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"Scaling Up" Good Programs

There are more than a few pockets of excellence within the field of special education; I know, because I've had a chance to cover them. But within the profession, there's frustration: If we have all these evidence-based, successful programs that help develop literacy or promote good behavior in schools, why isn't everyone using them?

Growing successful programs offers some special challenges, says Dean L. Fixsen, a principal director of State Implementation and Scaling-Up of Evidence Based Practices. In a conversation, he likened it to a medical vaccine: Without the equipment to inoculate children, and a medical establishment that can inoculate lots of children all over the country, a vaccine does little good.

Fixsen also gave a presentation of his work at the 2009 OSEP Project Directors' Conference. His center, which has been working with Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota, and Oregon since September 2008, is trying to help develop that establishment that can incubate and spread good ideas. The center intentionally picked states that have already made an investment in evidence-based practices; starting from scratch offers a different set of challenges.

Among the practices states are trying to spread are the use of positive behavior supports and interventions, dropout-prevention programs, literacy and response to intervention.

It's important to create teams of engaged, "overqualified" people, Fixsen said, so that a promising practice doesn't die on the vine when its primary cheerleader leaves a school or district. And school teams also have to push past the awkwardness of trying a new practice while still working within the old system. "It's very easy to slip back into the old ways," he said.

The states that Fixsen and the SISEP team is working with are eager to get started, because they've already had some experience trying to grow their own programs. "They know the cost of going down the wrong path," he said.

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