An Educator’s Journey Through Special Education Blog 8

The Department of Education

Blog 8


Recently, I have learned more about the Department of Education. The Department of Education chose my school district as one of the school districts to pilot a new program to streamline the special education individualized education programs (IEPs). They want to make IEPs less complex, more straightforward for all to understand, and more effective.

Several years ago, Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey appointed me to be on the IEP advisory panel for the C.T. Department of Education. All these years later, I am excited to get another chance to simplify our IEPs and make them better and more productive for all stakeholders. I am delighted to get this chance because the last advisory panel under Sharkey didn’t meet. They said they couldn’t get a co-chair to run the meetings. Crazy politics, huh?

 In addition, now as a member of the first cohort of the C.T. Aspiring Leadership Academy for Special Education, I recently had a class about the Department of Education, emphasizing the C.T. State Department of Education and what it’s doing to help its special education students and families. 

 But let me back up and indulge not just the special education teacher in me but also the history teacher in me. I have learned that President Andrew Johnson signed legislation to create the first U.S. Department of Education way back in 1867 during the Reconstruction Period of this country. Its mission was to gather information from the nation’s schools and make education better in this country.

However, some powerful men out there, especially in the defeated southern former Confederate states, didn’t want the nation’s schools to share information with this new federal department. So, in the guise of claiming that the powers of this new national educational department were too powerful and too intrusive and that states should be able to do what they wanted, these powerful men managed to demote the Department the following year to just being the Office of Education.

 It would take a long time before events forced the hand of the enemies of the big government and brought back the Department of Education. The Soviet Union putting their satellite Sputnik in outer space on October 4th, 1957, forced our hand in finding a way to improve our nation’s educational system. 

 Then, President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty in the 1960s further that cause of improving our nation’s education system. President Johnson created many programs to improve education for all students. This push continued after Johnson in the 1970s with better education for racial minorities, women, people with disabilities, and non-English speaking students.

 In 1979, One hundred and thirteen years after President Andrew Johnson passed legislation for the Department of Education during the Reconstruction Period, Congress finally passed legislation again to create a new U.S. Department of Education. This Act combined several federal agencies. The Department began operations in May of 1980. 

 According to the Department of Education’s website, we have a Department of Education to assist the president in executing his education policies for the nation in implementing laws enacted by Congress. The Department’s mission is to serve America’s students, to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access. 

 That sounds pretty important, doesn’t it? So, then why do we have a State Department of Education or at least an educational agency in each state? Well, I guess it would be to further the mission of the President and the U.S. Department of Education in ways that are specific to the unique and individual needs and nuances of each state, wouldn’t you?

 Since I live in Connecticut, I just got a chance to meet several C.T. State Department of Education (CSDE) employees through the C.T. Aspiring Leadership Academy for Special Education. The employees, or maybe I should say leaders are; Bryan Klimkiewicz, Andrea Brinnel, and Viviana Toure. They were very helpful in helping me better understand the role of the CSDE in the everyday lives of us C.T. public school teachers and our students. 

We had a lively discussion on the role of the CSDE and how they can help us present and future educational leaders of mainstream and special education programs. We also talked about how the State Department should hold public schools and their leaders accountable for their students’ progress or lack of improvement according to the U.S. President’s initiatives for education. The president’s ambitions are driven by the U.S. Department of Education and passed down through the state education departments.

 I learned that the CSDE does a lot of things. I also learned that it is a great career track that most public school teachers don’t consider. But, for those who do land a job there, it’s a fantastic professional development journey in the educational world. I wish they had summer job opportunities there. But when I looked at their website, I only saw some internships for students… Hmm… Maybe they should create something for us teachers so we can get paid to up our game over the summer months… 

 While sitting through my zoom class with the three employees/leaders of the CSDE mentioned above, they told me that by the end of the class, I would know the following: 

  1. I would be able to describe the history and status of the C.T. special education system. 
  2. I would be able to describe the role of the State Department of Education in CT. 
  3. I would understand the monitoring and supervision responsibilities of the Bureau of Special Education in CT.  
  4. I would be able to describe Preschool Special Education and its relationship to Birth to Three under IDEA.

Since I’m participating in the C.T. Aspiring Leadership Academy for Special Education, we began learning about the CSDE with the Special Education Bureau Update. There I learned that the Special Education Bureau’s mission is to:

  • Engage in collaborative efforts to ensure students with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) to prepare them for college or training, employment, independent living, and community participation. 
  • Provide leadership, guidance, support, and resources to assist educators in meeting state and federal special education requirements to improve educational outcomes for students with exceptionalities.

 I also learned that the Bureau’s reach is far and wide. They have many state agency collaborations. Beginning with the C.T. Office of Early Childhood (OEC), the Department of Rehabilitation Services (DORS), the Department of Developmental Services (DDS), the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS), the Bureau of Education and Services for the Blind, and the State Education Resource Center (SERC). 

SERC was a place where I spent a lot of my time as a special education graduate student at the University of Hartford (UHART). I remember that they knew me so well that they used to offer me a bowl of ice cream when I walked through the door there in Middletown all those years ago.

 The Bureau also works with the C.T. Alliance and Regional Education Service Centers (RESC). These include the Area Cooperative Educational Services (ACES), the Cooperative Educational Services (CES), the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC), EASTCONN, EdAdvance, and LEARN.

Other partners that the Special Education Bureau has are the Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center (CPAC), Advocacy for Children (AF CAMP), the Special Education Parent Teacher Organization (SEPTO), and the Special Education Youth Advisory Council, as well as many others.

 The CSDE duties appear vast and almost overwhelming. So, in a nutshell, what is the CSDE trying to accomplish here? To be succinct, it looks like they are trying to involve all stakeholders and improve student outcomes for all of our state’s students. And part of that mission also involves improving services from Birth to Three and the Three to Five Preschool experience and making those services more accessible to all of our state’s children and their families.

 Looking at the CSDE’s website, I can see that I’m just scratching the surface here on what they do and how I, and other teachers like me, could work with them to become more effective teachers and improve student outcomes for all students. If you’re now wondering about the CSDE, get on their website and check them out. You might be surprised by what you find there.