Saturday, January 7, 2017

Education Week Series on RtI Highlights Kentucky/ Appalachian Mountain Grant Site’s Successful (Project ACHIEVE) School Discipline Program



An Overview of the Scientific Components Behind this Success, and a Free Implementation Guide for Those Who Want to Follow

Dear Colleague, 
 
   Happy New Year !!!  I hope that your holiday season was filled with joy and family, and that your 2017 is your most successful year yet.

   Before the holiday break, we were very pleased to have the Martin County (KY) School District’s five-year School Climate Transformation Grant and its middle and high school sites highlighted in Education Week’s series on “Response-to-Intervention: The Next Generation.”

   [CLICK HERE for article


   We were instrumental in Martin County receiving this grant [CLICK HERE for our grant-writing services], and they are implementing Project ACHIEVE’s Positive Behavioral Support System (PBSS) as the cornerstone of their district- and school-wide discipline and classroom management approach.
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Education Week Summary

   In the piece (published on December 13, 2016), the following important points were made:

   * Many Martin County families are living in poverty (the district is in Eastern Kentucky’s coal country); many students have been exposed to alcohol and drug abuse; and many teachers need to respond to students’ “backgrounds of trauma” in order to focus on academics and instruction

   * School staff (teachers, mental health support staff, administrators) discuss--weekly--the information and data related to students’ academic and social, emotional, and behavioral progress; and the supports and interventions (when necessary) that help address students’ needs

   * Students, parents, and community and agency leaders are involved in and an integral part of the planning, discussions, and strategies that are implemented

   * District and school personnel have embraced the importance of teaching and reinforcing positive student behavior, rather than depending on zero tolerance, punishment, and suspensions (although this is an ongoing challenge)

   * The schools have recognized the need for multi-tiered services, supports, and strategies because some students need more strategic or intensive interventions relative to their academic and social, emotional, and behavioral needs

   * These services and supports are need-based.  That is, students to do not have to receive a certain number of Tier I or II interventions to “qualify” to receive Tier III approaches, and functional assessment to determine the underlying reasons for students’ challenges begins in Tier I.

   * Thus, the multi-tiered (Tier I, II, and III) Project ACHIEVE (academic and behavior/Positive Behavioral Support) system was implemented simultaneously.  (That is, the schools did not implement Tier I for a year or two, then Tier II for a year or two, and then Tier III.)

   * Finally, the system is working.  Staff and students demonstrate their continuous support, they are internalizing and independently implementing the approaches, and the feedback and data are demonstrating progress and success
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The Scientific Components of “the System”

   While Martin County is implementing the scientific components of its school discipline system over a three-to-five-year period of time, the five scientific components that “anchor” its success have been present and growing from the beginning.

   Moreover, the six schools in this County District have recognized that these scientific components are interdependent, and that they eliminate the need for a number of separate programs that often overwhelm and side-track many other districts.  These programs include those focusing on:

   * Cultural Competence
   * Character Education
   * Poverty Awareness
   * Trauma Sensitivity
   * Mindfulness
   * Restorative Justice
   * Teasing and Bullying Programs

   Significantly, most of these programs (a) are not evidence-based; (b) are not rooted in cognitive-behavioral science; (c) do not focus on student self-management outcomes; and/or (d) are narrow in scope, rather than broad in impact.  More often than not, while well-intended, these programs sound good in theory, but--in practice--they do not explicitly utilize all five of the scientific components needed for comprehensive success:

   * Positive Relationships and School/Classroom Climate
   * Positive Behavioral Expectations and Skills Instruction
   * Student Motivation and Accountability
   * Consistency
   * Applications to All Settings and the Peer Group

   These components are briefly described below.
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Positive Relationships and School/Classroom Climate

   Effective schools work consciously, planfully, and on an on-going basis to develop, reinforce, and sustain positive and productive relationships so that their cross-school and in-classroom climates mirror these relationships. 

   Critically, however, these relationships include the following:  Students to Students, Students to Staff, Staff to Staff, Students to Parents, and Staff to Parents.

   But functionally, they involve training and reinforcement.  For example, students need to learn the social and interactional skills that build positive relationships with others, and the peer group must “buy into” the process. 

