EMU, WISD chosen as part of collaboration of higher education leaders to address national shortage of special education teachers

Written by Geoff Larcom / EMU

YPSILANTI – Eastern Michigan University is joining a group of higher education leaders from across the country to examine effective ways of improving recruitment and retention of special education teachers.

The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education has formed a Network Improvement Community (NIC), whose purpose is to better understand the national shortage of special education teachers and improved methods to train future special educators.

Each participating University faculty and administrator team also includes partners from public schools in their area. Eastern’s partner is the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD).

“Eastern was selected because of our reputation and 100+-year history of preparing special educators, for our current outreach programs to local schools helping identify future teachers, and for our innovative new program for helping paraprofessionals in the Washtenaw Intermediate School District become certified special educators,” said Mike Sayler, dean of the EMU College of Education.

David Winters, special education departament head at Eastern, said, “I believe that one of the things that made us interesting as a participant is the diversity of undergraduate and graduate majors (Autism Spectrum Disorder, Cognitive Impairment, Communication Disorders, Emotional Impairment, Learning Disabilities, and Phsyical and Other Health Impairments) as well as the rich cultural and linguistic diversity found in our students, who are primarily from southeast Michigan.”

WISD eager to partner with Eastern

Naomi Norman, assistant superintendent for achievement and systems support for the WISD, said the district is grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with EMU to envision new ways of structuring the preservice teaching experience.

“It is important for K-12 districts and universities to work together to ensure districts have access to skilled teachers, especially the special educators we need for some of our most vulnerable students,” Norman said. “This partnership, and the support we are recieving through the national Network Improvement Community (NIC), has tremendous potential to make a very real difference locally.

“We recognize that some of the best future teachers are already in our classrooms working with our students as paraprofessionals, and they just need the opportunity for a educator preparation program that is designed in a way that takes their experience and work schedules into account. “

The association said that the participants were selected based on several criteria, including their commitment to increase recruitment into special education degree programs and of diverse candidates, to address high quality special education teacher preparation through building capacity with district partnerships, and to ensure special education teacher candidates are fully licensed before they are teachers of record.

Over the next two years, the group will investigate the shortage and the lack of diversity of fully prepared and credentialed special education teachers in public schools across the nation.

Colleges in network a diverse group

Along with Eastern, the association selected the following institutions as participants in this effort:

  • Cleveland State University (Cleveland)
  • Texas State University (San Marcos, TX)
  • University of Central Florida (Orlando)
  • University of Nebraska at Omaha (Omaha)
  • University of Northern Colorado (Greeley)
  • University of Oregon (Eugene)
  • University of Wisconsin at Madison
  • Virginia State University (Petersburg, VA)
  • Western Kentucky University (Bowling Green, KY)

The NIC members will focus on ways to increase enrollment, particularly with candidates of color and those with disabilities; strengthen partnerships between colleges of education and P-12 schools to address special education teacher turnover, and create programs in partnership with K-12 schools to prepare and retain diverse special educators for vacancies.

“Half of all schools and 90 percent of high-poverty schools struggle to find qualified special education teachers,” said Jacqueline Rodriguez, AACTE Assistant Vice President, Programs and Professional Learning, who leads the new program. “Special education teacher shortages often have a disproportionate effect on English learners and African Americans, who are overrepresented in special education.

“This initiative is critical for helping to improve access to learning for students with disabilities from all backgrounds and to better equip special education teachers to become more effective in the classroom.”

Through a highly selective process, AACTE invited 10 colleges of education with strong special education programs to participate. The colleges selected represented the nation’s diversity through institutional size, institutional affiliation, and geographic location, the association said.

The universities in the network will release a compendium of case studies that will describe the strategies they are using, the rationale for developing them, the desired goals and any data describing the impact of the efforts.

To learn more about the AACTE Reducing the Shortage of Special Education Teachers NIC, visit the ACTE website.   

About Eastern Michigan University

Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 18,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University’s Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and, its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University’s website.