The task force focused on three areas during this meeting: the philosophical shift at the Federal level, paperwork reduction, and work load analysis. The task force concluded by breaking into two subgroups — one examining the differences in special education statute and rule, while the other subgroup reviewed the variables that impact caseloads for special education teachers and school districts.
The apparent shift in philosophy by the federal Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) is moving toward a policy shift entitled Results Driven Accountability (RDA). The goal of RDA is to create a balance between the focus on improved results and functional outcomes for students with disabilities while considering compliance as it relates to those results and outcomes. The ultimate goal is to change the working relationship with state departments and local school districts to be more driven by outcomes, and, perhaps, less on compliance.
The task force then heard a presentation from an MDE staffer, David Reeg, who walked the group through a process the MDE is using to evaluate the paperwork issue identified by special education teachers, directors and school districts. An internal committee has been formed within MDE to review efforts to reduce the paperwork duties and explore the option of an online IEP. MDE is expected to schedule focus groups/districts to review the design and functionality once a model is ready.
The third piece of the day included the co-chair, Todd Travis, presenting a workload model that is used at his special education cooperative. The model consists of a mathematical formula that looks at the total minutes served directly, cumulative federal settings, cases managed, and student contact. The net result of all of these variables is that a workload quotient is produced for each special education teacher based on the aforementioned factors. The model is not perfect. For instance, the model does not factor in the indirect time served by special education teachers. It does provide the administrators some data points to analyze as it relates to the workload of each special education teacher. The model is the first I have seen that quantified the workload of a special education teacher.
The final part of the day was focused on sub-group work. The caseload sub-group explored the limitations, or factors, that influence a special education teacher’s caseload. In other words, the subgroup explored some possible policy and funding areas that could be changed to either increase the number of special education teachers, reduce the size of the caseloads, or some combination of both. Some of these factors include: teacher licensure, funding, number and quality of paraprofessionals, definitions related to special education categories, threats of lawsuits, the number of qualified higher education programs available for prospective special education teachers, contractual incentives, and the unpredictability as it relates to the number of special education students.
Please take a moment to share your district’s story as it relates to special education caseloads. What steps has your district taken in addressing special education caseload? Please share with me at firstname.lastname@example.org so that I have a story, or two, to share.
The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, November 19, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.