Special Education Teacher Preparation :

Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy


The state should ensure that special education teachers know the subject matter they will be required to teach.

Does not meet goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Special Education Teacher Preparation : Georgia results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/GA-Special-Education-Teacher-Preparation--6

Analysis of Georgia's policies

Regrettably, Georgia offers a K-12 special education certification, in addition to grade-specific options.

Further, Georgia does not ensure that its elementary special education teacher candidates are provided with a broad liberal arts program of study relevant to the elementary classroom.  It also does not require that they pass the same subject-matter test as general education candidates.

Georgia also fails to require that secondary special education teacher candidates are highly qualified in at least two subject areas, and it does not customize a HOUSSE route for new secondary special education teachers to help them achieve highly qualified status in all subjects they teach.  


Recommendations for Georgia

End licensure practices that fail to distinguish between the skills and knowledge needed to teach elementary grades and secondary grades.
It is virtually impossible and certainly impractical for Georgia to ensure that a K-12 special education teacher knows all the subject matter he or she is expected to be able to teach, especially considering state and federal expectations that special education students should meet the same high standards as other students. While the broad K-12 umbrella may be appropriate for teachers of low-incidence special education students, such as those with severe cognitive disabilities, it is deeply problematic for the overwhelming majority of high-incidence special education students, who are expected to learn grade-level content. 

Provide a broad liberal arts program of study to elementary special education candidates, and require that they pass the same content test as general education teachers.
Georgia should ensure that special education teacher candidates who will teach elementary grades possess knowledge of the subject matter at hand. Not only should the state require core-subject coursework relevant to the elementary classroom, but it should also require that these candidates pass the same subject-matter test required of all elementary teachers. Failure to ensure that teachers possess requisite content knowledge deprives special education students of the opportunity to reach their academic potential.

Ensure that secondary special education teacher candidates graduate with highly qualified status in at least two subjects, and customize a HOUSSE route so that they can achieve highly qualified status in all subjects they plan to teach.
To make secondary special education teacher candidates more flexible and better able to serve schools and students, Georgia should use a combination of coursework and testing to ensure that they graduate with highly qualified status in two core academic areas. A customized HOUSSE route can also help new secondary special education teacher candidates to become highly qualified in multiple subjects by offering efficient means by which they could gain broad overviews of specific areas of content knowledge, such as content-driven university courses. Such a route is specifically permitted in the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  

State response to our analysis

Georgia asserted that program completers in special education receive an initial teaching certificate that places them in-field for consultative roles in special education, not to serve as teachers of record in core academic subjects. This model prepares them to serve in an inclusion model in settings with other teachers who are delivering instruction in grade-level content. The state added that even with this consultative role, it requires special education candidates to complete at least one content concentration in social science, science, math, language arts or reading. 

Further, Georgia pointed out that to demonstrate subject-matter expertise for those who serve as teachers of record in one or more subjects in grades P-8, special education teachers can pass a Special Academic Content Concentrations GACE, which has been aligned and validated to the appropriate grade levels and has been determined by Title II federal monitoring not to hold special education teachers to a lesser standard than other teachers. 

In addition, completers of early childhood special education programs must pass the Early Childhood Special Education General Curriculum GACE, which is aligned with state-mandated curriculum standards and state-adopted program standards. Psychometrically, the Early Childhood Special Education General Curriculum GACE assessment is valid and reliable and is designed to measure the level of content knowledge required of a beginning teacher who has completed a state-approved program in this field.   

Finally, Georgia noted that its HOUSSE route, although no longer prevalent or encouraged, is an option for veteran special education teachers to be assessed to be highly qualified to add core academic content concentration area(s) to a special education consultative certificate. A complete HOUSSE rubric must be completed for each core academic subject area, and the teacher experience component of the rubric prohibits its use for new teachers. 

Last word

While special educators should be valued for their critical role working with students with disabilities and special needs, they are identified by the state not as "special education assistants" but as "special education teachers," presumably because the state expects them to provide instruction to children. Providing instruction to children who have special needs requires both knowledge of effective learning strategies and some knowledge of the subject matter at hand. Failure to ensure that teachers are well trained in content areas deprives special education students of the opportunity to reach their full academic potential.

