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Published in Print: July 28, 2004, as Special Ed. Teachers Behind On Compliance With Law, GAO Says

Special Ed. Teachers Behind On Compliance With Law, GAO Says

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Some special education teachers are faltering in working toward the qualifications they need under the No Child Left Behind Act, in part because of a lack of coordination at the federal level, according to a report from Congress’ investigative arm.

While the school improvement law requires teachers to be certified in the core academic subjects they teach by the end of the 2005-06 school year, thousands of special education teachers are not acting to get the training they need, the July 15 report says.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Education took issue with some aspects of the report, which was prepared by the Government Accountability Office. The officials pointed out that the report also says that all states already require special education teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and be certified to teach. And 26 states also already require their teachers to show competence in core academic subjects, the GAO report says.

See Also...

View the accompanying table, "Subject-Matter Preparation."

The study "found that a majority of the states already meet the No Child Left Behind standards," said Troy Justesen, an acting deputy assistant secretary for the office of special education and rehabilitative services, or OSERS. He disagreed with the conclusion that his office has not provided coordinated information and support.

The report by the GAO—whose name was changed from the General Accounting Office under legislation signed July 7 by President Bush—says that when states sought guidance from the special education office within the Education Department, they were referred to the office of elementary and secondary education or to the department’s Web site on the No Child Left Behind Act.

Moreover, the report says, until recently the office of special education was not even a member of the department’s teacher-quality policy team.

"I would take some issue with the report’s finding that my office, OSERS, has not been included in No Child Left Behind activities," Mr. Justesen said. "We are heavily involved."

But the report says that in the states that require subject-matter competence, special education teachers assigned to teach core academic subjects might not have the qualifications they need by the close of the 2005-06 school year. With 6 million students with disabilities in public schools and about 400,000 special education teachers, that’s a major problem, the report says.

Furthermore, the country has a shortage of special education teachers, with officials expecting 69,000 openings this coming school year, Mr. Justesen said.

The GAO found confusion about how special education teachers are treated under the No Child Left Behind Act. And qualifications for special education teachers are also regulated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the main federal special education law.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, requested the report.

Need for Guidance

Kim Anderson, a lobbyist for the National Education Association who focuses on special education, said states are trying their best to fulfill the No Child Left Behind Act requirements, but are struggling.

"The Department of Education has given little to no guidance to help them get there, and they’re just left to fend for themselves," she said.

Jane E. West, a lobbyist for special education issues at Washington Partners LLC, a public relations firm in the nation’s capital, said she sees the Education Department increasing its efforts to reach out to educators. But "it would be more helpful to the field to really see a stronger partnership between general education and special education," she said.

Mr. Justesen said his office has actively reached out to states, and some of the problems stem from the way the special education community is dealing with the changes.

"Traditionally, special ed has developed its own culture aside from regular educators ... and now we’re moving to a new phase in this country," he said. "Making sure we’re in the regular classroom, working with regular educators—that’s a new challenge."

Vol. 23, Issue 43, Page 7

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