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Title: Teacher education and students with significant disabilities : revisiting essential elements
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Full Text

Teacher Education and
Students with Significant Disabilities:
Revisiting Essential Elements
Prepared for the Center on Personnel Studies in Special Education

Alison Ford
Wanda Blanchett
University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee


Lou Brown
Professor Emeritus
of Wisconsin at Madison

June 2006
COPSSE Document No. IB-11

Center on Personnel Studies in Special Education









COPSSE research is focused on the preparation of special education professionals and its
impact on beginning teacher quality and student outcomes. Our research is intended to inform
scholars and policymakers about advantages and disadvantages of preparation alternatives and
the effective use of public funds in addressing personnel shortages.

In addition to our authors and reviewers, many individuals and organizations have contributed
substantially to our efforts, including Drs. Erling Boe of the University of Pennsylvania and
Elaine Carlson of WESTAT. We also have benefited greatly from collaboration with the National
Clearinghouse for the Professions in Special Education, the Policymakers Partnership, and their
parent organizations, the Council for Exceptional Children and the National Association of State
Directors of Special Education.

The Center on Personnel Studies in Special Education, H325Q000002, is a cooperative
agreement between the University of Florida and the Office of Special Education Programs of
the U. S. Department of Education. The contents of this document do not necessarily reflect the
views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of other organizations imply
endorsement by them.
Recommended citation:
Ford, A., Blanchett, W., & Brown, L. (2006). Teacher education and students with significant disabilities:
Revisiting essential elements. (COPSSE Document Number IB-11). Gainesville, FL:
University of Florida, Center on Personnel Studies in Special Education.


U. S. Office of Special
Education Programs

Additional Copies may be obtained from:
COPSSE Project
P.O. Box 117050
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611
352-392-2655 (Fax)

There are no copyright restrictions on this document; however,
please credit the source and support of the federal funds when
copying all or part of this document.


A b s tra c t.......................................................................................................................................................4

In tro d u c tio n ...............................................................................................................................................5

A Clear Teacher Role w ith Advocacy at the Center............. .......... ........... ............... 7

A Focus on Meaningful Outcom es ......................................................................................... 11

Strong Curriculum Guidance ..................................................................................................................... 13

Partnership w ith Parents and Schools ............................................................................... 23

Capacity to Develop Sufficient Numbers of Diverse, Committed, and Talented
T e a c h e rs ...................................................................................................................................................2 6

Implications for Practice and Research .........................................................................................32

C o n c lu s io n s ............................................................................................................................................3 4

R E F E R E N C E S .........................................................................................................................................3 5


The status of teacher education and students with significant disabilities is examined in the
context of five essential elements that characterized the development of the field in the mid-
1970s. The five elements are: (1) a clear teacher role with advocacy at the center, (2) a focus on
student learning and meaningful outcomes, (3) strong curriculum guidance, (4) partnerships with
parents and schools, and (5) the national capacity to develop a sufficient number of quality
teachers. On revisiting these elements and examining today's teacher education practices, the
authors offer recommendations for research and practice in teacher education.


Hey, Don't Forget About Me! Education's Investment in the Severely and Profoundly
Handicapped (Thomas, 1976) was among the pivotal publications coming out of national
meetings and conferences held in the early and mid-1970s. As the title suggests, until the early
1970s, many individuals with significant disabilities2 were "forgotten about" or denied a public
school education, a practice that was completely legal at the time. Through the advocacy of
parents and professionals, such as those involved in the landmark cases of Pennsylvania
Association for Retarded Citizens v. Commonwealth (1972) and Mills v. Board of Education of
the District of Columbia (1972), students with significant disabilities gained the right to a free
and appropriate public school education that had been previously denied them. This parent
advocacy, leadership at the federal level, and ultimately in 1974 the formation of a professional
organization [TASH]-now The Association for Persons with Severe Disabilities-contributed
to the "professionalization of teaching and learning for children with severe disabilities" (Sontag
& Haring, 1996, p. 39). The changes brought about by this united advocacy movement were
dramatic. Students previously denied public schooling gained access to schools and increasingly
became "included" in regular schools and classes. These students for whom society had so few
expectations began to graduate and enter the work force. Their parents, and to some extent the
students themselves, had a voice in developing individualized educational programs. Although
many stakeholders contributed to these new and positive outcomes for students with disabilities
(e.g., parents, community advocates, school leaders) large scale change would not have been
possible without a strong and committed teaching force with the skills to meet the needs of this
new school population. Many universities around the country played a major role in this effort
as they expanded their research and teacher education programs to include a focus on teaching
students with significant disabilities.

The purpose of this paper is to reflect on the elements that characterized the development of
teacher education in the area of severe disabilities, consider their status today, and discuss
research and practice implications for the future. We have drawn from the historical account of
Sontag and Haring (1996), who chronicled a series of national activities and meetings held in the
early 1970s to prepare for the entry of individuals with significant disabilities into public
schools. In this article, the underpinnings of a "movement" are described, along with essential
elements for building the capacity to educate students with significant disabilities. This paper is
organized around five elements in our own terminology while reflecting the professionalization
of the field as outlined by Sontag and Haring (1996).

