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Teachers of the Blind to Get Common Core Support Through Gates Grant

Perkins eLearning, a project of the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Mass., has been awarded a $250,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to provide common core teaching resources for teachers of students who are blind or visually impaired.

The foundation has made several sizable grants to organizations helping to prepare teachers and schools for the Common Core State Standards, but this is the only award made so far this year to an entity that works specifically in the arena of special education.

The teaching tools, part of an effort called "Paths to Common Core," will initially be geared toward students in grades 7-12. The grant will help pay for teacher leaders, an online community, and adaptive teaching resources linked to math and English/language arts.

"We're looking at the Braille needs, the tactile graphic needs, the group of kids who use technology to access text through enlargement—all kinds of technology," said Betsy McGinnity, the director of the Perkins training and educational resources program. The grant will help pay for two lead teachers who will work with panels of educators interested in the topic. The tools will also be available to educators who may, for the first time, be teaching a student who is blind or visually impaired, McGinnity said. 

The 184-year-old Perkins School educated both deaf-blind activist and author Helen Keller and her instructor Anne Sullivan. For the past two years, it has operated the eLearning portal, which it expects to receive additional attention from teachers after a June directive from the Department of Education reiterating that braille should be the default literacy medium for blind and visually impaired students, even those who retain some sight. 

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