   Similarly, teachers need to recognize the importance of committing to effective communication, collaboration, and collegial consultation.  But, they also need to have the skills to accomplish these. . . in good times and bad.
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Positive Behavioral Expectations and Skills Instruction

   Students--from preschool through high school--need to know the explicit social, emotional, and behavioral expectations in the classrooms and across the common areas of the school.  These expectations need to be communicated as “what they need to do,” rather than “what they do not need to do.”

   Critically, teachers and administrators will have more success teaching students to (a) walk down the hallway, rather than not run; (b) raise your hand and wait to be called on, rather than don’t blurt out answers; (c) accept a consequence, rather than don’t roll your eyes, and give me attitude.

   In addition, these expectations need to be behaviorally specific--that is, we need to describe exactly what we want the students to do (e.g., in the hallways, bathrooms, cafeteria, and on the bus). 

   It is not instructionally helpful to talk in constructs--telling students that they need to be “Respectful, Responsible, Polite, Safe, and Trustworthy.”  This is because each of these constructs involve a wide range of behaviors, and it is the behaviors we need to teach so that students can fully demonstrate the global constructs that we want.

   Said a different way:  You can’t teach a behavioral construct; we need to teach the behaviors that represent the construct.

   But we also must teach these social, emotional, and behavioral skills. . . the same way that we teach a football team, an orchestra, a drama club, or an academic task.  We need to teach the skills and its steps, to demonstrate it, to give students opportunities to practice and receive feedback, and then to apply their new skills to “real-world” situations.

   This all means that we need to communicate our behavioral expectations to students, and then teach them.  Functionally, this means that our schools need to consciously and explicitly set aside time for social skills instruction, and then embed the application of this instruction into their classrooms and group activities, and (for example) cooperative and project-based instruction.
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Student Motivation and Accountability

   For the skill instruction described above to “work,” students need to be held accountable for demonstrating positive and effective social, emotional, and behavioral skills.  But to accomplish this, students need to be motivated (eventually, self-motivated) to perform these skills.

   Motivation is based on two component parts:  Incentives and Consequences.  But critically, these incentives and consequences must be meaningful and powerful to the students.

   Too often, schools create “motivational programs” for students that involve incentives and consequences that the students couldn’t care less about.  Thus, it looks good “on paper,” but it holds no weight in actuality--from the students’ perspectives. 

   At other times, schools forget that they need to recognize, engage, and activate the peer group in a motivational program.  This is because, at times, the peer group actually is undermining the program by negatively reinforcing those members (on the playground, after school, on social media) who are “playing up to the adults” through their appropriate behavior.

   On a functional level, both incentives and consequences result in positive and prosocial behavior.  The incentives motivate students toward the expected behaviors, and the consequences motivate students away from the inappropriate behaviors (and toward the expected ones).

   But critically, educators need to understand that you can only create motivating conditions.  That is, we can’t force students to meet the behavioral expectations.  When we force students to do anything, we are managing their behavior, not facilitating self-management.  While we have to do some management to get to self-management. . . if we only manage students’ behavior, then they will not (know how to) self-manage when the adults are not present.
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Consistency

   Consistency is a process.  It would be great if we could “download” it into all students and staff. . . or put it in their annual flu shots. . . but that’s not going to happen.

   Consistency needs to be “grown” experientially over time, and then sustained in an ongoing way.  It is grown through effective strategic planning with explicit implementation plans, good communication and collaboration, sound implementation and evaluation, and consensus-building coupled with constructive feedback and change.

   It’s not easy. . . but it is necessary for school success.

   But relative to school discipline, classroom management, and student self-management, consistency must occur all four of the other elements of the blueprint. 

   That is, in order to be successful, staff (and students) need to (a) demonstrate consistent prosocial relationships and interactions--resulting in consistently positive and productive school and classroom environments; (b) communicate consistent behavioral expectations, while consistently teaching them; (c) use consistent incentives and consequences, while holding student  consistently accountable for their appropriate behavior; and then (d) apply all of these components consistently across all of the settings and peer groups in the school.

   Moreover, consistency occur when staff are consistent (a) with individual students, (b) across students, (c) within their grade levels or instructional teams, (d) across time, (e) across settings, and (f) across situations and circumstances.

   Critically, when staff are inconsistent, students feel that they are treated unfairly, they sometimes behave differently for different staff or in different settings, they can become manipulative--pitting one staff person against another, and they often emotionally react--some getting angry with the inconsistency, and others simply withdrawing because they feel powerless to change it.