A first essential element was a clear teacher role, with advocacy at the center. The goal was to
gain meaningful access to public schooling; and newly prepared teachers needed to understand
that it would take both expertise and advocacy to make this happen. Second, there was a focus
on student learning and meaningful outcomes. There was much to prove about the learning
potential and possible accomplishments of students with severe disabilities. Third, there was a
recognition that strong curriculum guidance and "systematic instructional procedures and
materials" needed to be developed and disseminated nationally (Sontag & Haring, 1996, p. 43).
Fourth, partnerships with parents and schools were viewed as essential in order for teacher

1 The authors would like to thank Marleen Pugach and Judy Winn, University of Wisconsin-
Milwaukee, for reading drafts of this paper and offering invaluable feedback and suggestions.
2 "Significant" and "severe" disabilities are used interchangeably in this paper.

education programs to demonstrate the possibilities to future teachers and others. And finally,
the national capacity to develop a sufficient number of quality teachers was an ongoing
consideration. The goal was to populate the profession with talented teachers who had a high
level of commitment and specialized expertise with respect to educating students with significant

As we reflect on these five elements and consider the current status of teacher education in the
field of significant disabilities, many questions arise. Are we still in need of the focused
advocacy that characterized the profession in its early years? How is the changing role of the
special educator influencing teacher preparation, particularly with regard to working within an
inclusive context? Toward what high school graduation outcomes should today's teachers aim-
successful transition to supported work, post-secondary education, and/or a passing score on the
state's alternate assessment? To what extent do new teachers feel accountable for these
outcomes? What specialized curriculum is needed? Are newly prepared educators who work
with students with significant disabilities more responsive to issues of race, culture, and poverty;
or does having a severe disability "trump" all other aspects of one's life? Are future regular
educators given clear guidance with respect to their collaborative roles in educating students with
significant disabilities? How strong are our partnerships with parents, consumers, and schools?
Are these still the driving force in program design and implementation? Finally, how well are
we doing with respect to developing the capacity to populate the profession with diverse,
committed, and talented educators? These and other questions will be addressed as we revisit
essential elements of teacher education programs designed to serve students with significant


A well-designed teacher education program is driven by a clear and compelling vision of what
schooling should look like and the role teacher candidates should play in achieving this vision.
The strong vision that propelled the field of significant disabilities in the 1970s-access,
inclusion, participation in work and community life-effectively unified the field and created
dramatic change. Teacher candidates embraced this inclusive vision and understood that, in
addition to providing good instruction, advocacy would need to be at the center of their role.
Through focused advocacy efforts, they were to achieve recognition and integration for a group
of marginalized and segregated individuals. Are we still in need of the focused advocacy that
characterized the profession in its early years? If so, is there sufficient clarity and consensus
about the role of the special educator that the desired advocacy role is well understood by newly
prepared teachers?

Focused Advocacy

Students with significant disabilities. Much of the advocacy focus has been on the
inclusion of individuals with significant disabilities, e.g., in regular schools, in regular classes, in
the regular curriculum, in extracurricular offerings. One way to determine whether this type of
advocacy is still needed is to look at the annual data on the implementation of the Individuals
with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA] (e.g., U.S. Department of Education [USDOE], 2005).
Through Annual Reports to Congress and the IDEAdata.org website, it is possible to track the
percentage of students with disabilities who attend regular schools and "spend more than 60% of
their time outside regular classroom" or are "self-contained" (to use a simplified term for
purposes of discussion). Based on the latest available data, about half of the students with
significant disabilities are in self-contained settings. To determine this, we examined the data on
educational environments provided for the three disability categories most closely associated
with "significant disabilities"-mental retardation, multiple disabilities, and autism. In recent
years (1998-2004, IDEAdata, Table 2-5), the percentage of students in self-contained classrooms
has changed minimally for students with mental retardation (54.28% in 1998 and 53.92% in
2004) and multiple disabilities (62.3% in 1998 and 60.18% in 2004). For students with autism,
there was a more significant progression toward inclusion (60.44% self-contained in 1998 and
47.15% in 2004). Nonetheless, newly hired teachers serving students with significant disabilities
are likely to begin their careers in self-contained settings and will need to advocate for changes
in these structures. While this advocacy role should not be theirs alone, it is also clear that
movement toward inclusive education cannot occur without their leadership and support-they
are central to any change process.

Racial and ethnic disparities. IDEA's annual data can be used to gauge progress in other
areas including the extent to which we are reducing gaps in opportunities for White students and
those of color who have significant disabilities. Education Week used these data to analyze the
differences in placements of African American, Hispanic, and White students. Of the students
who spend more than 60% of their day outside of the regular class (or in self-contained
classrooms), disproportionately higher percentages are African American or Hispanic compared
to White (Viadero, 2004, p. 25). Indeed, the 2004 data from IDEAdata.org reveal that 27.78% of
the African-American students with all disabilities were in self-contained classrooms and
22.86% of the Hispanic students were self-contained. This is in contrast to 13.78% of White
students who were in self-contained classrooms (IDEAdata, Table B4C). These data convey

one of many persistent patterns of inequity. Transition data also reveal persistent differences in
post-school outcomes, with White youth showing a significant increase in post-secondary
employment and education but no significant change or, in some cases, reduction for African-
American and Hispanic youth (Wagner, Newman, Cameto, & Levine, 2005). Any advocacy of
inclusive education must also recognize and address these racial and ethnic disparities head-on.

Is there a need for continued, focused advocacy with and on behalf of students with significant
disabilities? The answer is yes. We simply are not finished yet. While we have made
impressive strides with respect to inclusion, we have far too many students with significant
disabilities who do not have meaningful access to the regular classroom and school experience,
as the previously cited IDEA data suggest. With some important exceptions (e.g., Correa &
Tulbert, 1991; Harry, 1992; Harry, Kalyanpur, & Day, 1991; Meyer, Hyun-Sook Park, Grenot-
Scheyer, Schwartz, & Harry, 1998; Reyes-Blanes, Correa, & Bailey, 1999), it was not until
relatively recently that attention was drawn to the role of race, culture, and poverty in the lives of
students with significant disabilities. It was as though a "severe disability" trumped all other
aspects of one's life-and little relevance was ascribed to other potentially more defining
influences, e.g., culture, race and poverty (Meyer, 2001). When we do not consider race or
poverty, we overlook disparities such as those related to inclusion and transition. In sum,
continued advocacy is needed to ensure an inclusive education and to help teachers guard against
the biases that have resulted in even less access for students of color who have significant

