The U.S. Department of Education has given grants to 20 universities to revamp their special education teacher-preparation programs, a step the department says is key to increasing the numbers of highly qualified teachers.
The grants, announced last month, are the first of what will be five-year projects at the chosen universities. The teacher-training programs should be making changes as soon as this fall for teacher-candidates, say representatives of the universities involved.
“We consistently hear from state, local, and higher education officials that personnel-preparation programs for special education teachers should be restructured or redesigned for graduates of those programs to meet the highly qualified teacher requirements in the [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act],” Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said in a statement.
The “highly qualified” standards, as outlined in the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, require that special education teachers, in addition to having knowledge about creating lessons for children with special needs, must also in some cases have academic-subject knowledge. The standard has been a difficult one for some teachers to meet, because many teacher-training programs for special educators focus primarily on teaching methods.
The Education Department said the universities are to upgrade their programs with “research-proven strategies” that will help teachers work with students who have “high-incidence disabilities,” such as mental retardation and learning disabilities.
Colleen Thoma, an associate professor of education at Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond, said her university will be using its initial grant of about $110,000 to make sure teacher-candidates have a fundamental knowledge of evidence-based practices, among other projects.
“We’re hoping to offer these classes, not just to pre-service teachers, but to teachers who are already in the field,” Ms. Thoma said.
A version of this article appeared in the August 13, 2008 edition of Education Week