EDUCATION ADVOCACY AS A PROFESSION
Education advocacy is a standalone profession, based on the nationally accepted definition of a profession, because it has the following:
· It engages in an area of great responsibility that is vitally important to their clients in which carelessness, inadequate skills or unethical behavior will negatively impact a client
· It engages in deliberate choices and preparedness, based on technical and theoretical training.
· It has a professional regulatory association, (NSEAI), which sets standards for the quality of work and ethics, and provides accountability.
· It has specialized application of theoretical knowledge unique to the education advocacy profession
· It has institutional preparedness through voluntary board certification (BCEA)
· It has direct contractual working relationships with clients. (Clients are not customers, they have professional agreements, not transactions as merchants do)
· It publicly proclams and contractually adheres, via a regulatory association (NSEAI), to established Ethical Standards and Code of Conduct, specific to the profession. These standards and codes without a professional association enforcement are void of a KEY component to professionalism.
· It markets based on merit of work, through demonstrated competence and professionalism, through voluntary relationships
· It has autonomy over work, Education Advocates are not under the direction or regulation of other professions.
Association Boards, like NSEAI, are founded by specialties in professional areas of practice to protect the public by assessing and certifying those within an area of practice who meet specific educational, training and professional requirements. NSEAI board certifies education advocates across the USA. Research has shown that board certification is associated with better outcomes in all professions, including many that are unregulated and unlicensed.
NSEAI provides education advocates with the practical knowledge, skills and tools needed to successfully support a board certification candidate during their National Board Certification process. The content of its courses are designed to specifically address entry level as well as professional level candidates. The curriculum is posted with educational outcomes on the website.
NSEAI is a professional organization whose professional membership is open only to trained or board certified education advocates. NSEAI conducts educational advocacy trainings to support parents in their home communities and an annual board certification training course.
BOARD CERTIFICATION IS THE FIRST STEP IN ESTABLISHING THE PROFESSION OF EDUCATION ADVOCACY
Currently Education Advocacy is an unregulated and unlicensed practice. The development of a true homogeneous (just education advocates) self regulating association body, with defined technical skill sets and board certification are the steps PRIOR to establishing a profession. Once established a profession with board certification can petition to be a regulated and licensed profession. This process has, most recently, been followed by the professions of Massage Therapy and Board Certified Behavior Analysts. The steps to move from being a trade, occupation or what is referred to as a “semi-profession” (an occupation that requires skills but is not seen as a true profession), to becoming a stand alone profession are being followed by NSEAI.
NSEAI has done these steps and they include:
Having a body of people engaged in a calling ✔
Having clients not customers (contract arrangements and not just consumers) ✔
Provide local then national training programs ✔
Provide local and then national association ✔
Distinguishing the profession and creating autonomy from other professions based on specific skill sets and tasks ✔
Having a National Association with a regulatory body for its homogeneous members (one profession - just education advocates), that self regulate ✔
Developing a formal set of voluntary qualifications based on education, apprenticeship and examinations through a professional association’s board certification program ✔
Provide a code of ethics and practice guidelines/act. ✔
THE PROFESSION OF EDUCATION ADVOCACY
NSEAI expanded their trainings to promote the profession by:
• Establishing a national standard and formal qualifications for educational advocacy board certification
• Providing the unique extended cross training and technical skill training required for education advocates
• Serving a self regulatory body for the profession of education advocacy
• Defining the unique specialized set of technical skills that set Education Advocacy apart from other professions. and
• Defining services that are in the public interest of and result in positive outcomes for clients.
A CAREER IN EDUCATION ADVOCACY
Those who wish to pursue a career in education advocacy, should take courses from an organization that promotes education advocacy as a profession. There are many groups that promote education advocates as low paying paralegals with a focus on due process and lawyer referal vs. advocacy that resolves the educational issues parents have at the IEP table and within the non-legal dispute resolutions available through IDEA, like independent evaluations, informal meetings, mediation, etc. prior to any legal action.
NSEAI is managed as an association with a homogenious group of education advocates from many professional backgrounds and believes education advocacy is an independent profession from educators, related service providers and lawyers and that it:
· Needs practitioners that are trained and board certified in the profession of education advocacy.
· Needs better public awareness to explain the difference between a board certified
education advocate and those without training or certification and those who work in other professions.
· Requires ongoing education and networking for board certified education advocates.
· Has unique skill sets for developing an appropriate IEP or educational plan for any child
and has the required technical knowledge distinct from that required to defend such plans in
· Needs an Association that will help one prepare to take that next step and start their own
education advocacy business, and differentiate themselves through board certification.
It is important to understand that parent mentors, educational advocates, educational consultants, clinicians, special education lawyers and educators (all who come to the NSEAI programs from across the country) have extensive education before they think of pursuing educational advocacy as a profession.
They should be acknowledged for the level of expertise they have acquired handling or managing school and parent relationships, IEP processes, documentation requirements, content knowledge, educational need identification, procedural safeguard protection, regulations and time line knowledge and so much more.
Educational Advocates are Undervalued
Educational advocates are not just second class, low paid paralegal assistants or cheap referral sources for attorneys. They have the specific skills required to:
· inform parents of their educational rights
· assist families in negotiating and resolving any disputes with the school district so they do
not go to due process
· analyze educational and clinical records and apply recommendations to the IEP and
· facilitate the IEP process
· provide specific knowledge about special, general and private education systems
· develop an appropriate IEP, that supports the individualized needs of a student
· assure positive behavioral interventions are used
· use appropriate progress monitor measurements with efficacy that results in positive
functional outcomes of individual needs
These are very different from the skills an attorney needs to go to Due Process or appeal a case. Most IEPs are legally sufficient but not necessarily educational appropriate to assure the least restrictive environment in the future and close the educational gap, if possible.
If you pride yourself on accuracy and want to be a source of trusted information, educate yourself about board certification for educational advocates. It is important that the community understands the difference between and the value of educational advocacy vs. legal representation. NSEAI is a collaborative group that has professional education advocates that are from multiple fields; parents, educators, clinicians and lawyers. We support the profession of education advocacy and understand the difference in being legally focused vs. being focused on the child’s outcomes at the IEP level.
A lawyer can get money for the client when a school district fails to comply with the law. An Education Advocate can help discern how best to address a child’s specific educational needs and facilitate compliance in the first place. An Education Advocate can also help successful due process clients determine how to most effectively spend the compensatory education award to best advance the child’s education.
Educational Advocacy is undervalued for the specific skill sets that they bring to the marketplace. In July 2013, at a national autism conference in Pennsylvania, the speaker, a prominent special education attorney, announced that, “education advocates don’t need a lot of training.” We disagree. Education advocates offer unique information to address educational needs, programming and progress monitoring at times when lawyers are not involved in cases. They also prevent due process cases, saving parents money and time. They often get better educational outcomes for their clients. Education Advocates are the first to be aware of trends within the disability community and educational institutions. They are able to protect a clients procedural rights and assure appropriate documentation, long before the need for other professional consultations. This educational advocacy information and coordination of services is not available from lawyers, educators or clinicians when needed. Education Advocates offer a unique set of skills and knowledge.
Saying that education advocates don’t need a lot of training is like saying a mediator doesn’t need a lot of education. Mediators come from varied backgrounds and are trained in specific skills needed to be mediators vs. litigators. They are also not licensed, but they may be board certified through their professional organizations.