PhD in Public Policy

Paul Austin ’15, ’96

Career

  • Current position: Superintendent of Schools, Hingham Public Schools, Hingham, MA  
  • Position during PhD studies: Superintendent, Maine RSU#3

Over the past 25 years, Paul has worked as an educational technician, school social worker, psychological services provider, and administrator in public schools in Maine spanning pre-kindergarten through grade 12.

Degrees and Certifications:

  • PhD in Public Policy with a concentration in Educational Leadership and Policy, University of Southern Maine, 2015
  • Certificate of Advanced Study in Educational Leadership, University of Maine, 2004
  • MS in School Psychology, University of Southern Maine, 1996
  • BA in Psychology, University of Maine at Farmington, 1985

Dissertation

Title: An Examination of Response to Intervention Development and Implementation Relative to Best Practice

Dissertation Abstract: For the past 30 years, public education in the United States has been under fire for its failure to address a long decline in student performance. Education reform has been a focal point of the country, calling for improved student performance, and a reduction of the achievement gap for students struggling to meet academic standards. Following the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the U.S. Department of Education reauthorized the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004 (U.S. Department of Education, 2006). One important issue addressed in the reauthorization was the criteria needed to identify children under the handicapping condition of Specific Learning Disability (SLD). The definition of SLD remained unchanged in the 2004 reauthorization of IDEA, but the revised law provided school teams with more options to identify learning disabilities. Those additional procedures included the use of a Response to Intervention (RTI) model.

Following the reauthorization of IDEA in 2004, the state of Maine adopted new special education regulations that included the use of RTI in all public schools and later created new state law, mandating the use of RTI in all schools. While Maine mandated school districts to develop and implement RTI in all grades by 2010, the state provided little support or guidance about how best to accomplish that goal. As a result, it is probable that Maine schools have utilized a variety of RTI procedures that may not reflect research-based best practices. Given that, additional research related to the development and implementation of RTI in Maine schools is warranted.

This qualitative study explored the development and implementation of RTI in two different school districts in Maine. It explores the perceptions of administrators, teacher leaders, and teachers from two elementary schools on the development, implementation, and impact that RTI has had in their district. Each of the subjects participated in a three-part interview process. The Austin Framework of Best Practices for Developing and Supporting RTI, and the Austin Framework of Best Practices for Implementing RTI were used in the study to better understand the RTI practices employed in these school districts in relation to the best practices identified in research.

While the study is based upon a relatively small sample of administrators, teacher leaders, and teachers, results suggested that despite the lack of guidance and resources from the state, the response from teachers, teacher leaders, and administrators was found to be generally positive in this study. Key findings suggested that participants appreciate the focus on teaching strategies. Although there was some initial resistance from school personnel toward the development and implementation of RTI, the general perception of RTI is now one of acceptance. Finally, regardless of how well their districts’ RTI program aligned to the best practices identified in research, respondents from each district reported that their respective RTI programs had improved student-learning outcomes.