The Braille Monitor                                                                        November 2005


Finding and Training the Teachers of the Future: A Partnership

by Kathleen Mary Huebner

Dr. Kathleen Huebner
Dr. Kathleen Huebner

From the Editor: Dr. Kathleen Huebner is professor and associate dean of the Pennsylvania College of Optometry and co-director of the National Center for Leadership in Visual Impairment. She was the second speaker on this panel. It was a hopeful sign in an all too often dismal picture to have one of the foremost professionals in the blindness education field come to the NFB convention and say to the membership that she recognizes consumers must be part of training new professionals and that the NFB must be central in this effort. This is what she said:

Thank you, Dr. Maurer, distinguished officers of the National Federation of the Blind, Federationists, and all participants in the 2005 NFB convention. To have been invited to speak with you today is truly among the greatest professional honors bestowed upon me. Ms. Gilmer, it is a particularly special honor to share the dais with you. Thank you for your eloquent and heartfelt presentation. The NFB, its leadership, members, publications, and actions have been a tremendous source of information and inspiration for me throughout my nearly forty-year career in the field of blindness, and for that I thank you all.

Introduction to PCO and NCLVI

Today I come before you to speak with you about two major efforts taking place at the Pennsylvania College of Optometry (PCO) that represent collaborative efforts with many organizations, including the NFB and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC).

First and very briefly, the Pennsylvania College of Optometry is located just outside Philadelphia. It is a professional college that prepares doctors of optometry and audiology and also grants masters' degrees in optometry in other nations. Within the Department of Graduate Studies, PCO also grants masters' degrees and certificate programs for orientation and mobility specialists, teachers of children with vision impairments, rehabilitation teaching, and low-vision rehabilitation specialists. All of the programs in the Graduate Studies Department at PCO are available online with summer face-to-face institutes. The only exception is our full-time face-to-face O and M master's degree program.

In addition, PCO is the home for the National Center for Leadership in Visual Impairment (NCLVI). Today I want to talk with you about the National Center and a little about the O and M Programs. The National Federation of the Blind and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children are both active and contributing members of the NCLVI's Public Advisory Council. The Public Advisory Council is comprised of thirteen national organizations of and for the blind as well as others from related fields of higher education, early childhood, and special education administration. Dr. Zaborowski represents NFB, and Mrs. Cheadle represents NOPBC. NFB also hosted our first Public Advisory Council Meeting at the NFB headquarters in January. To the best of our knowledge it was during this meeting that an executive director of the American Council of the Blind not only attended meetings but slept overnight at the NFB headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland. It was a very productive meeting, we were graciously welcomed, and we also had fun.

Need for Special Education Leadership Personnel in Blindness and Visual Impairment Is Great

The NCLVI is a federal cooperative agreement funded by the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). It is a new model for preparing individuals with doctoral degrees who will work specifically in leadership positions directly related to the special education of blind and visually impaired children. As we heard from Drs. Maurer and Zaborowski yesterday, there is a tremendous need for leadership personnel in the area of special education for blind children. For the past decade Dr. Kay A. Ferrell collected data that demonstrates that our country is producing an average of only four new doctorates a year with emphasis in special education of children who are blind or visually impaired, whereas research indicates a need for thirteen a year. In 2003 we had thirteen open or unfilled university tenure-track positions open in the field of blindness.

Within the next five years we need a minimum of seventy-two leaders with doctorates to fill a variety of positions such as university professors, state vision consultants, directors of special education programs, and top administrators at special schools and agencies for blind children. We desperately need researchers and individuals who are interested in, trained in, and devoted to public policy development in our nation and who are committed to blindness. Over one fourth of our leadership professionals in the field are nearing retirement and will be leaving the work force in the next five years.

Historically universities have submitted proposals to Office for Special Education Programs for funding of doctoral credit tuition and stipend support. Each university applies individually. The competition is great since programs with an emphasis in blindness submit proposals along with programs representing all other disability groups. Our track record for securing funding has been abysmal. Leadership positions go unfilled in our field; some university training programs are therefore terminated, or positions are not replaced or are replaced by individuals without knowledge or training in blindness.

