The field of special education is full of good ideas: evidence-based, successful programs that have proven results for students with disabilities.
But good ideas don’t spread on their own. Without a districtwide intent to nurture such programs, they can wither if their primary backers can’t sustain their efforts.
A relatively new federal center is trying to help states incubate and spread the good practices that are already taking place in their districts.
Dean L. Fixsen, a principal director of the State Implementation and Scaling-Up of Evidence-based Practices Center, based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, likens good education practices to a medical vaccine: Without the equipment to inoculate children, and a medical establishment that can reach lots of children, vaccines do little good.
“Until we develop the infrastructure, we’re going to be stuck,” Mr. Fixsen said in an interview.
SISEP, as the center is known, has been working with Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, and Oregon since last September. The center intentionally picked states that have already made a substantial investment in evidence-based practices; starting new programs from scratch offers a different set of challenges.
Among the practices the SISEP states are trying to spread are the use of positive behavior supports and interventions, dropout-prevention programs, and tiered instructional models. One key ingredient to scaling up programs is creating teams of engaged, “overqualified” school personnel, Mr. Fixsen said. That keeps a promising practice from dying on the vine.
School teams also have to push past the awkwardness of trying new practices while still working within the old system. “It’s very easy to slip back into the old ways,” Mr. Fixsen said.
The states that he and the SISEP team are working with are eager to get started with some of the techniques that they’ve learned through the center.
“They know the cost of going down the wrong path,” he said. “All of what we’re saying makes immediate sense to these people.”
A version of this article appeared in the August 12, 2009 edition of Education Week