Research rationale

For an analysis of the importance of special educator content knowledge see N. Levenson, "Something Has Got to Change: Rethinking Special Education" American Enterprise Institute (2011). 

For the impact of special education certification see Feng and Sass, "What Makes Special Educators Special: Teacher Training and Achievement of Students with Disabilities" Calder Institute, Working Paper 49 (2010).
Numerous research studies have established the strong relationship between teachers' vocabulary (a proxy for being broadly educated) and student achievement. For example: A.J. Wayne and P. Youngs, "Teacher characteristics and student achievement gains: A review," Review of Educational Research 3, No. 1 (2003): 89-122. See also G.J. Whitehurst, "Scientifically based research on teacher quality: Research on teacher preparation and professional development," presented at the 2002 White House Conference on Preparing Teachers; R. Ehrenberg and D. Brewer, "Did Teachers' Verbal Ability and Race Matter in the 1950s? Coleman Revisited," Economics of Education Review 14 (1995), 1-21.

Research also connects individual content knowledge with increased reading comprehension, making the capacity of the teacher to infuse all instruction with content of particular importance for student achievement. See Willingham, D. T., "How knowledge helps: It speeds and strengthens comprehension, learning—and thinking," American Educator 30(1), (2006).

For the importance of teachers' general academic ability, see R. Ferguson, "Paying for Public Education: New Evidence on How and Why Money Matters," Harvard Journal on Legislation 28 (1991), 465-498;; R. Greenwald, L. Hedges, and R. Laine, "Does Money Matter? A Meta-Analysis of Studies of the Effects of Differential School Inputs on Students' Outcomes," Educational Researcher 23, no. 3 (1994), 5-14; E. Hanushek, "Teacher Characteristics and Gains in Student Achievement: Estimation Using Micro-Data," American Economic Review 61, no. 2 (1971), 280-288; E. Hanushek, "A More Complete Picture of School Resource Policies," Review of Educational Research 66 (1996), 397-409; H. Levin, Concepts of Economic Efficiency and Educational Production," in Education as an Industry, ed. J. Froomkin, D. Jamison, and R. Radner (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger, 1976); D. Monk and J.R. King, "Subject Area Preparation of Secondary Mathematics and Science Teachers and Student Achievement," Economics of Education Review 12, no. 2 (1994), 125-145; R. Murnane, "Understanding the Sources of Teaching Competence: Choices, Skills, and the Limits of Training," Teachers College Record 84, no. 3 (1983); R. Murnane and B. Phillips, Effective Teachers of Inner City Children: Who They Are and What Are They? (Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, 1978); R. Murnane and B. Phillips, "What Do Effective Teachers of Inner City Children Have in Common?" Social Science Research 10 (1981), 83-100; M. McLaughlin and D. Marsh, "Staff Development and School Change," Teachers College Record 80, no. 1 (1978), 69-94; R. Strauss and E. Sawyer, "Some New Evidence on Teacher and Student Competencies," Economics of Education Review 5 (1986), 41; A. A. Summers and B.L. Wolfe, "Which School Resources Help Learning? Efficiency and Equity in Philadelphia Public Schools," Business Review (Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, February 1975).

Sandra Stotsky has documented the fact that teacher candidates often make inappropriate or irrelevant coursework choices that nonetheless satisfy state requirements. See S. Stotsky, "Can a State Department of Education Increase Teacher Quality? Lessons Learned in Massachusetts," in Brookings Papers on Education Policy, ed. Diane Ravitch (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2004).

On the need for colleges and universities to improve their general education coursework requirements, see The Hollow Core: Failure of the General Education Curriculum (Washington, D.C.: American Council of Trustees and Alumni, 2004). For a subject-specific example of institutions' failure to deliver solid liberal arts preparation see, The Coming Crisis in Citizenship: Higher Education's Failure to Teach America's History and Institutions (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006).

For information on teacher licensing tests, see The Academic Quality of Prospective Teachers: The Impact of Admissions and Licensure Testing (Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, 1999). A study by C. Clotfelter, H. Ladd, and J.Vigdor of elementary teachers in North Carolina also found that teachers with test scores one standard deviation above the mean on the Elementary Education Test as well as a test of content was associated with increased student achievement of 0.011 to 0.015 standard deviations. "How and Why Do Teacher Credentials Matter for Student Achievement?" The Calder Institute (2007).