In the summer of 2003 PCO developed a concept for a national consortium of universities that offer doctoral training in special education with an emphasis in blindness and visual impairment. We presented the concept to officials at OSEP and to the university personnel preparation programs in blindness that offer doctoral degrees. After several meetings and conference calls it was unanimously voted that the PCO concept would be supported and that PCO should lead the way in the preparation of an unsolicited proposal.

The NCLVI was funded in October 2005. It has six objectives and will fund twenty-five individuals for four years of full-time study. (See the Web site at <>.) NCLVI is unique in many ways in that there will now be a national cohort of doctoral students. Fourteen students will be starting in August/September 2005 and studying in eight different universities throughout the nation. Next year eleven students will be funded. Students first apply to one or more of the fourteen universities participating in the NCLVI Consortium. They then apply for funding through NCLVI. If selected as an NCLVI Fellow, the student will have many opportunities to study together with all NCLVI Fellows as a group through an added-value enrichment program.

The Public Advisory Committee (thirteen national organizations) and the University Consortium, consisting of fourteen universities throughout the nation, have identified the needed competency areas unique to blindness that the NCLVI Fellows must achieve by the completion of their studies. Students will participate in two face-to-face seminars attached to two major conferences or conventions each year and participate in a separate three-day training annually. They will also participate in online issue discussions led by leaders in the field of blindness that will include individuals who are blind and parents of blind children. The discussions and forums will include leaders from NFB and NOPBC as well as other public advisors. In addition students will participate in short-term residencies, job shadowing, and internships. All of the NCLVI Fellows will receive sponsorship through NCLVI to attend at least one NFB national convention.

We need your help in recruiting individuals to pursue their doctorates. The financial support for the four years includes full tuition coverage and a minimum of a $20,000 annual stipend. This is a chance of a lifetime, and if any of you who have a master's degree and have been contemplating the possibility of earning a doctorate and working in the field of special education for children who are blind, you should contact me here at the convention or at <[email protected]> or Dr. Garber, the NCLVI project coordinator, at <[email protected]>. You may also wish to visit our Web site at <>.

Preparation of O and M Specialists

The other effort I wanted to share with you is PCO's effort to recruit and train more individuals in all of our programs who are blind. PCO has for many years required field trips to NFB and has organized visits for its O and M students to the Baltimore headquarters. NFB publications, monographs, and articles from the Braille Monitor and Future Reflections are included in required readings for its students. We have traditionally had students in our teacher and rehabilitation teacher training programs who are blind. We frequently have parents of blind children who complete one of our programs. This year we have our first blind O and M student. We have been in active discussions with NFB leadership, members, and blind O and M instructors to increase our knowledge of structured discovery learning and other techniques used at Louisiana Tech. We are working on procuring funding so that our O and M professors can spend time at the Louisiana Tech program and so that they can visit us. We have been strategizing with Drs. Ruby Ryles, Ron Ferguson, and Joanne Wilson on how best to realize our goals. PCO and NCLVI are committed to a strong collaborative relationship with NFB and its members.

The National Agenda, NFB, and NOPBC

As a recent national cochair and long-standing member of the steering committee of the National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youth who are Blind or Visually Impaired, Including those with Multiple Disabilities, I and the two parent national co-chairs, Mrs. Brunhilde Merk-Adam and Donna Stryker, met with Drs. Maurer and Zaborowski as well as Mr. Riccobono and Mrs. Cheadle to discuss collaborative efforts regarding the National Agenda. You will be hearing more about these collaborative efforts shortly.

In closing I would like to remind you of what Dr. Maurer said yesterday: "We need more specialized services, not less. We need more specialized education programs, not less. We need more O and M training programs, not less." We need more leaders to work for the rights of blind people and children.

We need leaders with the highest expectations for blind people, and we need teachers and leaders who are the most highly qualified. The philosophy at PCO and NCLVI is that we can do it better together and that blind people are essential to personnel preparation programs and need to be involved in all aspects of personnel preparation.

We want to continue to work with NFB and NOPBC. We hope our collaboration will serve as an example for the future. Dr. Maurer stated it best in his Memoriam to Dr. Jernigan, published in the January/February 1999 issue of the Braille Monitor, in which he wrote: "We comprehend what must be done, and we rejoice in the challenges ahead. We know the need for joint action, for shared commitment, and for the willingness to work." I cannot say it better. I can only share with you that the efforts of NCLVI and PCO are and will continue to be shared and collaborative. Thank you very much.