HECSE SHORT COURSE

The HECSE Short Course: Education Policy and Politics in the Nation’s Capital

In 2015, after a year of planning and deliberation, HECSE decided to pilot a novel program for doctoral students: the HECSE Short Course on Education Policy and Politics in the Nation’s Capital.  Conceived of by Dr. Jane West, long-time consultant to HECSE, the course was approved by the Board and HECSE members as a “pre-summit” activity to take place just prior to the annual January convening of HECSE members in Washington, DC.   In a memo from the HECSE Board to the HECSE members on September 23, 2014, the objectives of the course were laid out:

  • To expose students to the organizational structure and key players in special education-related policymaking in the nation’s capital, including governmental agencies, non-profit organizations and coalitions
  • To provide a working knowledge of the legislative process
  • To empower students with the skills and knowledge to be effective advocates on behalf of students with disabilities, special education and equity
  • To understand the history, purpose and impact of HECSE

The 2015 pilot involved 10 doctoral students who came to Washington for intensive engagement with a range of policy actors as well as discussion and deliberation about how policymaking works.  HECSE wanted to determine if this course would be a worthwhile HECSE member benefit, if there was sufficient interest among doctoral students and if it was financially feasible and sustainable.

All of those questions were answered with a resounding yes after the first convening.  The course has continued every year since that time (with a hiatus in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic) so that by 2020, 65 doctoral students successfully completed the course.  The course is limited to about 10 doctoral students each year to enable extensive personal interaction with guest speakers and course instructors.

The true impact of the course is evident in the work of its graduates.  Some are now higher education faculty members teaching policy courses and organizing convenings with policymakers for their own students.  Several have served as co-instructors for the course with Dr. West.  Two have gone on to work on Capitol Hill as Congressional staff.  Some have a policy focus in their research.  One now serves on the HECSE Board.  There is much evidence that course participants leave the course with a skillset and a mindset to be effective advocates in the policymaking process in Washington.  By investing in the next generation of special education leaders, it is HECSE’s intention that the participation of these special education experts in policymaking will result in more effective policy to serve students with disabilities, their families and all who work with them.

References:

Nagro, S. A., Shepherd, K. G., Knackstedt, K. M., West, J., & Nagy, S. (2020). Bridging the gap between research and policy: Fostering advocacy and policy engagement in special education doctoral students. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 30(4) 233-243. https://doi.org/10.1177/1044207319849930 [Impact Factor: 1.104]

Nagro, S. A., Shepherd, K. G., West, J., & Nagy, S. (2019). Activating policy and advocacy skills: A strategy for tomorrow’s special education leaders. Journal of Special Education, 53(2) 67-75. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022466918800705 [5-Year Impact Factor: 2.755]