The state should ensure that special education teachers know the subject matter they will be required to teach.
Regrettably, Nebraska offers a K-12 special education certification, in addition to grade-specific options.
However, Nebraska does appropriately require its elementary special education teacher candidates to pass the same subject-matter test as general education candidates, but the state does not ensure that its elementary special education teachers are provided with a broad liberal arts program of study relevant to the elementary classroom.
Further, Nebraska 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.
Nebraska Administrative Code 92 NAC Rule 24 Section 006.62
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 Nebraska 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.
Nebraska should ensure that special education teacher candidates who will teach elementary grades possess not only knowledge of effective learning strategies but also knowledge of the subject matter at hand. Although the state commendably requires the same content test as general education teachers, it should also require core-subject coursework relevant to the elementary classroom. 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, Nebraska 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).
Nebraska asserted that preparation for special education teachers—including different required courses and field-based experiences—does vary depending on the endorsement level being sought.
The state also contended that elementary special education candidates must complete a program of study that includes requirements for science, English, social studies, fine arts and mathematics. However, the state agreed that this is not implicit in the published Rule/Guidelines.
Nebraska questioned why it is "regrettable" that it offers a K-12 special education endorsement, which is critical for meeting the needs of Nebraska students and school districts. "K-12 programs require additional coursework and experiences to appropriately prepare candidates for K-12 responsibilities, as opposed to elementary or secondary level only endorsements. K-12 special educators are uniquely prepared to work with all students, regardless of their developmental level/grade level."
It is indeed likely that districts appreciate the flexibility offered by the K-12 license, but the state must consider whether it really meets the needs of special education students. A significant number of states have moved away from the K-12 license, recognizing that it represents an anachronistic view of special education in which little academic progress was expected of students with disabilities. In order for special education students, especially those with high-incidence learning disabilities, to meet the same high standards as typical students, they must have teachers with grade-appropriate knowledge and skills.