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Education Secretary Answers Teachers' Special Ed. Questions

Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently answered some tough questions from special education teachers all over the country who wanted to know about performance pay, funding, and testing. The questions were collected by the Council for Exceptional Children in Arlington, Va., which is gearing up for its annual convention starting today.

Some of the answers may sound familiar. Secretary Duncan said the President's proposed 2012 budget includes more money for special education. In his answers to CEC, he said the budget includes an increase of $50 million in IDEA Part C for grants to states for early intervention services for young children with disabilities and their families. Something I hadn't remembered from my look at the proposed budget, is $40 million set aside for PROMISE: Promoting Readiness of Minors in SSI (Supplemental Security Income). He described it as "a pilot program that would be jointly administered with the Social Security Administration, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Labor. The program will create new models that improve health, education, and post-school outcomes for children who receive SSI."

He also listed money that would be available to special education programs and teachers in the context of regular education, including $14.8 billion for the College- and Career-Ready Students Program that would continue requiring disaggregated reporting of achievement data for students with disabilities, among other things; $350 million for the new Early Learning Challenge Fund, to make competitive grants to challenge states to establish model systems of early learning for children including children with disabilities or developmental delays; and $185 million for the Presidential Teaching Fellows program, which provides scholarships for teaching candidates who will attend top-tier teacher preparation programs and teach in high-need schools, high-need subjects, and high-need fields, including special education.

When evaluating special education teachers and staff, who often work in teams or with students for only part of a day, teachers wanted to know how their effectiveness could be measured, which is especially important as more states contemplate linking pay and performance.

The secretary said that the President's budget proposes setting aside $50 million states could invest in better support and training for principals in implementing evaluation systems, since principals are the most likely evaluators of teachers' performance. The rest of what he said seems to leave it to states to figure out a complex issue.

"States and districts should work with their teachers to determine which arrangements best reflect the reality of how teaching and learning happens in their schools. We recognize the prevalence and effectiveness of team teaching; for example, a regular education teacher and a special educator working together in the same classroom," Secretary Duncan said. "Teacher evaluations have to support and reward teachers working in team teaching or other cooperative models."

Read more about his answers for teachers about testing, embracing Universal Design for Learning, and technology.

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