Toward Clarity

Purpose and role. The issue of job design and role ambiguity of special educators has been
studied extensively by Gersten and his colleagues, particularly in the context of teacher retention.
Their survey of 887 special educators from three large urban districts examined factors leading to
teacher attrition and retention. A leading negative factor and predictor of stress was related to
job design and "role dissonance" or the "degree to which educators perceive dissonance between
their expectations about the job and the job's actual requirements" (Gersten, Keating, Yovanoff,
& Harniss, 2001, p. 562). Along with the more obvious job design stressors (e.g., burdensome
paperwork and extensive meetings), the study revealed teacher stressors related to limited
opportunities for individualization and managing wide ranges of student performance levels. As
the authors conclude, addressing the issue of job design is critical, particularly as the role of the
special educator becomes increasingly complex.

This role confusion among teacher candidates of students with severe disabilities can be
expressed in the following way:

If I want to teach students with significant disabilities and put myself in the best possible
role to make a difference, what do I do? Do I have my school assign me all of the
students with significant disabilities (but, isn't cross-categorical better)? Do I work
toward a model where I give up the resource/special ed room and work entirely in regular
classes as a co-teacher, differentiating the curriculum? Is it still okay to do some
functional and vocational curriculum ...or is that no longer considered good practice? I
guess what I am saying is that I am still confused about what my role should be.
[Representative comments made by a graduating teacher candidate.]

Many teacher educators will recognize the role confusion expressed in this representative
example. Much of the confusion lies in the underlying conflict between striving for a fully
inclusive model while still feeling the need to provide specialized instruction in areas such as
vocational and functional curriculum (Dymond & Orelove, 2001).

Inclusion and role complexity. In years past, teacher advocacy centered on gaining access
to regular schools and to some regular classes. Special educators learned to do this mainly from
an "outsider" perspective (e.g., finding the receptive regular education teacher, offering high
levels of special education support, and renegotiating every year). More recently, persuasive
arguments have been made that inclusion is best achieved when approached from an insider's
perspective: "We must begin with the majority perspective and build the tools and strategies for
achieving inclusion from the center out rather than from the most exceptional child in"
(Ferguson, 1995, p. 284). Similar calls for restructuring have been presented by others (see
Biklen, 1992; Ferguson, Kozleski, & Smith, 2001; Lipsky & Gartner, 1996; Sailor, 2002; Sailor
& Skrtic, 1995; Villa, Thousand, Stainback, & Stainback, 1992).

As compelling as this "insider's" perspective is, it poses significant challenges for special
educators and teacher education. We want to embrace the notion that schools can be
restructured to truly support the full range of learners. We want to trust that students with
significant disabilities are so fully owned by schools that their needs and interests are
consciously and routinely considered at all levels of decision-making. In this scenario, we see
the special educator as a member of a collaborative team with regular education teachers and
other colleagues that figures out how to meet all students' needs. Collaboration and shared
ownership have wide support in the professional community. At the curriculum level, however,
tensions arise. As students get older, it is more and more difficult to plan challenging units and
design assessments with the full range of students in mind. To keep the instruction anchored in
grade-level expectations, the team generally begins with the regular curriculum and differentiates
it to include students with significant disabilities. While there are good case examples of how
this is possible (Downing, 2002; Fisher & Frey, 2003; Jorgensen, 1998), we are still challenged
by these two questions: (1) What will all these differentiated experiences add up to? (2) In
addition to working from a curriculum designed for the majority, should not we also insist on
schools recognizing and valuing learning priorities that arise from focusing on the needs of this
1-2% of the school population?

Returning to the discussion of the newly prepared teacher who expresses confusion around his or
her role, we address these questions:

1. Should he or she work as an insider, collaborate within a regular team structure, and plan
and differentiate the curriculum together with the "whole" group in mind? Yes. Inclusion
is paramount.

2. Should this newly prepared teacher also focus on learning priorities that arise from
considering the unique needs of students with significant disabilities, realizing that they
will not be sufficiently addressed even in a strong, collaborative planning model? Yes. A
dual curriculum role is required. In addition to differentiating the regular curriculum,
this teacher should be prepared to identify unique learning priorities, advocate for their
inclusion in the curriculum, and ensure that meaningful learning opportunities occur
(even if it means scheduling alternative, activity-based learning that will only be
experienced by a subset of students).

3. Finally, is it acceptable for this teacher to focus mainly on students with significant
disabilities rather than working cross-categorically to take full advantage of developed
expertise? Yes, a focus on students ii ith significant disabilities is acceptable as long as
this approach is done collaboratively, does not isolate the students ii ith significant
disabilities, or force a clustering model that denies students access to their home schools.

It should be noted that this is sometimes difficult to achieve, particularly at the elementary level.
Elementary schools tend to have smaller enrollments and are unlikely to have more than one or
two students with significant disabilities. In this case, a teacher must be prepared to work cross-
categorically and have a strong commitment and base of expertise to support the full range of
learners with IEPs in the collaborative classes to which he or she is assigned.

The answers to questions regarding role confusion are ours. We know of no literature or
professional standards that provide the type of direct response that teachers are seeking. We
believe there should be. It is important that teacher education programs operate from a clear
picture of the present and desired role of the teacher. How we picture the role of the special
educator influences how we advocate for state licensing structures (categorical or not; age-level
breakdowns or not), what specialized curriculum is included in methods courses, and even who
we hire as faculty. To date there has been little professional discourse that will lead to a clearly
endorsed role-at least not in the practical terms posed by the future teacher in our example.

