Deborah Speece Appointed Commissioner of National Center for Special Education Research

D. Speece 2004

Deborah L. Speece was named as the Commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) on 23 August 2011. NCSER is the leading branch of the US government’s effort to study educational innovation in special education and, as its head, Commissioner Speece will oversee a program that funds scores of research efforts including projects, evaluations, and multi-site centers throughout the US. She is the second commissioner of NCSER, and her appointment was greeted with substantial approval by the special education research community.

IES Director John Q. Easton announced the appointment of Deborah Speece as Commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) effective August 23, 2011. Known for her innovative studies of the classification and diagnosis of learning disabilities, Speece is a national leader in special education research and response to intervention strategies.

“We are so pleased to have such a well regarded and well known special education researcher join the IES senior leadership as Commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research,” said Easton. “Debbie will reach out broadly to the field to continue building the NCSER research portfolio.”

Speece has had a stellar academic career. After taking a bachelors degree (magna cum laude) from Bowling Green State University and teaching special education in Ohio public schools for several years, she completed a masters degree in special education at Bowling Green in special education in 1978. A few years later, she enrolled in graduate studies in the University of North Carolina in educational psychology and began intensive research work in studies about learning disabilities. Her research gained immediate and sustained attention, appearing in top-tier journals and vaulting her into collaborations with leading experts in reading, cognitive psychology, and research methods. When she graduated in 1984 from UNC, she took her first and only academic position at the University of Maryland. Since then she has developed a vita that one person described in this way: It’s “as long as a basketball center’s arm, but what’s more important than its length is its strength.”

In addition to the praise from her new supervisor, other leaders in special education had similarly strong comments.

  • Edward Kame’enui, Dean-Knight Professor of Education at the University of Oregon and the person who served as the first Commissioner of NCSER: “I’m supremely pleased that Debbie Speece has agreed to serve as Commissioner of NCSER. She brings an enormously impressive set of leadership and research skills to the position and I am more than eager to assist her in anyway I can.”
  • Barbara Keogh, Emerita Professor at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Sciences, and Professor in the Sociobehavioral Group in the UCLA Department of Psychiatry: “This is an excellent appointment. Dr. Speece has a thorough knowledge of the special education field, including its needs and its limitations. She is herself a rigorous and productive researcher who will bring critical analytic skills and experience to the leadership of NCSER. She is well qualified to plan and lead a comprehensive and relevant research agenda. Importantly, she also has the personal attributes necessary to work effectively with both researchers and policy makers to implement such a program.”
  • Lynn Fuchs, Professor and Nicholas Hobbs Chair in Special Education and Human Development at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University: The field is fortunate to have Debbie Speece as Commissioner of IES’s special education portfolio of research. She is a productive scholar, whose contributions have helped shape the field of learning disabilities over the past decades theoretically as well as in practice. She has the skills and credibility to shape the direction of future research, because her own work serves as a model for the field.
  • Sharon Vaughn, H. E. Hartfelder/Southland Corp. Regents Chair in Human Development and Executive Director of The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk at the University of Texas at Austin: “Deborah Speece’s appointment as Commissioner of NCSER could not come at a better time. She is an exceptional researcher whose scholarship related to special education has been top notch. Furthermore, she has the personal attributes to lead the National Center on Special Education Research including the technical skills, the scientific knowledge, the commitment to special education, and the personal attributes to guide a center that would benefit from the leadership she can provide.”
  • Jack Fletcher, Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor, University of Houston: “Debbie Speece is a wonderful selection for the Commissioner of NCSER. She is a strong and experienced researcher with a commitment to enhanced outcomes for people with disabilities. She will be able to bring these joint strengths to NCSER and provide leadership and direction in developing a strong research portfolio for special education research.”
  • Bryan Cook, Professor special education at the University of Hawaii and President of the Division for Research of the Council for Exceptional Children: “I’m very pleased that IES has appointed a respected special educator to this critical position. Dr. Speece has experience as a public school special education teacher, is widely respected for her high quality research in areas such as language and reading intervention for students with disabilities, and has managed successfully numerous federal grants. With the reauthorization of IDEA and ESEA looming, as well as the threat of serious budget limitations, we’ll need a devoted special educator advocating for the continued importance of special education research. I’m confident that Dr. Speece will provide leadership to the field in continuing and improving upon the established tradition of relevant and rigorous research in special education.”

NCSER is one of four centers in the Institute of Education Science (IES). John Q. Easton, Director of the IES nominated Professor Speece after an extensive search. Profssor Speece is only the second commissioner for NCSER. The first was Edward Kame’enui, who served from 2005 through 2007. Since Kame’enui’s departure, the position of NCSER Commissioner has been filled on an interim basis by Lynn Okagaki, who also simultaneously served as Commissioner of another of the centers.

Read the full announcement at the IES Web site.

Note: Content updated 20110825 to add affiliations of authorities who offered quotations.

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John Lloyd

John Lloyd--founder and lead editor for