After a more than two-year search, the Institute of Education Sciences has finally named Deborah L. Speece as commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research.
"Scientists who claim special education as their field of study are among the finest scholars in the country," Speece said in a statement on the appointment, "and I am eager to work with them, the special education community, and our colleagues in sister disciplines who are interested in addressing the challenges faced by children and youth with disabilities, their families, and their teachers."
Speece comes on leave from the University of Maryland's college of education, where she is a special education professor and a 27-year expert on disability classification and inclusion of students with disabilities in regular classes. She had previously served on IES grant review panels and on NCSER's Technical Working Group for the Evaluation of Response to Intervention Strategies in Elementary Reading.
Speece comes at a challenging time for NCSER, whose budget has been cut this year by $20 million, down to $51 million. Yet Easton told me he's "delighted" by Speece's six-year appointment and hoping Speece's breadth and experience will help the center reach out to promising special education researchers. "In spite of the fact that the NCSER budget was reduced, there is still room for increasing the number of grants that we fund," he said. "We want to fund as many high-quality grants as we can."
So far the response has been good from the research community; Speece serves on the editorial boards of eight education research journals including Exceptional Children and the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness.
"The long-vacant position dating back to the Bush Administration will be filled by a stellar, highly regarded special education researcher," Jim Kohlmoos, the president of the Knowledge Alliance, which represents researchers and the regional educational labs, told me. "Getting a person of Deborah Speece's caliber and leadership was well worth the wait. She will bring yet another strong and knowledgeable voice to the IES leadership team."
(Read a little more about the appointment at the On Special Education blog.)
IES' leadership team won't get much of a breather, though. As of August 15, Lynn Okagaki stepped down after nine years as commissioner of IES' National Center for Education Research to become dean of the University of Delaware's college of education and human development. Associate Commissioner Elizabeth Albro has stepped in as acting commissioner, but IES is in the middle of a nationwide search for a replacement. Easton told me so far, IES "did not get an overwhelming response, but we did get some response."
"It takes time to find the person and it takes time to figure out the details of the appointment," Easton said. "It takes a whole range of skills to be able to do this. The kind of people we want, you have to have a person who is just at the right place in their career where they are willing to leave the work they love, work they've been very successful in, to come here and put their own work on hold for awhile. So we're asking a lot of these people."