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Program Quality Assurance at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in Massachusetts. It's not what you think it is.

Have you ever had an issue in special education that required conflict resolution outside of your school district?  If your answer was yes, then you are likely acquainted with a branch of DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) called Program Quality Assurance or PQA.
Sounds nice enough but if you have an interaction with this government agency you will quickly learn that they have little interest or input into the actual quality of special education in Massachusetts.  In fact, according to their staff, their purpose is actually to monitor legal compliance of state and federal law, not quality. This is a hugely misleading nomenclature. I have heard from countless parents who have turned to PQA in hope of getting some traction within their school districts about a variety of issues.  Unfortunately, the odd occasion is when they can help them, not when they can.
Here's an example; an IEP states your child will receive direct instruction in reading from a specialist 5X40min per week but the "specialist" does not have any experience dealing with your child's disability and is struggling to design appropriate instruction. Owing to his/her lack of experience with this disability, your child is not making meaningful progress.  Sounds like something you could take to PQA for support right? Wrong. The only part of this conversation PQA wants to be included in, is whether or not the school is providing the services it described in an ongoing way and can they demonstrate progress. (They of course, will say they can.) Proving that the instructor is not appropriate or not qualified is a painful process who's burden falls back on the parent and almost never gets sorted without an advocate or lawyer in the mix. If you were to call PQA to report your child did not get the services in their service delivery grid and you can document that, now you have an issue they may be willing to tackle.
The other elephant in the room is the qualifications of the staff at PQA.  Try as I may, I can not engage anyone in this department in a discussion on legal points and to the best of my knowledge, I have never encountered an actual lawyer when I called there, despite their being the final word on compliance complaints. They hand down their decision about compliance from on high and if you disagree, your only option is to file for a Due Process Hearing. Seems pretty backwards to have an entire department whose job is to oversee legal compliance without law degrees but I digress.
Last year my own district underwent what is called a Coordinated Program Review, a two to five day review of internal systems and monitoring completed every six years. PQA made absolutely no comment on quality of programming or service delivery, instead focusing on issues such as dated materials,  room conditions, and IEP timelines. Districts hold up their reports from these inspections as if they were proof of superior instruction when they have no bearing on such matters and even if they did, they are only based on a small sampling of cases which uninterviewed parents report, do not truly reflect the performance of the district.
Just how exactly will this sort of inspection improve outcomes for our most vulnerable populations? Where is a parent, or even a school district, to go when they want to know where they should focus their efforts to improve or overhaul specialized instruction? It seems it is high time we acknowledge that the controls on our special education system need some attention as well as a mechanism to discern if they are using resources in a way that actually improves the educational process for our kids.
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