December Spotlight: Dr. Louis Danielson
by CEEDAR Staff
If you’re reading Dr. Louis Danielson’s curriculum vitae, you may be surprised to learn that this national leader in special education, now at AIR (American Institutes for Research), was once a chemistry major. Graduating from Thiel College in Pennsylvania, Lou was unsure of what he wanted to do with his life. However, after four years of studying chemistry, he was at least fairly certain he didn’t want to be a chemist. Knowing him and the skills she knew he had, his mother gave him a bit of advice: “Why don’t you become a science teacher?” Even then, Lou had a love for teaching. Although he now claims his mother just wanted to “keep him out of trouble,” he decided he would give her idea a try.
Beginning his career teaching at schools with a high percentage of disadvantaged students, Lou’s scientist brain kicked in. He explored what he could do to improve outcomes for struggling students and enrolled in a graduate program in educational psychology. During his time in graduate school, new policy initiatives in Pennsylvania granted greater access to education for many students for the first time. While Lou was on rotations for his graduate program, he was able to see the tremendous benefits this policy gave to students with disabilities firsthand.
Lou then began working for the U.S. federal government in the area of evaluation, which allowed him, in his words, “to ensure not only equal access to education, but equal access to outcomes.” Another formative experience while Lou worked in the Department of Education was the passage of DL 94-142 in 1975. This precursor to IDEA paved the way to widespread educational access for students with disabilities. Dr. Danielson remembers the immense change this policy brought and worked for many years in the Office of Special Education programs working to achieve both access and better outcomes for students with disabilities.
After many successful years, notably as head of the Research to Practice Division in the Office of Special Education Programs, Dr. Danielson retired from his position in order to move to AIR. The move afforded him with opportunities for more substantive, less administrative, work. Now he enjoys the variety of work he does at AIR—in both technical assistance and research. He participates in broad “whole school” initiatives where he is able to look at issues from a wider perspective and see how students with disabilities are affected.
Looking forward to what he wants to accomplish in the rest of his career, Lou points to ensuring the further success of the National Center for Intensive Intervention, which he directs. Although he claims he doesn’t think much about any long-term goals not career-related, he was open to suggestions. Maybe we’ll see him writing an education policy blog while hiking the Appalachian Trail one day. Until then, CEEDAR is thankful to have Dr. Danielson’s wide array of experiences and expertise on our team.