Special Education Teacher Preparation : New
York

2011 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

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

Meets in part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Special Education Teacher Preparation : New York results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/NY-Special-Education-Teacher-Preparation--6

Analysis of New York's policies

Commendably, New York does not offer a K-12 special education certification. New York offers special education certification in the following categories: birth-2 generalist, 1-6 generalist and 7-12 generalist. (As of September 2011, the 7-12 generalist certificate replaces the 5-9 generalist and 7-12 specialist certificates.)

New York also appropriately requires its elementary special education teacher candidates to pass the same subject-matter test as general education candidates. However, the state does not ensure that its elementary special education teachers—who are required to meet the same preparation requirements as all elementary candidates—are provided with a broad liberal arts program of study relevant to the elementary classroom (see Goal 1-B).

Further, New York 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.  

Citation

Recommendations for New York

Provide a broad liberal arts program of study to elementary special education candidates.
New York 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 for elementary special education teachers 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, New York 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

New York was helpful in providing NCTQ with the facts necessary for this analysis. The state added that effective September 2, 2011, secondary special education teacher candidates must complete a minimum of six semester hours in each of the following subject areas: mathematics, English language arts, social studies and science, with sufficient pedagogical skills to teach these subjects. These requirements, in combination with the general education core and pedagogical core, must ensure that candidates have a knowledge base for teaching special education students at the adolescence level.

New York also noted that teachers holding this certificate will be eligible to teach in supportive roles such as consultant teachers, resource room service providers and integrated co-teachers. Further, a multi-subject content specialty test is being developed for grades 7-12 students with disabilities generalists and will consist of three parts: English language arts and literacy, mathematics, and science and social studies. Candidates will be required to pass each part independently to attain certification.

In addition, candidates holding the students with disabilities in adolescence generalist certificate will also have the option of obtaining an extension to this certificate, which will authorize the teacher to be employed as the special class teacher of students with disabilities in a specific subject area. These teachers must complete 18 semester hours of study in the subject area and pass the content specialty test in the specific subject area. Employing school districts must provide weekly collaboration between a certified general education content specialist in the subject area of the extension and the teacher holding the extension, with at least one period per month co-taught by both teachers. The length of the required weekly collaboration and co-taught lesson will be defined at the local level.

How we graded

Generic K-12 special education licenses are inappropriate for teachers of high-incidence special education students.

Too many states make no distinction between elementary and secondary special education teachers, certifying all such teachers under a generic K-12 special education license. While this broad umbrella may be appropriate for teachers of low-incidence special education students, such as those with severe cognitive disabilities, it is deeply problematic for high-incidence special education students, who are expected to learn grade-level content.  And because the overwhelming majority of special education students are in the high-incidence category, the result is a fundamentally broken system.

It is virtually impossible and certainly impractical for states to ensure that a K-12 teacher knows all the subject matter he or she is expected to teach.  And the issue is just as valid in terms of pedagogical knowledge. Teacher preparation and licensure for special education teachers must distinguish between elementary and secondary levels, as they do for general education. The current model does little to protect some of our most vulnerable students.

Special education teachers teach content and therefore must know content. 

While special educators should be valued for their critical role in working with students with disabilities and special needs, the state identifies them not as "special education assistants" but as "special education teachers," presumably because it expects them to provide instruction. Inclusion models, where special education students receive instruction from a general education teacher paired with a special education teacher to provide instructional support, do not mitigate the need for special education teachers to know content. Providing instruction to children who have special needs requires knowledge of both effective learning strategies and 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 academic potential.

HQT requirements place unique challenges on secondary special education teachers.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) present conflicting expectations for the subject-matter preparation of new secondary special education teachers. Although the latter, which was passed after NCLB, offers greater flexibility and is more realistic than what NCLB suggests, it may not adequately address teachers' subject-matter knowledge. States can provide some middle ground, while meeting the requirements of both laws.

Under IDEA, states can award "highly qualified teacher" status to new secondary special education teachers who:
  • have a major  or have passed a subject-matter test in one of three content areas: language arts, mathematics or science (without explanation, the law excludes social studies) and
  • complete a single HOUSSE route for multiple subjects in all other subjects that they are likely to teach during their first two years of teaching.
States need to provide more specific guidance on this issue. They should require secondary special education teachers to have broad coursework in multiple subjects and to become highly qualified in two core academic areas. This will make teachers more flexible and thus better able to serve schools and students. States can use a combination of testing and coursework to meet this goal.

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).