A Passion for What Works
Edward Kame'enui '70 is an internationally-known expert on reading and learning disabilities, the author or co-author of more than a dozen textbooks and more than 100 scholarly articles and book chapters. Recently, Kame'enui was appointed the country's first commissioner of special education research as head of the new National Center for Special Education Research, part of the U.S. Department of Education.
Yet, during his undergraduate days at Pacific, the native of Hawai'i was more interested in Greek tragedy and poetry than teaching. His thesis while earning a bachelor's degree in English literature was on John Keats.
"I was not initially interested in teaching at all at Pacific," he said. "I resisted doing any kind of education certificate."
However, Kame'enui and his wife got jobs as live-in teachers and house parents in a Wisconsin residential treatment center for children with serious emotional and behavioral problems. A light went on. "I enjoyed it. They presented enormous problems and had serious behavior issues. They were bright kids, but didn't know much. They had not been taught very well." He found that with the proper presentation, even these troubled kids could learn, setting off an interest in education research. "I became intrigued with the whole process of what works."
Kame'enui took that interest to the University of Oregon (UO) where he earned master's and doctoral degrees in special education. He taught at the University of Montana and Purdue University before returning to UO as a professor of special education and head of several federal and state research projects.
Although he said education in general lacks the body of research other disciplines draw upon, there is strong evidence that children with learning disabilities benefit from specialized instruction. "For these kids the instruction is very crucial - how we present the information, how many chunks and for how long and what we expect back - the steps in the activities that permit them to get the information."
The Center for Special Education Research opens in Washington, D.C., in July 2006. It is tasked with sponsoring research aimed at improving the education results and services for students with disabilities and evaluating the implementation and effectiveness of the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Kame'enui sees that effort as no different than what the National Institutes for Health does. "We will establish a research agenda for the U.S. in special education, identify topics that have the best research and best science out in the field, and get funding to the best researchers."