   Said a different way:  Inconsistency undercuts student accountability, and you don’t get the behavior (or it occurs inconsistently or differentially) that you want in class or across the school.
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Applications to All Settings and the Peer Group

   The last component of the school discipline blueprint focuses on the application of the previous four components to all of the settings and peer interactions in the school.

   Relative to the former, it is important to understand that the common areas of a school are more complex and dynamic than the classroom settings.  Indeed, in the hallways, bathrooms, buses, cafeteria, and on the playground (or playing fields), there typically are more multi-aged or cross-grade students, more interactions, more space or fewer physical limitations, fewer staff and supervisors, and different social demands. 

   As such, the positive social, emotional, and behavioral interactions that occur in the classroom often are taxed in the common school areas.

   Accordingly, students need to be taught how to demonstrate their interpersonal, social problem solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional coping skills in each common school area.  Moreover, the training needs to be tailored to the social demands and expectations of these settings.

   Relative to the latter area, and as above, it is important to understand that the peer group is often a more dominant social and emotional “force” than the adults in a school.  As such, the school discipline blueprint is consciously applied (relative to climate, relationships, expectations, skill instruction, motivation, and accountability) to help prevent peer-to-peer teasing, taunting, bullying, harassment, hazing, and physical aggression.

   This is done by involving the different peer groups in a school in group “prevention and early response” training, and motivating them--across the entire school--to take the lead relative to prosocial interactions. 

   Truly, the more the peer group can be trained, motivated, and reinforced to do “the heavy prosocial lifting,” the more successful the staff and the school will be relative to positive school climate and consistently safe schools.
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   In the end, from a school and district perspective, these five interdependent and evidence-based school discipline components are exactly what the Martin County School District in rural Kentucky is using.  And it’s working.  Not perfectly. . . but surely, systematically, and systemically.

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So. . . Let’s Get to Work:  A Free Planning Guide
  
   In order to help schools think about these components more deeply, and begin to apply them for themselves, I am offering the following:

   * A free Study Guide and Overview of my best-selling book:

School Discipline, Classroom Management, and Student Self-Management: A Positive Behavioral Support Implementation Process

   This 138-page Study Guide (a) summarizes the content of each chapter; (b) provides “study questions” and discussion templates if a school faculty want to read the book together as part of a “book study;” (c) includes a Three-Year School Discipline Implementation Fact Sheet along with an Action Plan with specific activities; and (d) gives case study examples and results from a number of schools across the country.

   In total, the chapters in the School Discipline book and Guide cover each component of the blueprint above.  They are:

Chapter 1:  Designing School-wide Positive Behavioral Support Systems (PBSS)

Chapter 2:  School Readiness and the Steps for PBSS Implementation

Chapter 3:  The School Discipline/PBSS and Other Committees:  Effective Team and Group Functioning

Chapter 4:  Behavioral Accountability, Student Motivation, and Staff Consistency

Chapter 5:  Teaching Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Skills

Chapter 6:  School Safety, and Crisis Prevention, Intervention, and Response

Chapter 7:  Teasing, Taunting, Bullying, Harassment, Hazing, and Physical Aggression

Chapter 8:  Functional Assessment and Why Students Become Behaviorally Challenging

Chapter 9:  Behavioral Interventions for Students with Strategic and Intensive Needs

Chapter 10:  Evaluating and Sustaining PBSS Outcomes
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   To receive this Guide, all you have to do is e-mail me and request it:

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   In addition, I am also always happy to provide any School Leader or Leadership Team with a free one-hour conference or Skype call to discuss how to begin implementing the blueprint described in this Blog, the Guide, and my book.
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Summary

   As we begin the “last half” of the school year, we need to continue (or begin) preparing our students for academic success by also preparing them for social, emotional, and behavioral success.

   We have the scientific foundation and blueprint for success.  We only have to invest our efforts in implementing the related strategies--like Martin County--surely, systematically, and systemically.

   Robert Collier once said: “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”

   I hope that the information presented today will inform your efforts, and motivate you to take the first of the many steps every school and district needs to be successful on behalf of all our students.  If I can help you on your journey, give me a shout.

   I hope to hear from you soon.

