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Chuck Carney
IU School of Education
ccarney@indiana.edu
812-856-8027

Last modified: Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Federal grant to focus on "highly qualified" special education teachers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 10, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A federal grant to the Indiana University School of Education will fund research into improving special education instruction, particularly addressing personnel preparation to help special educators meet the requirements of the "No Child Left Behind" law.

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded the school a Special Education Pre-service Training Improvement Grant for $500,000 over five years. The school will receive $100,000 per year starting August 1. The amount is the maximum award given by the U.S. Department of Education for this grant program.

The money will be used to examine and improve special education masters and graduate certification programs. It will particularly address issues related to "highly qualified" teachers, as mandated by federal law. Project participants also will consider redesigning how teachers are prepared to address the needs of an increasingly diverse student population, including students with emotional and behavior disorders.

Gretchen Butera, associate professor of special education, will lead the project in collaboration with other faculty from special education, math education and language education, as well as from the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community, a center for disability information, research and training based at IU.

Butera says the grant is particularly important because of new demands placed on special education teachers under the federal No Child Left Behind legislation. States are struggling to determine how a teacher becomes highly qualified. Special education teachers are now required to be competent in content areas, not just in areas covering needs of students with disabilities.

"The federal government is asking personnel preparation programs to look at their training and see if they can improve the way special education teachers are trained in content areas," Butera said.

She added that the federal grant is unusual because in previous years, most support given to personnel preparation programs went almost exclusively for student support. This grant funds strengthening personnel preparation through examining and redesigning it to meet the changing student and teacher population.

The IU project, Butera said, could help Indiana's reliance on "limited-license" special education teachers. Nationally there is a shortage of fully qualified special education teachers -- especially in middle and secondary schools -- and teachers of students with emotional-behavioral disorders. Schools often have to hire special education teachers who are not fully qualified.

"There's a large number of limited-license special education teachers in Indiana," Butera said. "They're teaching, often, in classrooms or settings where they're addressing issues related to kids who have emotional behavior disorders."

She said these teachers may have little or no training and no credentials, but the demand for teachers is so great and the supply so small that schools districts must hire them.

"So here they are with the most vulnerable kids and the least amount of preparation to address their needs," she said.

Much of the work will be field-intensive, with students examining current classroom practices while developing their own. Butera said that is how she and others involved in the project will determine how training special educators might change.

"We have the luxury of going out to actually figure out what it is we should do to change things," she said. "Hopefully our training can be more responsive to that, to what's really going on in the field."

Media Outlets: The following comments are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Web site at http://education.indiana.edu/audio.html.

Butera says there's a real need to re-examine special education teacher training:

"The things that we know about how to prepare special education teachers for schools of today have been changing. I mean, schools are different. So that's the grant. It's a grant to try to improve personnel preparation for special educators."

Butera says Indiana has a particular need to address special education instruction:

"There's a large number of limited-license special education teachers in Indiana. They're teaching, often, in classrooms or settings where they're addressing issues related to kids who have emotional-behavior disorders, because those are the jobs nobody wants to take. So they have no training. A lot of times they have no credentialing at all. They get a limited license from the state of Indiana because school districts just can't find anybody to do these jobs. So here they are with the most vulnerable kids and the least training."

Much of the work, Butera says, will involve observation and work in classroom settings:

"We have the luxury of going out to actually figure out what it is we should do to change things. What does it really look like out there, so that hopefully our training can be more responsive to that, to what's really going on in the field."

For More Information, contact Chuck Carney, Director of Communications and Media Relations at the IU School of Education, at 812-856-8027 and ccarney@indiana.edu.