Working toward consensus on the role of the special educator serving students with significant
disabilities is an important research and practice agenda item. It makes sense to start with
common ground. The field remains strongly committed to an inclusive structure. It also sees the
need for a continuing advocacy, both from a broader social justice perspective and from a
practical "not done yet" perspective-too many students with significant disabilities remain
excluded, ignored and under-served. Perhaps by acknowledging this common ground, the more
complex tensions related to role and curriculum can be resolved.


In the mid-1970s, when Brown and his colleagues (1976) published "The Criterion of Ultimate
Functioning" paper, the beginnings of large-scale accountability emerged for learners with
significant disabilities. The criterion of ultimate functioning was to successfully work and live as
part of our heterogeneous society.

Nearly all curriculum models that followed (Browder, 1987; Falvey, 1989; Ford, et al.,
1989; Giangreco, Cloninger, & Iverson, 1998; Neel & Billingsley, 1989; Wilcox &
Bellamy, 1987) shared two common characteristics: (a) identification of life domains for
curriculum planning (e.g., community, vocational, home, recreation) and (b) some type of
prioritization process to select skills for a student based on preferences and functional
use. (Browder & Cooper-Duffy, 2003, p. 158)

Indeed, thousands of students with significant disabilities who have progressed through our
school systems are functioning in real jobs in the real world of work that pay at least minimum
wages and include employer-provided benefits. They are experiencing success in post-
secondary education and training programs. They are enjoying reasonable social lives
interacting with a wide array of family members and others with and without disabilities who are
not paid to be with them. They travel to and from, and engage effectively in, a variety of
integrated community environments and activities. They live in supported and unsupported
apartments and homes. We have come to expect these outcomes as a function of schooling
(Brown, et al., 1987; Meyer, Peck, & Brown, 1991; Phelps & Hanley-Maxwell, 1997; Turnbull,
Tumbull, Wehmeyer, & Park, 2003; Wagner, et al., 2005).

We are now in an era of standards-based reform. The question for those concerned with learners
with significant disabilities is whether the prior standards (i.e., working and living in the
community) that have served this population well should be replaced by standards more closely
aligned with the academic core of the regular curriculum, e.g., language arts, mathematics,
science, social studies (Browder, et al., 2004; Ford, Davern, & Schnorr, 2001; Kleinert &
Keams, 2001; Quenemoen & Thurlow, 2004). The push toward greater access to the regular
curriculum as articulated in IDEA (1997) and alignment with regular education standards as
outlined in the No Child Left Behind Act [NCLB] (2001) are greatly influencing how school
districts and states are answering the question. In an effort to raise the achievement of students
with disabilities, NCLB required states to more fully include students with IEPs in the regular
assessment system. Initially only 1% of IEP students were to be exempt from the regular
assessments and therefore eligible to participate in an alternate assessment; recently this policy
has been increased to 2% (USDOE, 2005).

Alternative Assessments: A Missed Opportunity?

The IDEA Amendments of 1997 pushed forward the notion that accountability must extend
beyond the individual child's team-beyond the IEP. The idea is that there are large-scale
outcomes that can be measured through a state-administered alternate assessment system for
which districts (and potentially, teachers) should be held accountable. Recognizing that students
with significant disabilities should not be held to the same level of standards as the majority,
IDEA '97 required states to design alternative assessments. States were given a relatively short
deadline of July, 2000 to accomplish this task. This mandate for large-scale assessment of
learners with significant disabilities had the potential to set in motion national discussions and
1 1

deliberations on what outcomes should be viewed as priorities for students with significant
disabilities. Indeed, for other professional groups, the standards-setting process involved
extensive national debates before standards (e.g., mathematics, science, English, social studies)
were proposed. However, this national debate about "what performance matters most" did not
occur for alternate assessment, leaving individual states to determine how best to comply with
this new legislative expectation.

Today there is great state-by-state variation in alternate assessments and indications that states
are moving in many different directions (Thompson & Thurlow, 2000). Some states started their
planning process using a functional skills framework. Others used their state academic standards
as a starting point, although more recent data suggest that only 8% of states now use only a
functional framework (Thompson & Thurlow, 2001). While there are legitimate concerns about
using a functional-only framework, there is also a concern about using a watered-down version
of regular education academic standards that leads states to portray isolated outcomes such as
"touching a relief map" and "matching pictures" as meaningful (Ford, Davern, et al., 2001).
What is at stake is having new teachers work from standards that do not make sense for students
or bear little relationship to important life outcomes (Kleinert, et al., 2002; Turnbull, et al.,
2003). Until major stakeholders come together, engage in serious debate about priority
outcomes, and build some type of consensus, a state's alternate assessment may not be the best
vehicle to help teacher candidates measure their effectiveness.

Instilling a Personal Sense of Accountability

New teachers will face accountability on different levels. In addition to state and district
alternate assessments, on a more personal level, teachers must be prepared to track how students'
repertoires change as a result of their good instruction. This could take the form of a personal
"Teacher Success Portfolio" or it could be in a form that allows for some type of aggregated data
(e.g., benchmark gains in literacy and communication; percentage of students receiving above
average rubric scores on regular classroom projects, percentage of students receiving a positive
rating for performance on a school or community-based job; number and type of extracurricular
activities completed by students). Again, to make these accountability measures meaningful,
some direction-setting in the field as to which outcomes teachers should track over time is