Best,


Howie


Sunday, December 18, 2016

What the Next Director of the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) Needs to Do to "Right the Ship"



My “First 100 Days” if I was Appointed the New OSEP Director

Dear Colleagues,

   This is clearly a pivotal time for our country—politically, on all social and economic fronts, relative to our national and international security and standing, and, of course, as it relates to education, our students, our schools, and our many staff.

   With the incoming Trump administration, the selection of Betsy DeVos as the new (once confirmed) U.S. Secretary of Education, and the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA/ESSA), our educational philosophies, policies, procedures, and practices are sure to change.

   And, I have been thinking a lot about this over the past month. . . and, actually, over the past handful of years.

   And so, today, I would like to discuss:

   The agenda that would guide my first 100 days if I was appointed the Director of the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP).
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Why We Need a NEW OSEP Agenda

   Clearly, the focus here is on the agenda needed by whoever assumes this position, and not on the person him or herself. 

   And, a new agenda is desperately needed . . . to improve, to integrate, and to strengthen special education services, supports, and strategies in this country. 

   This is because the current agenda is flawed, is rooted in power and politics, and has lost its “students-first” focus.

   In short:  OSEP and special education services in this country need a shake-up.  

   Indeed:

   * OSEP has been run largely by same senior staff. . . or senior-influenced staff. . . for too long.

   * Many of OSEP’s systemic frameworks and processes have never been field-tested or validated before they have been introduced and advocated in the field. . . OSEP and some of its grantees are literally “making it up as they go along.”

   * Many of OSEP’s beliefs, ideas, and approaches have become singularly entrenched . . . and this entrenchment has created a “group-think” whereby OSEP rejects new or innovative approaches that do not “fit its mold.”

   * OSEP’s professional relationships (and grant awards)—across the country—with universities, national associations, “non-profit” Research & Development companies, and other “Thought Leaders” are similarly entrenched. . .

   * Which is why the same universities, professors, and non-profits seem to consistently receive the largest and most influential competitive and non-competitive grants. . . the same individuals are on each other’s OSEP-funded Technical Assistance (TA) Center Boards and Advisory Groups. . . and the same individuals keep presenting at the same national conferences from year to year.
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   All of this has resulted in special education decisions that have lost their transparency and objectivity; special education discussions that are controlled and need to be “politically correct;” and special education training and practices that have lost their innovative edge.

   And this will not change unless there is a new Agenda and a new Director who both understands the incestuous system that has been created and has the permission (and guts) to change it.

   In addition. . .

   Did you know that:  The special education units within each state’s department of education (who receive federal special education funds that then are passed on to the districts in each state) are strongly “encouraged” to use (only) OSEP-funded (and “vetted”) TA Centers for needed technical assistance?

   Did you know that:  Virtually all of the Presidentially-appointed OSEP Directors have been former state special education directors?

   Did you know that:  OSEP awards many of its largest grants to a small number of “non-profit” Research and Development companies through the federal government’s “business opportunity” procurement website, and that these powerful companies are complicit in setting the nation’s special education agenda?
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   All of this (once again) has created, sustained, and institutionalized an OSEP agenda that began almost 10 years before the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) was reauthorized in 2004.

   And to support its agenda . . . as I have often written in my Blog. . . OSEP has created a big club . . . that most of us can’t get into.

   In fact, this continually reminds me of George Carlin’s famous commentary (rant) on education.  But the “big businesses” that are referenced in Carlin’s clip, are—today—selected universities, university professors, national associations, and the “non-profit” Research & Development companies noted above.

   As Carlin said:



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What the NEW OSEP Agenda Should Include

   Now that we’ve (hopefully) established the reasons why a new OSEP agenda is needed, I would like to detail this “New Agenda.”  It starts with a “Statement of Philosophy and Purpose,” and proceeds through a series of actions that should occur during the new OSEP Director’s first 100 days in office.

   Here we go:

Statement of Philosophy/Purpose

    Within the bounds of the recently reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the current Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and in support of the (new) Secretary of Education and other U.S. Department of Education officials, the Office of Special Education Programs should pursue an agenda that maximizes the academic and social, emotional, and behavioral progress, accomplishments, and proficiency of all students with disabilities. 

   The ultimate goal is the high school graduation of each student with a general education degree, and the skills needed to pursue higher education and/or a well-paying job of their choice—such that they are able to live full and independent lives.

