Wading in the Education Policy Pool

When I was a child, my mother would take me to swimming lessons at the local pool. After she dropped me off, I would watch through the changing room window for her to drive away. I would then quickly leave and run home. She would complete some errands and I would be waiting at the kitchen table for her to arrive. Mother persisted in taking me to the lessons and not until several years later did I fully understand her reasoning. She didn’t know how to swim and she wanted her four children to have that skill. I am forever grateful for her persistence.

Now many years later, I have revisited the swimming pool experience as I engage in the work of public education policy as it relates to the field of early childhood special education. As the Policy Team Leader for the Division for Early Childhood, (a subdivision of the Council for Exceptional Children) I entered the work with little to no experience but knowing that I needed to do more to advance policies that benefit young children with disabilities and their families. During my almost twenty-eight-year pubic school career, I advocated for children, families, educators, and therapists yet I rarely engaged in the work of informing policies that affected our daily pursuits of excellence in service. As a practitioner, I didn’t think I was qualified.

Advocating for policies that support the fields of early intervention, early childhood education and early childhood special education has never been more vital. Despite the empirical evidence as noted by the Learning Policy Institute (click for link), those in control of funding sources are hesitant to invest in high quality early learning experiences and access for all children; experiences that not only prepare children for their academic futures but more importantly, prepare them for life.

Whatever your current role in the field of education, be it doctoral student, practitioner, administrator, therapist, family support specialist, or coach, I encourage you to become active and engaged in public education policy. Attending a local school board meeting or education council event will open opportunities for you to enter the policy pool. As a recent transplant to Colorado and the greater Denver area, I am familiarizing myself with local and state organizations that influence public education policy. The Colorado Association of School Executives maintains a listing of “organizations that impact public education policy in Colorado and the nation.” More information can be found by clicking on this link.

“Learning begins at birth, and the preparation for learning begins before birth. The investment we make as a nation in early learning will pay dividends for generations to come.”
Sen. Tom Harkin (D – Iowa)

Michael A. Barla is a Clinical Assistant Professor in Early Childhood Special Education at the University of Colorado-Denver.  Dr. Barla is also the Policy Team Leader for the Division for Early Childhood, a subdivision of the Council for Exceptional Children.  His areas of creative interest include policies related to the evaluation and provision of services to young children with disabilities and their families, increasing the diversity of those working in the fields of EI, ECE, and ECSE and mentoring leaders.  Dr. Barla began his public school career as a Speech-Language Pathologist before moving into administrative roles and retiring in 2015.  He received a Doctor of Education degree from Maryville University in St. Louis, MO and spent three years at Fontbonne University prior to moving to Lakewood, CO.  Dr. Barla can be reached at michael.barla@ucdenver.edu.

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