Special-Ed. Training for All Teachers Is Urged

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New York State should require all classroom teachers and school administrators to complete six hours of special-education instruction to obtain certification, an independent citizens' group urges in a new report.

Given the state's growing and diverse population of students with "special needs''--estimated at more than 260,000--such preparation is essential, argues the report by the Public Education Association.

"There is an increasing number of homes where there is economic and social stress, and those are factors that can predict increased learning and behavior problems,'' Constancia Warren, author of the report, said. "The reality is that more and more of those kids are going to be having difficulty, and teachers are not prepared.''

Summaries of the recommendations were published last month in the association's newsletter. The report, which will be available later this month, emerged from a yearlong investigation by a task force made up of coordinators of teacher-preparation programs for special educators, representatives of teachers' unions, and researchers, according to Jeanne Frankl, executive director of the association.

The $47,000 study was paid for by a state education-department grant.

The proposal for an across-the-board requirement in special education, which is already a regular practice in the New York City school system, is expected to generate controversy, members of the task force said. No "regular'' classroom teachers sat on the research panel, Ms. Frankl pointed out, and convincing regular educators of the need for such training "will probably be our most important advocacy task.''

Explaining the rationale for the requirement, Ms. Warren said: "A really excellent teacher used to be able to respond to a range of abilities in the classroom. That ability ... has, in a sense, atrophied.''

The proposal also echoes a theme consistent throughout the report: promoting greater collaboration between the teachers who refer students for special education and the special educators who provide such instruction.

By working together, the report says, all teachers can help handicapped children remain in regular classrooms, or ease the students' transition from special education to regular education.

The task force's other recommendations include:
"Noncategorical'' certification of special-education teachers in two areas: mild to moderately handicapped, and moderately to severely handicapped.

Special educators in New York State currently must obtain "generic'' certification, meaning, in the words of one task-force member, that they "know a little about most handicaps.''

Such teachers, the task force found, often feel unprepared to deal with specific handicaps.

  • Competency-based certification for all teachers.
    "Teacher mentor'' programs for prospective special educators that include seminars in the field, regular visits from college supervisors, and the pairing of student teachers with qualified teachers in the field.
    More emphasis in teacher-training programs on preparing special educators for teaching at the secondary level.

Ms. Warren said teacher-training programs often focus on teaching younger handicapped children, and ignore the need for special educators to be prepared to teach science, mathematics, social studies, and other subjects at the secondary level.

Copies of the report, "Special Education Reform: Prepare All Teachers To Meet Diverse Needs,'' are available after June 19 from the Public Education Association, 39 West 32nd St., New York, N.Y. 10001.

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