    To accomplish this goal, OSEP needs to change its mission from being an organization that all state SEAs are responsible to, to being an organization that supports state LEAs to be successful on behalf of all students with disabilities. 

   Functionally, this means that OSEP should/will provide more supports and technical assistance to the states and their districts and schools, while decreasing unneeded oversight and supervisory activities—thus, decreasing the burden on state LEAs to document, defend, and rationalize their special education initiatives and activities. 

   In doing this, the hope (supported and encouraged by OSEP) is that states will increase their creativity and entrepreneurship such that more and different effective interventions for students with disabilities will be developed, validated, and disseminated.
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Needed Directions/Actions

   1. Given the recently reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), there is an immediate need for comprehensive discussions at the U.S. Department of Education level (after the Presidential inauguration, and once the transition to a new Secretary has been completed) focusing on how to integrate ESEA and the current Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) so that they are complementary and help to create part of the multi-tiered services and support options required by ESEA.

   * These discussions need to include cross-national and state-specific discussions with a wide variety of constituencies and stakeholders—that go beyond those traditionally used by OSEP for planning and feedback. 

   * These discussions need to put aside OSEP’s current MTSS framework—which is not required by IDEA (see #4 below).

   * These discussions need to functionally differentiate the 13 different disability areas.  For too long, special education services have been evaluated as a single composite (or sub-population) of these different disability areas—even though different schools, districts, and states have different percentages of these students across the preschool through high school levels.
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   2. The above discussions, planning, and activities need to be integrated into a systematic needs assessment, resource analysis, and strategic planning process that will result (a) in a short-term path to immediately improving the services and supports to students with disabilities—as delivered at the school, district, community, and state levels; and (b) a longer-term plan that, in collaboration with Congress, will be successfully embedded in a reauthorization of IDEA.
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   3. In preparation and as part of the reauthorization process, a comprehensive review is needed of OSEP’s State Performance Plan (SPP) and Annual Performance Report (APR) process—specifically to decrease the data collection burden on the states (SEAs) and districts (LEAs), and to eliminate data collection requirements that go beyond the law. 

   As part of this recalibration process:

   * The more effective use of technology needs to be explored and evaluated—including ways to use the “cloud” for national data warehousing and analysis, and

   * Indicator 17—involving the “State Systemic Improvement Plan” (SISEP), in particular—needs to be re-evaluated for likely elimination.
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   4. A comprehensive review of all Part D funding grants (as well as all non-competitive OSEP-funded grants and grant programs) needs to be conducted to determine whether (a) grants are being (have been) awarded in areas that are consistent with the new ESEA and the projected new IDEA; (b) grants are being (have been) selected through an open, honest, and objective review process, and in ways that are fully consistent with IDEA and federal law; and (c) the frameworks and workplans built into awarded grants are (have been) diverse and independent to the degree that they do not reflect a single-focused monopoly of ideas and research-to-practice approaches.

   * For the past fifteen years or more, OSEP staff have allowed a misinterpretation in the wording in IDEA that has resulted in the funding of Technical Assistance (TA) Centers that embody OSEP’s own national research-to-practice agenda. 

   This has resulted, for example, in the funding of TA centers focused on (in capital letters) Response-to-Intervention (RtI), Multi-Tiered Support Services (MTSS), and Positive Interventions and Supports (PBIS)—even though these terms appear in IDEA as lower case terms and without acronyms. (Actually, the term “Response-to-Intervention” does not appear in IDEA at all.)

   In ignoring this misinterpretation, OSEP staff have advanced a single-focused research-to-practice agenda—often to the exclusion of other evidence- and research-based approaches.

   [CLICK HERE for an Education Week article that discusses PBIS as an example of this situation.]

   * Beyond this (as noted above), OSEP has funded TA center grants where many of the same professionals are sitting on each other’s Advisory Boards, or are actually written into each other’s grant activities. 

   This has created (a) at least the appearance of a conflict of interest; (b) a single-focused (almost monopolistic) research-to-practice agenda that has dominated the field (restricting divergent thinking and innovative practices); and (c) an incestuous research and grant competition process that has narrowed the range of effective practices needed by students with disabilities.
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   5. A comprehensive review of all OSEP staff, along with the organization of the Office, is needed.  Many OSEP staff have served for extensive periods of time and, as such, there is a need to investigate (and address, as needed) whether their longevity has created a debilitating “group-think” within the Office such that creativity, objectivity, and innovation (on behalf of all students and students with disabilities) has been compromised.
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   6. A comprehensive review is needed of our nation’s special education recruitment, retention, professional development, and skill levels relative to all teachers, administrators, and related services personnel.  This review should analyze the different roles and functions that these different educators should have in serving students with disabilities, how they are being trained and maintained, and what their efficacy and student-focused outcomes are.

