Student Art Visits ED from Around the World

Student artist Kelly recalled a holiday memory in this drawing now on display at ED.

International Education Week is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and Department of Education to highlight the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide. Our two departments work together to promote programs that prepare our students for a global environment and attract future leaders from abroad.

To help celebrate this year’s International Education Week, I had the honor of being a part of the art exhibit opening in ED’s Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) building on Nov. 16. LBJ always showcases wonderful student 2- and 3-D works, along with writing and film and animation by students, and this new collection was exceptional in every way.

The art comes from Arte Postale, VSA’s visual art and writing exchange program. VSA is an international organization on arts and disability founded by Jean Kennedy Smith, and its mission is to provide arts and education opportunities for people with disabilities. The Arte Postale theme this year was “Snapshot: A Glimpse Through My Lens,” which encouraged students to remember an important time in their lives.

The exhibit features the work of 30 students from many countries around the world, including Kuwait, Ecuador, Egypt, Kenya, Nicaragua, and the Philippines as well as the U.S. One of the artists, Kelly, traveled with her mom 16 hours by train from Indiana to take part in the opening!  Kelly greeted the audience after the show and answered questions about her drawing (shown here), which captured her favorite holiday memory.

VSA ribbon cutting

A ribbon cutting on Nov. 16 opened the international VSA exhibit themed "Snapshot: A Glimpse Through My Lens."

All of the writing and visual art from the exhibit was presented in a beautiful book that we were all given a copy of and is available at the exhibit. When I read it cover to cover, I was amazed by how talented the artists are. I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite, but being from Kansas, the piece titled “The Ruby Slipper” from The Wizard of Oz brought a smile to my face.

The ceremony before the ribbon cutting was equally terrific. The student performers stole the show and touched all of us. Several of them spoke about the impact that art has on their lives by helping them overcome challenges. In the words of 16-year-old Amy Stone, “When I’m on stage I feel big. . . . The arts don’t judge you.” The ceremony closed with students singing an original song by their teacher Tom Sweitzer, “Someone Big,” which embodied the message of the event: that arts education—an education that encourages students to express their knowledge—is important for ALL children.

If you are in Washington, I encourage you to visit the Arte Postale exhibit, which will be on display in LBJ through December. Please remember to sign the guest book; the messages will be given to the artists after the exhibit comes down. I would like to thank all of the students, their teachers, and those who supported them along the way for their hard work.

Alexa Posny is assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services.

For more information on VSA and Art Postale, please visit VSA’s website.
The student performers were a part of the music therapy organization A Place to Be.

Discussing Special Education Teacher Prep at Eastern Michigan

Last Friday, I had a great opportunity to participate in a roundtable at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) on special education teacher preparation, recruitment and retention. With six other distinguished panelists that included a state and district representative, an EMU faculty member, a current EMU teacher candidate, a parent and a local teacher representative, we all agreed that integrating some of the preparation of general and special educators was of paramount importance.

For two hours, we shared data on current recruitment and retention rates and best practices for long-term retention.  One of these practices included the need for a strong induction and mentoring program. Michigan currently has a mandatory three-year mentoring program, 15 additional days of professional development, and regional seminars that allow them to hear from and connect to master teachers as they begin their teaching careers. What a great exemplar!

We also discussed the steps EMU is taking to make teacher preparation more successful and how important it is to align university training with what teachers are expected to do in their classrooms. Traditionally, general education and special education teachers have been trained separately, yet as we continue to move towards more inclusive settings, EMU will collaborate to ensure that programs are working together and general and special education are no longer “housed” in separate silos.

During and following the roundtable, I had a chance to chat with some of the over 250 attendees. Some of the topics of interest to audience members included the economic implications of inclusive practices and the need for financial incentives for teachers, especially as we work to increase the number of youth who choose to become special educators.  As I mingled through the crowd, I was excited to meet so many teacher candidates who participated in this event. I want to extend a special thanks to those who participated and remind all of you that investing in education is investing in our future!

Alexa Posny is Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.

Improving the Lives of Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities and their Families

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

On Tuesday, I had the great opportunity to be on a call with Secretary Duncan and Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the president for Disability Policy, a call in which we announced the release of final regulations for the early intervention program otherwise known as Part C.  The intent of the regulations is to improve the lives of infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families.

Kurt Kondrich, Pennsylvania State Interagency Coordinating Council Chair and parent advocate with Alexa Posny in Erie, Pa., during ED's Midwest Back-to-School Tour.

