Teaching Profession

Do Special Education Teachers Need Disability-Specific Degrees?

By Christina A. Samuels — March 25, 2009 1 min read

The student newspaper at North Carolina State University, the Technician, reported that the university will be cutting some specific special education programs to meld them into a more general special educator degree.

The students in the Master of Education in Special Education will still be taught different strategies for teaching students with different special needs, just not each in a separate class. Students will have the skills to handle more general situations, but they may not be as highly specialized for dealing with specific special needs students, according to Ellen Vasu, the department head for instruction and counselor education. "The three specialized Master of Education in Special Education degrees that were recently cut were actually artifacts of the way teachers used to be licensed," Vasu said. "North Carolina is moving to licensing teachers not just for one type of special needs student, but for all special needs students."

From the article, it seems like this change is based on a change in teacher licensure in North Carolina, so it makes sense for universities to adjust. And, it seems to be a good idea to have special educators competent in handling differentiated instruction for many students; as I’ve written before, best practice suggests that most students in special education should be getting the regular curriculum available to all students, with modifications as necessary.

But I also wonder if something is being lost here. Different disabilities do have different features, and perhaps some specialized knowledge will go by the wayside when these specific concentrations are discarded. Or, is it easy enough for a teacher to pick up that knowledge, if necessary, through professional development after college?

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.