Finally, new teachers may find themselves occasionally but persistently defending why their
students deserve a high-quality, formal education. Only a decade after IDEA was enacted,
Timothy W.'s case made its way to the U.S. Court of Appeals (Timothy W. v. Rochester, New
Hampshire, School District, 1989). Timothy, an eight-year-old with multiple disabilities, was
denied an education because his school district believed that he was incapable of benefiting from
one. In this landmark case, the Court ruled in favor of Timothy, making it clear that IDEA was
unequivocal on the mandate to serve all children regardless of the severity of their disability
(Orelove, 1991). Still today, teachers must fend off the occasional colleague who has questions
about educational worth (e.g., Why do we need a certified teacher? Couldn't we just hire
another aide? Why is he in school anyway-I don't see how he is benefiting). Thus, instilling a
personal sense of accountability is an important undertaking for those educating students with
significant disabilities. Today's challenge is agreeing on the outcomes for which to assume


Norris Haring, the first president of TASH and one of the early leaders in the field, concluded his
remarks at the 1975 Kansas City meeting,

... the effectiveness of educational programs then implemented for students with severe
disabilities would depend on systematic procedures, a curriculum based on teaching
functional skills, and the positive attitudes and support of the individuals in the lives of
these students. (Sontag & Haring, 1996, p. 44)

Indeed, a curriculum based on teaching functional skills, systematic instructional methods, and
a positive support system have been the underpinnings of curriculum and methods courses for
teachers of students with significant disabilities for quite some time. What is different for
teachers today is that IEP teams are expected to be more selective in what functional skills get
addressed in schools, in part because this "functional" curriculum content now competes with
other content areas considered important, e.g., literacy, other academics, and the arts. With
respect to teaching methods, today's teachers are learning that there is still room for applied
behavioral analysis but that this approach is limited and must be complemented by other methods
that take a deeper and more holistic look at the learner, including the learner's cultural
background. In terms of the learning environment, today's teachers are expected to have a more
sophisticated understanding of how to facilitate support systems and involve peers in a wide
range of relationships. As we discuss these three areas-(1) curriculum content, (2) teaching
methods, and (3) peer connections and support systems-we will emphasize aspects that require
strong guidance in teacher education programs for students with significant disabilities.

Curriculum Content

Organizations that develop professional teaching standards have achieved some level of
alignment in licensing frameworks and the standards of performance expected of teachers. The
professional standards developed by the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support
Consortium [INTASC] (2001); Council of Exceptional Children [CEC] (2003); and the National
Board for Professional Teaching Standards [NBPTS] (2001) all use a non-categorical approach.3
Most divide licensing and program accreditation into a Mild/Moderate vs. Severe disabilities
framework, although CEC uses these labels: Individualized Regular Curriculum for
Mild/Moderate and Individualized Independence Curriculum for Severe Disabilities (CEC Board
of Directors, 2004). While CEC and INTASC focus on the entry-level teacher, NBPTS focuses
on the standards expected of a more accomplished teacher. When outlining the curriculum
content important for teachers of students with significant disabilities, all three organizations
indicate that expertise in both adapting the regular curriculum and implementing specialized
curricula is required. CEC and INTASC standards mention what constitutes specialized content
(e.g., social, communication, motor, functional and independent living skills, self-advocacy,
employment-related skills) (CEC, 2003, p. 60; INTASC, 2001, p. 3). The NBPTS standards, in
contrast, provide fairly explicit and extensive descriptions of the specialized "subject matter"
needed by teachers of students with significant disabilities in nine disciplines (i.e., The Arts;
Literacy and English Language Arts; Mathematics; Science; Social Studies; Health, Physical
Education, and Leisure; Transition/Vocational Skills; Social Skills; and Functional Life Skills)

3 The areas of Deaf/Hard of Hearing and Blind/Visual Impairments are exceptions; a separate
category also exists for Early Childhood Special Education.

(NBPTS, 2001, pp. v21-v31). While we may not agree with all that is described, NBPTS
standards represent an impressive attempt to be explicit about the specialized curriculum
expertise teachers should have. Without an explicit delineation of what curriculum is important,
special educators will have difficulty establishing high expectations for their students and
determining the appropriateness and quality of the regular classroom experience (Pugach &
Warger, 2001). With this in mind, we have drawn on the NBPTS standards and our
understanding of promising practices to suggest curricular content that should be prominent in
programs preparing teachers for students with significant disabilities. This curriculum content
falls within three broad areas: (1) adapted regular curriculum, including the arts; (2) vocational
preparation, transition, and daily functioning skills; and (3) literacy, social, communication, and
mobility as foundational skills.

Adapted regular curriculum, including the arts. There is little dispute in the field about
whether special educators should be expected to demonstrate basic content knowledge and some
pedagogical knowledge in core curriculum areas (e.g., language arts, mathematics, social studies,
science) and in enrichment areas (e.g., the arts). However, as indicated in the NBPTS, "As
generalists, these teachers cannot be expected to have a specialist's in-depth subject-specific
knowledge in each and every aspect of the curriculum" (NBPTS, 2001, p. 39). Thus, the goal is
to have a sufficient working knowledge in the regular curriculum that will enable special
educators to adapt the curriculum, collaborate effectively with colleagues, and strategically "opt
out of' curriculum areas or parts of the curriculum because of competing priorities in specialized
curriculum areas.

Having basic knowledge about the regular core curriculum is an important competency; and the
ability to adapt it is an important related cluster of skills. Until recently, the extensive literature
on curricular adaptations consisted of categories and lists of adaptations with case examples of
how they were created for particular students. Missing were coherent decision-making
frameworks that could be used in a collaborative planning process between regular and special
educators. Such frameworks now exist. Some are broad and tend to be focused more on students
whose needs are closer to the classroom norms, such as "Differentiated Instruction" (Tomlinson,
2001) and "Universal Design for Learning" (CAST, Inc.; Pisha & Coyne, 2001) yet offer a
useful planning approach that regular and special educators can adopt. Others have been
developed specifically with students with significant disabilities in mind, such as the "Uniform
Plan of Support" process (Hunt, 2003; Hunt, Doering, Hirose-Hatae, Maier, & Goetz, 2001).
These frameworks share a collaborative planning process in which decisions about adaptations
become routine for both the regular and special educators involved. This represents a major
advancement from prior practice when special educators would find curricular plans in their
mailboxes on Friday and would spend the weekend creating adaptations for the upcoming week.