To further spread the great news, we held a roundtable event at the YMCA in Erie, PA and along with Maureen Cronin, Bureau Director of Early Intervention Services for the state of Pennsylvania I was able to share and discuss more about the IDEA Part C regulations.  At the YMCA I spent time in the classrooms and played with some of the children, met local parents from the community and provided information regarding those regulations with parents, early intervention service providers, service coordinators and lead agency personnel.  I spoke about a few of the changes that were made to ensure that the administration’s reform goals were addressed; reducing burden; increasing flexibility and most importantly—striving to improve outcomes for our infants and toddlers with disabilities. I believe we’ve done that.

It was exciting to share this information in Pennsylvania, a state that Secretary Duncan praised for their commitment to early childhood education, and as Maureen noted, one of the first states to effectively pair early intervention with early childhood and put all programs “under one roof.” Among the approximately 40 attendees at the roundtable discussion were parents and families, who were able to share some of their experiences and urged others to advocate for their children to ensure they receive the best services possible.

I was thrilled to see that everyone shared a common goal and that all were able to recognize the value of Pennsylvania’s early childhood programs, including the early intervention program serving infants and toddlers with disabilities.  As one parent noted, in a time of strained budgets, investment in early childhood saves money in the long term. As a final thought, it is through collaboration that we are able to make these programs successful for our youngest populations of learners. I want to offer my thanks to all those who participated in the event and for everything they do to help meet the needs of our youngest populations.

Read the press release for the announcement of these regulations and learn more about the IDEA Part C regulations.

Alexa Posny is Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.

Kicking Off ED’s Leadership Mega Conference

Yesterday, I had the great opportunity in joining Melody Musgrove, director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), and Jim Shelton, assistant deputy secretary for Innovation and Improvement, in welcoming over 1,000 attendees to the Department of Education’s second annual OSEP Leadership Mega Conference in Arlington, Va. This year’s conference is entitled “Collaboration to Achieve Success from Cradle to Career,” and, runs from August 1-3, bringing together state directors of special education, lead agency early intervention coordinators, data managers, parents, state interagency representatives, Technical Assistance center staff and many others. The conference was designed to provide up-to-date information regarding Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) indicators, data analysis, student outcomes, early intervening services, Response to Intervention, Universal Design for Learning, service coordination and collaboration.

Mega Conference logoWhile my opening remarks were brief, I took the opportunity to give a heartfelt thanks to everyone present for all their hard work in meeting the needs of our infants, toddlers, children, youth with disabilities and their families. I also provided a brief update on the status of the IDEA Part C regulations, reminding the group of the common quote: “you usually have to wait for that which is worth waiting for.” I also shared information regarding the power of leadership and I was honored to share a story written by my son about the importance of “not quitting.” My son’s story spoke to the importance of commitment and goal setting and how both helped him to succeed as a high school football player.

The opening session also included a brief video on the 35 years of IDEA followed by an update from Melody Musgrove on the continuing work of OSEP and our continued progress towards collaboration with “general education,” including collaboration with the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE), Title I and the Office of Civil Rights (OCR).  Shelton described the new educational environment that focuses on individualization and personalization for all students and how general education is looking towards special education as a model, since individualized education is not only a requirement, but a priority in how we teach our students.

The rest of the conference is filled with information and insight ranging from innovation, transformation, collaboration and more. I want to extend tremendous gratitude to all of the participants for all that they do to support the success of our students.

If you would like more information, please see the OSEP Mega Conference website at

Alexa Posny is the Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the Department of Education.

Physical Fitness for All

Students gather in the gym at Oxon Hill Elementary

Throughout May, the White House and Department of Education have celebrated Physical Fitness and Sports month—an annual reminder to us all of the importance of physical activity in our daily life. Yesterday, I  joined Andrea Cernich with the President’ s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition on a visit to Oxon Hill Elementary School in Prince George’s County, Md., to talk with district officials, school leaders, teachers, parents, and others about how students with disabilities can fully participate in the school’s physical education and sports programs.

Nearly a year ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report that found students with disabilities participated in athletics at consistently lower rates than students without disabilities.

Adapting physical activities for students with disabilities requires extra resources—time, money and expertise. In schools that fully include students with disabilities in physical instruction and athletics, stakeholders and decision makers have found those resources and applied them to benefit all students in the school.

