AACTE Initiatives in Special Education Preparation Take Flight

AACTE is a national partner for the University of Florida’s Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability, and Reform (CEEDAR) Center, which helps states and institutions of higher education to develop the ability of every teacher to prepare students with disabilities for college and careers. As a federally funded multi-million dollar project, CEEDAR works with AACTE and others to promote the preparation of all educators to have the mindset and skillset for effectively instructing students with disabilities along with all other students in the mainstream classroom.

“This initiative is about ensuring that all educators have the skills to work effectively with students with disabilities,” said AACTE Consultant Jane West, who leads the Association’s work with CEEDAR. “Special education has too often been considered a place and not a service. We are highlighting and promoting preparation for both general and special educators so they can provide effective instruction to students with disabilities in inclusive ways with an eye toward raising expectations and undermining the stigmatizing of students with disabilities.”

AACTE currently has underway three programs focused on advancing special education preparation for principals, teachers, and other educators. First, the AACTE Special Education Task Force, a new component of the AACTE Clinical Practice Commission (CPC), is developing its own tenets to guide the development of inclusive clinical practice programs that would prepare both general and special educators to work together in order to meet the needs of each learner. The Task Force has been considering how clinical preparation needs to be addressed for special and general educators to have pre-service practice in the field so that they are ready to work collaboratively and effectively when they take their place in schools as teachers.

“We are looking at what are the unique aspects of clinical practice that are relevant for students with disabilities and those who serve them,” said West. “We are working to release the new set of tenets, which will relate to the CPC’s tenets, by the end of the year.”

Second, AACTE is developing another networked improvement community (NIC) to address the shortage of special education teachers. With teacher shortages in special education being the highest of all shortages, AACTE will issue a call to members to participate in a study on effective ways to recruit and retain special education teachers, including those representing diverse backgrounds.

“When we say shortage, we mean a shortage of fully prepared educators. It’s not a shortage of bodies—we’re talking about professionals who can truly meet the needs of students with disabilities,” West explained. “The NIC will begin early next year and will continue for four years.

We will work with our members to highlight and develop innovative strategies to address this critical challenge.”

Third, AACTE has launched a new research-to-practice spotlight this fall that features two exemplary educator preparation programs at Bowling Green State University’s (BGSU) College of Education and Human Development in Ohio and Portland State University’s (PSU) Graduate School of Education in Oregon. BGSU has a thriving undergraduate program focused on early childhood education that serves more than 900 students, and their enrollment continues to increase. The institution offers teacher candidates certification to work with children from birth to age 3 and pre-kindergarten through third grade. PSU offers a two-year master’s degree program in secondary education where teacher candidates enter with a specialty in a content area. After completing this program, middle and high school teachers are able to use specialized instructional methodology and their content area expertise to differentiate instruction and develop curriculum accommodations.

“We were searching for programs that exemplify strong clinical practice in both general and special education and these two programs really emerged,” said West. “Comparatively, the programs are very different but they both offer dual certification in general and special education when the teacher candidates complete the programs. The principals and superintendents in local school districts, which the universities serve, love these graduates because they are well prepared and versatile in both general and special education. In fact they think of themselves as both, not one or the other.”

The new AACTE research-to-practice spotlight will include a video series that features interviews with key players at these institutions. “You are going to see teacher candidates and mentor teachers in action with the students in the classroom, learn how the university faculty created the clinical practice programs, and hear from superintendents and principals on how the teachers are profession-ready on day one,” West added. The video series will debut early next year. “I think the key message in all of the videos is that it is well worth it to strengthen clinical practice in your program, and there is evidence that colleges of education want to be at the top of their game by providing stellar programs that produce teachers who are ready to meet the needs of all students,” West said.

For more information about AACTE’s initiatives in special education preparation, visit aacte.org.

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Jerrica Thurman

Director of Marketing & Communications, AACTE