   * Beyond the fact that we do not have enough qualified special education teachers and staff currently in training, my experience across the country is that the instructional and intervention skill levels of many special education practitioners need to be upgraded.  This is not the fault of these practitioners.  Indeed, they only know what they know and have been trained to do—both at pre-service and post-credentialing levels.

   * Thus, this review needs to look at teacher training, how these teachers are credentialed at the state level, and what they need to do to maintain those credentials over time.  In addition to what currently is working in these areas, we need to look at how other businesses train and maintain the quality of their work forces—so that successful non-educational models can be introduced to the field.
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   7. Integrated into a number of the needs assessments and analyses above, a comprehensive review is needed to explore the health, mental health, and wellness factors and variables that impact the educational outcomes of all students—but, especially, those with disabilities. 

   * The services and supports that schools provide to students with disabilities (as well as at-risk, medically fragile, emotionally traumatized, academically struggling, and behaviorally challenging students) often ignore these health, mental health, and wellness perspectives.  This is both a training and practice issue—as well as staff knowledge and skill issue.

   * And so, national, state, and community evaluation and strategic plans need to be developed and implemented so that existing health, mental health, and wellness professionals are present in our communities, and available to our schools.  Current school-based and school-linked mental health systems are not working, and are padding the pockets (especially) of private mental health corporations when they are running these programs.

We also need more well-trained child and adolescent practitioners who understand the school and schooling process, and how to support special education personnel and their classroom-based interventions.  Even though these specialists may be community-based, we need to find ways to attract, fund, and place these professionals directly in our schools for students in need.
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   8. Finally, in concert with #7 above, a comprehensive review of the Continuum of Care, Wraparound, and School-to-Work Transition programs for students with disabilities and/or significant mental or behavioral health concerns is needed—at the national and individual state levels.  Regardless of the amount of time and effort being expended in coordinating and implementing these programs, they are not working for our students and young adults.

To be successful, this review and the resulting plans and implementation activities require far more responsible and outcome-based efforts across numerous federal, state, and local departments, programs, and organizations.  For example (while the specific titles may vary), effective and accountable coordination is needed by Health & Human Services, Child and Adolescent Mental Health, Labor, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, Office of Disability, and Education-related departments, agencies, programs, and other advocacy and social service groups.

To a large degree, many regions and communities’ Continuum of Care and related Wraparound programs are not working in this country.  The Continuum of Care state programs—often guided by and funded by federal resources—are not well-serving children and adolescents with serious emotional or behavioral health diagnoses whose families need help to successfully and safely maintain them in their homes, schools, and/or communities. 

The Wraparound programs—that use team-based approaches—are not effectively braiding the many programs and resources referenced immediately above to support families with complex family and individual child or adolescent needs.

Finally, the School-to-Work Transition programs—focused on ensuring that students with disabilities and other special needs have the training, skills, and readiness to be fully and gainfully employed—are not accomplishing their goals.  These programs need to effectively provide vocational assessment and rehabilitation, on-the-job and employment training, and mentoring and follow-through systems and components.  Especially given the unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities, and the number who need financial support in order to live independently, we need to take a hard look at where we are in this area, and where we need to be.

Summary.  Using top-down and bottom-up collaborative approaches, we need to bring health, behavioral mental health, educational, labor, social service, business, and other advocacy leaders together—reinforcing and enhancing what is now working in these areas, while creating and building new, compatible systems that work more successfully.
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The Characteristics Needed by the Next OSEP Director

   Given the discussion above, I would like to suggest the most-essential characteristics that the next OSEP Director needs to have:

   * Be a Scientist-Practitioner.  The next OSEP Director needs to understand the research and practice related to the psychology of learning and cognition, normal and abnormal development, social and emotional behavior, culture and ecology, curriculum and instruction, and group and organizational change. 

S/he needs to have been a field-based practitioner—not just in one district or state, but in multiple districts and states.

