Special Ed Grumblings

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We may see another state-federal showdown next month in New Jersey, this time over special ed teachers. State school officials there are hoping that the feds will extend the deadline for special ed teachers to attain highly qualified status.

Given the recent flexibility shown by Spellings & Co., the state may get its way. While there are colossal shortages of special education teachers across the country, states are also getting away with sitting on their hands. Few (if any) states have exploited new routes that would at least help them move a lot closer to meeting NCLB's goals.

One option would be for states to work with their teacher preparation programs to offer classes in core academic areas for veteran special ed teachers. A one-semester class could go a long way toward getting a teacher to pass relatively easy subject-matter tests- and thus, to become highly qualified. States could also reset their cut scores on these tests for special education teachers, but apparently they can't even be bothered to make the effort to game the system that way.

Perhaps the most pressing issue- and one that could really change if states put their efforts into the task- is improving the training of new special education teachers. Teacher training programs, whether of their own volition or because of state requirements, often mandate excessively and disproportionately large coursework loads for their special education majors. Many aspiring special ed teachers complete the equivalent of two education majors, one in regular education and one in special ed. Regardless of their tussles with the feds, states need to take a hard look at what they are doing to discourage prospective teachers from entering this underserved field.