Campus News

$2.4 million DOE grant funds project on Web-based training for special education teachers

A group of researchers in the College of Education has received a $2.4 million federal grant to develop a Web-based program that will help undergraduate students, paraprofessionals and mid-career professionals become certified special education teachers.

In Georgia and across the nation, the demand for special education teachers is at a crisis level in public schools. With 6.5 million children identified as having special needs, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that more than 600,000 additional special education teachers will be needed in the nation’s classrooms by 2008.

These shortages have been well-documented:

  • Nationally, institutions of higher education prepare only half as many teachers as are needed in any given year, according to the Council on Exceptional Children.
  • Georgia will need an estimated 12,781 special education teachers by 2007 and 15,828 by 2012, according to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission.
  • Approximately one-quarter of employed special education teachers in Georgia are not fully certified, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s teacher production has declined nearly 60 percent in recent years, from 5,415 in 1998 to 3,388 in 2002, according to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission.

The new UGA program aimed at addressing these shortages, called SPECTRUM (for Special Education Training on the Web: Certification, Undergraduate and Mentoring), has received a five-year “Transition to Teach” grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

“These grants fund projects which encourage individuals from other fields to become educators in high-need subject areas in high-need school systems,” says ­Alicia Davis, a UGA faculty ­member in special education and a co-developer of SPECTRUM.

“We wanted to design a program that would work well for both mid-career changers and paraprofessionals already working in classrooms who wish to become credentialed as special education teachers.”

By incorporating online coursework, field supervision, networking and support opportunities, SPECTRUM blends technology innovations with traditional teaching approaches.

While supervision of student teachers has been a challenge in the past for teacher certification programs delivered via distance education, SPECTRUM incorporates the use of Webcam supervision, providing ­frequent feedback to students in ­distant districts regarding their teaching skills.

Students will also have access to virtual conference rooms, which link to mentor teachers, university personnel, student teachers and novice teachers for problem solving and informal ­support.

SPECTRUM will cater to the needs of three distinct groups of aspiring teachers in Georgia. The first group consists of paraprofessionals already working in school systems, many of whom have completed two years of college credit work. These students will become fully certified while completing a bachelor’s degree in special education. The second group is mid-career professionals who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher in a field not closely related to education. The third is individuals who have a bachelor’s degree in a field closely related to special education and who wish to pursue the Georgia Professional Standards Commission’s “test out” option.

“The online format of SPECTRUM is critical for this population, as they are often working full time while raising families. Driving to campus three times a week simply won’t work for them,” says Kevin Ayres, an instructor in UGA’s special education program at Gwinnett University Center and a co-developer of SPECTRUM.

Classes are beginning this month for the “mid-career change” students. In the fall of 2005, SPECTRUM will offer an undergraduate degree and certification program to paraprofessionals already working in special education classrooms, as well as individuals who are pursuing PSC certification.

The program has funding for 10 students this year, although more may be admitted if an interest exists.

“We’re targeting the Clarke, Greene, Hancock, Lincoln and Taliaferro county school systems because of the proximity to UGA and their designation as high-need systems based on poverty level and number of teachers teaching on provisional certification,” says Davis.

SPECTRUM was developed from another successful program, called “Special Education Training on the Web,” or SETWeb, that was developed by UGA special education researchers in 2001. SETWeb, which requires a minimum of seven semesters and three practicum experiences, serves as an initial certification program for those who already have bachelor’s degrees to become certified as interrelated special education teachers.

“While SETWeb has provided this online opportunity to individuals with bachelor’s degrees for some time, SPECTRUM will provide the means for special education paraprofessionals who do not hold four-year degrees to do so as well,” says Davis.

SPECTRUM was developed by Davis, Ayres, and UGA special education professor John Langone, in partnership with research scientist Art Recesso and director Michael Hannafin of the College of Education’s Learning and Performance Support Lab. Other contributors include Cynthia Molloy, director of recruitment for the education college, and Christine Burgoyne, an academic professional at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education.