Another challenge that is faced by new teachers of students with significant disabilities is
adapting the regular curriculum in a way that results in both active participation and meaningful
outcomes or progress. As stated earlier, today's special educators can no longer be satisfied with
gaining access to regular classes or even achieving active participation through curriculum
accommodations. In the end, they will need guidance on how to measure what these efforts add
up to and how to answer the question, "What noticeable and desired changes will occur in the
repertoire of the learner as a result of his or her participation?" The answer needs to come early
in the collaborative decision-making process in order to adapt accordingly and proactively to
measure progress toward this outcome. Presently, any accountability is often post facto. (How
did she benefit from the science class?) Teacher candidates will need to be sensitive to this issue
and incorporate clear, up-front learning expectations in their approach to curriculum adaptation.
1 A

Vocational preparation, transition, and daily functioning skills. Teachers of students
with significant disabilities are expected to function from a now-well-accepted vision of
graduates living and working in the community. Follow-up data reveal that this vision-
particularly with respect to work-has become a reality for an increasing number of graduates.
In the most recent National Longitudinal Transition Study [NLTS2] (Wagner, et al., 2005), data
from 2003 and 1987 were compared to gather information about out-of-school youth who have
worked for pay during the first years after high school. These data reveal an increase in working
for pay by students with significant disabilities. Using the two relevant disability categories
presented in the study, percentage increases went from 37.9% to 41.5% for students with mental
retardation and from 9.6% to 36.1% for students with multiple disabilities/deaf-blindness. While
this increase is notable (particularly for students with multiple disabilities) and reinforces the
notion that work is a realistic graduation outcome, these data also indicate that about 60% of the
graduates are still unemployed. While some graduates may be transitioning into postsecondary
education options, 13% for youth with mental retardation and 40% for youth with multiple
disabilities/deaf-blindness (Wagner, et al., 2005, p. 4-4), this does not offset the concern about
the lack of paid work for over half of the graduates. Teacher candidates will need to be aware of
graduation outcomes and understand their implications for curriculum design. We know that
school-sponsored work experiences and functional curricula positively influence post-school
outcomes (Brown, et al., 1987; Hasazi, Gordon, & Roe, 1985; Phelps & Hanley-Maxwell, 1997).
We also learned decades ago that even extensive vocational preparation during school years does
not on its own lead to graduation with a job or a postsecondary school experience. Transition
planning and adult service connections are needed to protect the investment made by the school
program (Brown, et al., 1987; Siegel, 2003/04). Thus, vocational preparation and transition
planning remain key competencies for special educators working with students with significant
disabilities, particularly at the secondary level.

Finally, vocational preparation has had a fairly consistent place in curriculum for years, but there
are some who question the place of daily functioning curriculum (Jorgensen, Fischer, Tashie, &
Sgambati, 2003). As a colleague recently asked, "Are functional skills in or out these days?"
Our reply is simple, "How could they be out?" Daily functioning routines provide an important
structure for all of us as well as a basis for learning, easing transitions, exercising choices, and
increasing independence. For students with significant disabilities, we have long understood that
learning these routines requires explicit instruction. The alternative is having students sitting
passively by while someone else does a daily functioning routine for them (e.g., putting
belongings in a locker, emptying the contents of a lunchbox, purchasing a snack, cleaning up art
a space in the art room). While the view of functional skills has evolved over the years
(Nietupski, Hamre-Nietupski, Cortin, & Shrikanth, 1997), the commitment toward addressing
this essential area as a component of a comprehensive curriculum needs to remain strong.

Literacy, social, communication, and mobility as foundational skills. Foundational
skills is the term used by the authors of What Work Requires of Schools: A SCANS Report for
America 2000 (U.S. Department of Labor [USDOL], 1991).These skills provide the basis for
interacting with people and information, successfully navigating the tasks of living, solving
problems, making contributions, and doing so within an ethical framework (Ford, Davern, et al.,
2001). Foundational skills refer to basic academic and cognitive skills, including reading,
writing, basic math, expressive and receptive communication, and thinking skills (Phelps &
Hanley-Maxwell, 1997; USDOL, 1991).We would add social and mobility skills to this list.
Most students without disabilities will learn many foundational skills (e.g., time management,
social interaction skills, positioning and handling materials) incidentally, using everyday input to

guide their learning. Instruction needs to be explicit in these important areas to build the
strongest possible foundational repertoire.

The areas of social communication and mobility functioning have received considerable
attention in curricula designed for students with significant disabilities for quite some time. The
type of literacy that Mirenda (1993) describes is a relatively new focus area:

Literacy is more than learning to read, write and spell proficiently. It is learning to enjoy
words and stories when someone else is reading them. It is learning to love books and all
the worlds that can be opened by books. It is a way of achieving social closeness through
sharing literary experiences with friends or classmates. It is finding out about the way
things are in places we have never visited or in places that have never existed. If we
understand that literacy is all of these things and more, we can also understand that
everyone can achieve some degree of literacy.... (p. 7)

We have moved away from the functional sight word approach and thus must prepare teachers to
play an active role in establishing print/symbol-rich learning environments and incorporate
books for enjoyment as well as those for learning (Musselwhite & King-DeBaun, 1997). It is
also important to prepare them to make great use of technology to enhance literacy instruction
(Downing, 2005; Walsh-Cassidy, Gardner-Fox, Herlihy, Hogan, & Kenny, 2000). Furthermore,
teacher candidates will need to recognize writing opportunities throughout the day and the
importance of expecting more and more competence as students use a variety of journals to
convey various messages (e.g., home-school journals, daily agendas, social studies or science