Given the history of OSEP, s/he needs to be a related services professional.  All of my biases aside, a doctoral-level school psychologist would best fit the bill.
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   * Have Large District or State Department of Education Experience.  The new OSEP Director should have high-level organizational experience with education and special education policy, practice, procedures, and programming.  But, once again, s/he needs to understand how these functionally and practically affect districts, schools, staff, and classrooms.

Too many upper administrators (as above) have lost sight of how national policy actually affects classroom practice—and how our students with disabilities have received fewer and less effective services because of this loss of sensitivity.

Given the history of OSEP, the next OSEP Director should not be a recent or current state special education director, but should have the skills and experience needed to succeed at that level.  A new perspective—one that is not beholdened to current OSEP staff—is critically needed.

OSEP’s staff have been largely running OSEP’s agenda and initiatives for decades.  The new Director needs to have a broad, independent, and pragmatic perspective; and be able to change the climate, culture, organization, and staff/staffing patterns at OSEP.
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   * Understand Effective School and Schooling Practices.  The new OSEP Director should understand the research and practice of effective school and schooling. . . recognizing that students with disabilities are not disabled; instead, they have specific areas of academic and social, emotional, and behavioral functioning that need attention so that they can be successful in these areas.

   Indeed, students with disabilities are more like all other students than they are different.  And so, rather than coming from a “disability—up” perspective, the new Director needs to come from an “ability-down” perspective.

   This means that the new Director must understand all levels of curriculum and instruction, ability and disability, modification and accommodation, assessment and intervention, professional development and technical assistance, mentoring and supervision, administration and shared leadership, and strategic planning and organizational development. 

Mixed in here are not just the educational practices that make schools work, but the business practices that help schools succeed.

The next OSEP Director should not come from the charter school sector, but must understand the charter school and private school worlds.  The Director also should have experience with alternative and juvenile justice schools and programs, residential and day-schools specializing in specific student disability areas, and at the preschool through high school (and beyond) levels.
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   * Understand Strategic Planning, Scaling-Up, and the Process of Change.  The new OSEP Director needs to understand, have experience with, and be able to apply his or her skills to the process of large-scale change.  Thus, s/he needs to understand that there is an already-existing research base in strategic planning and organizational development, and the challenge is how to apply it to education. . . at different levels of complexity.

OSEP has spent the last decade advocating a process of scale-up and change that is untested, overly complex, and has resulted in significant numbers of “re-starts” and “re-do’s” at the state and district levels.  It simply does not work.  But, OSEP continues to throw “good money after bad results.”

The new OSEP Director needs to conduct the audits and evaluations recommended earlier in this message, create and implement the strategic plans needed, “pull the plug” from grants and frameworks that do not work, and make (special) education work in this country.

This will take guts, determination, fortitude, and the support of many colleagues.  But it must be done.  We have spent far too much time, money, talent, and resources on approaches that do not work. . . and that many practitioners and local/state level professionals are afraid to publicly admit (especially to OSEP) do not work.

It is time to change. . . to an OSEP Director who knows how to facilitate systemic change. . . and can accomplish this monumental job.
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Summary and a Call to Action

   I really don’t want to be the next Director of the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs. 

   But if it meant getting the issues and agenda described above on Secretary DeVos’ radar, I would certainly interview for the position.

   Here’s What We Need to Do:  If you agree with most or all of what I have outlined above, and you are willing to take action:

   * Copy, Paste, and Send the Following Tweet to President-Elect Donald Trump, Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, U.S. Department of Education Nominee Betsy DeVos, and Gerard Robinson—who is helping to guide the President-Elect’s Education transition team:

 How new US Special Ed Director MUST change OSEP  http://bit.ly/2hgcQI4 @realDonaldTrump @MikePenceVP @BetsyDeVos @gerard_924 @DrHowieKnoff
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   In addition:

   * Forward this Blog Message (by link, post, or e-mail) to your colleagues and friends—especially those who have children, adolescents, or adults with disabilities or who are struggling academically or behaviorally in school.
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   As always, I look forward to your thoughts and comments.  Feel free to contact me at any time if there is anything that I can do to support your work.

   Meanwhile, please accept my best wishes for a wonderful and joyous holiday season. . . regardless of your cultural, religious, or non-denominational background and beliefs.  Take some time to enjoy this season, and to commune with family and friends.

Best,

Howie