Bringing special ed admin. under general ed umbrella

Bringing special ed admin. under general ed umbrella

(Calif.) One of the fundamental goals of the nation’s primary law governing education services to students with disabilities is that they be taught as often as possible among their peers in the general education classroom.

Now, the California Department of Education is taking the concept of ‘inclusion’ one step further by merging the agency’s special education unit with the branch that administers most of the state’s instruction and learning programs.

“The reason we are bringing these programs together is to make sure that we are administrating them the way the schools receive our support,” said Tom Adams, deputy superintendent over the Teaching and Learning Branch. “I’ve always been a big fan of universal design for learning, which is where we are making sure that the school doors are friendly to every student.”

For decades, the CDE—like most state educational agencies nationally—maintained a special education division virtually independent from the rest of the department, with a manager that reported directly to the state superintendent.

But in recent years, there has been a growing movement to break down all administrative silos within education, and create more coordination both among state and local officials, as well as educators in the classroom.  This effort is especially relevant to the relationship between special and general education services, where today, new teachers are expected to have far more skill in working with students with disabilities than incoming teachers had in the past.

Indeed, a 2015 report from a blue ribbon task force on special education issues in California called on state and local officials to recognize that “all students are considered general education students first and all educators, regardless of which students they are assigned to serve, have a collective responsibility to see that all children receive the education and the supports they need.”

Kristin Wright, director of the CDE’s special education division, said that her office has historically spent the majority of its time and resources ensuring that schools and districts were complying with IDEA mandates. With the branch change, she said, we will continue to monitor but will also be able to partner with our other state programs to have a great focus on teaching and learning.

“If we are going to point out what schools need to do to improve, we need to have a mechanism to give them suggestions and offer them some evidence-based best practices,” she said. “We need to show that we are not just the hammer but also a hand. The benefit to coming into the teaching and learning support division is that, yes we’ll still have the component of compliance that we do, but we are going to be able to provide more coordinated support.”

Although the alignment is only a couple weeks old, they team has already collaborated on guidance looking closely at the needs of English learners who have also been identified with having one or more disabilities. That 2015 report was prompted by legislation last year from Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, and his concern that too many English learners were being misidentified as also having a disability.

CDE’s newly arranged learning and teaching branch now consists of: English learners support; curriculum frameworks and instructional resources; professional learning; expanded learning; career and college transition; early education; and special education.