Michael Armstrong had a good excuse for missing the annual meeting last month of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. Since June, the former head of special education in Ohio has been part of an extensive education reform effort in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar.
Mr. Armstrong, who also has been the group’s president, is in charge of introducing such concepts as “response to intervention” and differentiated instruction in the oil-rich country.
The improvement effort began in 2002, after the Qatari government determined that its education system was too centralized and rigid. In 2004, Qatar had about 61,000 children ages 3 to 18 enrolled in school.
Special education under the old system “was a place as much as it was a service,” Mr. Armstrong said in a phone interview. The inclusion of students with disabilities in regular classrooms is a new concept in the country, he said.
Mr. Armstrong lives in government-provided housing in Doha, the capital city, along with others under contract to the country’s Supreme Education Council, including other Americans, Britons, Australians, and professionals from elsewhere in the Middle East.
As part of his job, he has to deal with issues that come with living in a tradition-bound society. All of the government schools are single-sex. There aren’t many related service providers, such as speech therapists or school psychologists. Many of his interactions with school officials are conducted through interpreters.
Still, Mr. Armstrong said, the skills that he honed as a state director of special education in Ohio for four years, and in Kentucky for six years before that, do translate across the miles and cultures.
“There are talented, resourceful building administrators,” he said.
Mr. Armstrong learned of the opportunity from contact with the Washington-based Academy for Educational Development, which has a contract with Qatar to consult on educational policy.
Every so often, Mr. Armstrong said, “I still have to pinch myself. Who ever would have thought it?” His contract with the government lasts for two years.
A version of this article appeared in the December 20, 2006 edition of Education Week