students need yet to be continuously denied by the administration, being directed to change a students IEP recommendations, being the target of angry frustrated parents, etc.

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