Students Exercising at Oxon Hill ElementaryWhen I walked into the Oxon Hill Elementary gymnasium yesterday, I knew that I was seeing a shining example of inclusive physical education programming. The school’s Comprehensive Special Education Program ensures that all of the school’s 100 plus students with disabilities are included in general academic and physical education classes.  I practiced my ability to jump right and left and backwards and forward along with a group of second graders in a Dance, Dance Revolution class. I saw how expertly the general physical education teacher and an adapted physical education teacher had worked together to plan and execute a seamless lesson that fully included each of the 30 students in the lesson, including students with disabilities.

I encourage everyone to learn more about Oxon Hill Elementary’s program and others like it. Together, we can share strategies for fully engaging every child in schools’ physical fitness programming and athletics.

For more tips, resources and information on ways parents, teachers and community members can join forces to keep students active, fit and healthy, connect with the First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign.

Alexa Posny is the Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the Department of Education.

Thanking Mr. Otto

Mr. Warren Otto was my tenth grade geometry teacher. I have to admit that I was a handful. My father was the high school principal, which meant that I often got away with less-than-perfect behavior. Mr. Otto, however, always demanded the best of all of his students. He realized within two weeks of the term that my behavior was a symptom of not being challenged by the material. He decided that I needed a more rigorous course.

My father was reluctant; he knew the headaches involved with shifting a student’s schedule once the term had begun, which required a lot of effort in the pre-computer era. Mr. Otto insisted, convincing my father—his boss—to make the change. Mr. Otto was right. Being placed in a more demanding geometry class challenged me to achieve things I didn’t know I could do. Mr. Otto’s rigor and high expectations garnered from me and other students respect and admiration.

As editor, I dedicated our high school annual to Mr. “Worn Auto.” I still think of him as my high school hero. He is also a steadfast exemplar of what a teacher truly is: An advocate for each and every student. I would like to thank Mr. Otto for his example, and the millions of American teachers who believe in the abilities of their students and commit their talents and energy to helping each student reach his or her fullest potential.

Alexa Posny is the Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the Department of Education.

Ed. note: This post is part of an ongoing series of ED staff thanking teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week.

Raising Autism Awareness

Awareness about people with autism and their abilities and desires to lead rich, active, connected lives is on the rise. For example, thanks to an award-winning HBO movie, more people are getting to know Temple Grandin. Dr. Grandin is an adult with autism. She is an animal welfare activist, livestock handling facilities designer, animal behavior professor, and one of TIME’s 100 most influential people in 2010. She is also a renowned autism advocate, helping people around the world understand autism and how to overcome the challenges it presents.

Saturday, April 2, marks the fourth annual World Autism Awareness Day designated by the United Nations. Decades of research and practice has proven what United Nationals Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon recently explained, “All children and adults with autism can lead full and meaningful lives in society. To do so, they simply need great understanding and supports.”

The U.S. Department of Education maintains its commitment to education, employment and equality for all individuals on the autism spectrum. In addition to the 300,000 children on the autism spectrum receiving services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and 6,435 individuals with autism participating in vocational rehabilitation programs, ED grants fund research, technical assistance, and family and personnel support to benefit those with autism and their families.

April is also designated as National Autism Awareness Month. We encourage everyone to spend time this month learning more about autism and the issues that are important to the autism community.

Alexa Posny, Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services

Inclusive Schools

Image of Alexa PosnyWhen I was in kindergarten, my neighborhood friends and I waved goodbye to our families and set off for our first day of school. All except one. My friend with down syndrome didn’t board the bus with us that day. I didn’t know why she wasn’t allowed to come, but I did know that it wasn’t fair or right.

A lot has changed since then. On Monday, Arne and I visited Beers Elementary in D.C., one example of the thousands of American schools where students with disabilities participate in general education classrooms and are expected to learn as much as every other student in the room. The next day, I went to Delaware, where I talked with a group of over 600 people who believe in the power of inclusion and the positive difference it makes for students with and without disabilities.

We know that children are more alike than different. We know that given the right supports, every child can thrive. That’s why we want to make sure that ESEA includes all children, including those with disabilities, and that Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) services provide the supports — expert teachers and highly trained related services personnel, proven practices, effective models, deft technologies, among others — to help students with disabilities achieve challenging standards.

I truly believe that we are all in this together and that we must collaborate to create a system that can meet the needs of each of our nation’s 50 million students, including the six million students with disabilities attending our schools.

Alexa Posny, Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services