Special Education

Get to Know Alexa Posny, Head of OSERS, Part 3

January 26, 2010 2 min read

We wanted readers to get a chance to know Alexa Posny, who has held the role of assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services since the Senate confirmed her in October.

So Education Week submitted questions to Posny, the former Kansas education commissioner, and she sent back written responses, which we will print in this column in a few installments.

President Obama nominated Posny to the key federal post in July. The job has meant a return to Washington for Posny, who was director of the Education Department’s office of special education in 2006-07. She had been the Kansas commissioner of education since June 2007.

For part one of the interview click here. For part two of the interview click here.


Q. What did you learn last time about how Washington works, that you think will make your second time here different?

A. Washington is a remarkable venue within which to work. The focus is on legislative priorities that the majority of people perceive as important and game-changing. This is very similar to the work at a state level.

With that in mind, the most important thing I learned last time about how Washington works, is that making changes in policy leading to more effective practice takes time and patience. The outcomes and benefits are well worth the tremendous effort making effective policy changes take.

I also learned to never give up. If what we are trying to accomplish is truly important and the right avenue to take, then helping others understand why the change is needed and what benefits will be accrued is essential.

To move ideas forward then, you must have data, evidence, credibility, and a relentless focus on doing what’s best for the students.

Q. What issues should the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act reauthorization address?

A. The IDEA reauthorization should address the same issues that will soon be addressed in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization process. These issues also form the crux of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act-funded reforms. They are:

  • A focus on high standards and rigorous assessments for every child.
  • Involving the most effective teachers and administrators in the system.
  • Providing intensive support for every school that struggles at any point in time.
  • Linking data systems to instruction and accountability systems.

Addressing these should not compromise IDEA’s overarching goals to:

  • Meet the unique needs of every child who might be in need of special education services.
  • Enhance effectiveness of what is provided throughout the system.
  • Empower parents to be partners of their children’s education.
  • Stressed the need for intervening early.
  • Accountability for results.

I don’t have any magical answers to how these will all be addressed in reauthorization or what the revised legislation might look like, but I’m looking forward to involving as many people as possible in that conversation--just as I’m glad to be part of the current conversations about ESEA reauthorization.

Photo of Alexa Posny, Director of The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the Department of Education, laughs during a staff meeting on Dec. 21, 2006, in Washington. Christopher Powers/Education Week-File

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.

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