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Degree or Not Degree?

Someone not deemed qualified to teach special education in West Virginia last month may now be able to do so with no additional training.

That's because three years after barring schools from hiring special education teachers who do not have undergraduate degrees in education, the state board of education has changed its mind and let schools do so once again.

Because of a teacher shortage, the board voted Nov. 4 to again allow the hiring of candidates who hold master's degrees in special education but who lack undergraduate training in education, said Kim Hough, the assistant director for the West Virginia Department of Education's office of professional preparation.

The West Virginia Federation of Teachers has opposed the move, arguing that it will mean "less qualified" special education teachers.

"Lowering the standards is not the answer," said Judy Hale, the president of the union. "This would allow for there to be a teacher with an undergraduate degree in criminology ... to teach science or math to special education students at the secondary level."

But Ms. Hough said the state was not compromising on teacher quality. Teachers without undergraduate training would receive additional professional development, she said.

"The fact is, we don't see it as less training," she said. "Most people feel like it is a preferable solution, to have someone with a full master's degree."

The Council for Exceptional Children, a special education advocacy group based in Reston, Va., said West Virginia's policy is now in line with those elsewhere. "Most states allow special education teachers with just master's degrees," said Richard W. Mainzer Jr., the CEC's assistant executive director for professional standards and practice. "We view that as fully appropriate training for entry-level jobs."

—Lisa Fine

Vol. 20, Issue 15, Page 27

Published in Print: December 13, 2000, as State Journal

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