Teacher candidates need to learn that many foundational skills can be taught in an embedded
manner where the teacher targets important social, communication, and motor skills within
regularly scheduled activities or opportunities. For example, a student works on targeted
mobility skills while climbing stairs during daily opportunities to run errands and to travel to
classes, or a student works on targeted communication skills during a cooperative learning
activity in the regular class. Yet, there are times when this embedded approach will not provide
sufficient power to achieve the desired changes in students' repertoires. Teaching a fourth
grader with significant disabilities to advance to the next level of reading (from reading patterned
stories to reading stories with controlled vocabulary and simple story lines) is likely to require
daily direct and small group specialized instruction. In this case, teachers need to find a place in
the schedule where this specialized instruction can occur.

Teaching Methods

Accomplished teachers adjust and refine their approaches until they determine an
effective set of strategies for each student. . They know that students come to school
with different backgrounds, experiences, and abilities...and use a broad range of
instructional techniques and activities that enable all students to achieve success.
(NBPTS, 2001, p. 47)

Because this paper cannot discuss the many instructional methods that are important for teachers
to know, we have highlighted a few areas that may need revisiting in programs that prepare
educators for students with significant disabilities.


Leaving some room for applied behavioral analysis. There has always been much to
prove about the learning potential of students who at one time were considered merely
"trainable" or even uneducablee." In the early 1960s, Congress passed legislation supporting the
development of 24 national research centers to examine the causes of mental retardation and
successful intervention (Sontag & Haring, 1996). Study after study and demonstration after
demonstration showed the successful application of behavioral principles based on the work of
Skinner (1968), proving that even students with the most profound disabilities could learn (Gold
& Barkley, 1973; Haring, McCormick, & Haring, 1994, as cited in Sontag & Haring, 1996).
Many of today's "interventions" or teaching practices continue to be influenced by a behaviorist
tradition, particularly the notion that tasks need to be broken down into small, manageable,
learning steps with well-thought-out prompts and positive feedback systems. Of course, it is also
important for teacher candidates to understand the major criticisms of behavioral interventions
and its long association with demeaning and harmful treatments of individuals with significant
disabilities who manifest challenging behavior (Lovett, 1985; McGee, Menolascino, Hobbs, &
Menousek, 1987).

For understandable reasons, behaviorism has been downplayed in many teacher education
programs, while cognitive and constructivist approaches are emphasized. The behaviorist
emphasis on discrete trial learning is considered too myopic, ignoring the need for teachers to
acquire a deep understanding of the learner and the whole child. Particularly as it relates to
students with significant disabilities, another concern is the behaviorist history of being used
without values to address students with challenging behavior, e.g., the abuses [pinching, water
spray to the face, prolonged restraint] cited in the TASH Resolution Opposing the Use ofAversive
and Restrictive Procedures (2001). Today most realize that there are merits to behaviorism and
that both the merits and drawbacks need to be understood by teacher candidates.

What is important is that teacher candidates, both regular and special education, not summarily
reject behaviorism but see the possible benefits (e.g., explicitness, carefully planned steps over
which a student can feel a sense of mastery) within a humanistic context. What this may require
of teacher educators is a careful review and discussion of the intended or unintended messages
being sent to future teachers enrolled in learning theory or methods courses (e.g., "behaviorism is
out, constructivism is in").

Culturally responsive instruction. While educators and advocates involved with students
with significant disabilities have done an excellent job of documenting many "best practices,"
these practices have been based on a mono-cultural, White, middle-class world view. As a
result, many students of color with severe disabilities and White children who are not middle
class do have not have access to culturally responsive pedagogy and other curriculum priorities.
Culturally responsive teaching involves "using the cultural characteristics, experiences, and
perspectives of ethnically diverse students as conduits for teaching them more effectively" (Gay,
2002, p. 106). Culturally responsive teachers may or may not be racially/ethnically diverse
themselves. It is not the race or ethnicity of these teachers that determines their pedagogical
practices, but rather it is their values and beliefs regarding teaching, learning, and what their
students bring to the learning environment that make them successful.

It may seem that a logical first step for teacher educators is to help teacher candidates understand
the cultures and lives of their students. However:

Prior to this step, professionals need to become aware of their own values and of the fact
that most human values are not universal but are generated by the needs of each culture.
1 -7

Such awareness is not too much to ask, since it is through the eyes of the school that a
child officially comes to be defined as a success or failure. The school system must,
therefore, accept the tremendous responsibility that accompanies such power. (Harry,
1992, p. 161)

Special educators must also open their eyes to continuing inequities and recognize that
institutional racism and the effects of poverty also influence how students with significant
disabilities are served (Blanchett, Brantlinger, & Shealey, 2005; Harry, Klingner, & Hart, 2005).
Many teacher education programs have a well-developed "Cultural Foundations" or "Urban
Education" component that can help candidates develop the self-awareness discussed by Harry
and others (e.g., Banks, 2001; Ladson-Billings, 1999; Nieto, 2000; Sleeter, 2001; Sleeter, Torres,
& Laughlin, 2004). The challenge is to keep this foundational knowledge and self-examination
active throughout the entire teacher education program.

Finally, a culturally responsive teacher has the disposition and skills needed to support children
linguistically as well as culturally. It is estimated that there are 357,325 English Language
Learners who also have disabilities enrolled in our nation's schools (Zehler, Fleischman,
Hopstock, Pendzick, & Stephenson, 2003). Some English Language Learners are students with
significant disabilities. Like other educators, their special education teachers are challenged with
supporting the native language and developing the meaningful use of English. A critical element
in this process is developing a close working relationship with families and making concentrated
efforts to respect and accommodate their family's views on disability and language development
(Garcia, Perez, & Ortiz, 2000). Yet in a study by Mueller, Singer, and Grace (2004), teachers
tended to made decisions without the input of parents about which language should be used to
instruct English Language Learners with moderate to severe disabilities. These teachers,
however, did indicate a need for guidance, training, and resources. As one teacher said:

I have some confusion because I have some students in my class who are regarded as
English Language Learners, but I do not provide any Spanish instruction. I do provide
some Spanish support if necessary. . I'm not really sure of the process and no one can
really explain it to me. They just show me a huge book of guidelines telling me that this
is what we need to follow, but nobody can really tell me where it goes and whether I am
giving this child a disservice by not administering their education in their primary
language. (Mueller, et al., p. 243)

Preparing teachers of students with significant disabilities to be culturally responsive will require
strong collaboration among the special education faculty and those involved in bilingual
education, multicultural and urban education foundations courses, and other areas that address
the unique needs of a region (Pugach, 2005). In addition, special education faculty, like others,
will likely benefit from ongoing faculty development so that we are not asking our students to
examine critical issues and develop competencies with which we have not yet ourselves attained
a reasonable level of comfort.

Authentic instruction and assessment. Authentic instruction stresses the importance of
using real-life contexts and materials to learn new tasks. Much of this authentic instruction
occurs right in the school setting in regular classes, hallways, computer labs, cafeterias, libraries,
and school offices. There are obvious examples of daily living skills taught authentically and
routinely, when, e.g., a student takes off his coat and manages his belongings at the start of the
day, does a classroom or school job, has a snack or eats lunch, locates the computer lab, uses a
touch screen to master the latest software program. There are also powerful examples of how

authentic instruction can occur in regular education classes, such as students setting up the next
science lab, downloading photos for a group presentation in social studies, or doing project-
based lessons in math. The literature contains countless examples of these efforts (Downing,
2002; Fisher & Frey, 2003; Fisher, Sax, & Pumpian, 1999; Jorgensen, 1998; Kluth, 2003; Snell
& Janney, 2000; and Wehmeyer, Sands, Knowlton, & Kozleski, 2002). Authentic instruction, if
done well, does not short-change inclusion in the regular classroom but extends the educational
experience by offering a richer context from which to work.

Authentic instruction can also mean providing instruction in community settings. If a team
decides that it is important for a student to learn how to cross a street safely, take a city bus, or
function appropriately in a restaurant, there is no way to simulate effectively this experience
(although history shows that we have tried). When a community-based activity becomes a
learning priority, authentic instruction in that exact setting is usually required.

A logical extension of authentic instruction is using authentic measures of student growth and
progress, many of which can be collected in student portfolios. The process of collecting and
sorting through key pieces of student work helps teachers maintain a focus on priorities. When
well thought out, these portfolio items can provide significant information about student progress
and what has truly changed in a student's repertoire as well as provide useful tools for
communication with students and their parents. Parent-teacher conferences take on a new
dimension when the discussion is around authentic artifacts from a student's portfolio (e.g., pre-
and post-video clips of communication progress, journal entries from different times in the
school year, progress checklists and anecdotal comments about the school job, or sample pages
from books that the student can now read). Portfolios also become helpful tools as students
present themselves to new teachers or as they transition to new settings (Demchak, 2000).
Teacher candidates will need to see many examples in order to incorporate authentic instruction
and measurement into their repertoires.

Assistive technology and integrated therapies. Assistive technology devices are "any
item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf,
modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of
a child with disabilities" (USDOE, 2000, p. 111-34). These devices are often categorized as
either low tech (e.g., pencil grips, photo sequence cards) or high tech (e.g., voice recognition
systems). When we get it right, it changes everything for a student. Consider Sabrina's example:

An important goal of early childhood classrooms is developing independence. For 5-
year-old Sabrina, who cannot speak or point, making and being able to act on choices is a
challenge. With the help of an eye-gaze board-a simple apparatus consisting of a
Plexiglas frame with Velcro tabs-Sabrina is able to communicate with adults and other
children in her classroom. For example, during free choice time, an instructional
assistant places the eye-gaze board perpendicular to Sabrina's wheelchair tray and fastens
six pictures of her preferred activities around its edges. The aide stands behind the board
to gauge where Sabrina's eyes are pointing. By looking directly at one of the pictures,
Sabrina chooses to read a book on the computer. The computer is equipped with a
feature that turns the pages when Sabrina "hits" a switch, allowing for even more
independence. The teacher is especially pleased, as the eye-gaze system is quickly
assimilated by Sabrina's peers, who use it to interact with her during free time. (USDOE,
2000, p. III-37)

1 (%

Becoming thoughtful and creative with assistive technology is a practice all teachers and related
service personnel must develop. How do we make this happen? Most teacher education
programs have developmental expectations to guide teachers as they demonstrate increased
proficiency in technology. Using e-mail and online resources, creating electronic portfolios,
critiquing and using teaching software programs are examples. We must become just as clear
about our expectations in assistive technology competency. At the very least, teacher candidates
focused on students with significant disabilities should have knowledge and experience with
augmentative communication systems, word prediction software, computer-generated picture
symbol programs, switch devices, leveled reading and language experience software programs
that produce meaningful reading materials and age-appropriate software for leisure time
engagement. In addition, teachers must demonstrate a commitment to equity in opportunity,
understanding their role in advocating for equipment and materials that may be more readily
accessed by more privileged students. Finally, they must function from a set of guiding
principles that ensures informed decision making with the students themselves and their families,
leading to a well-integrated and enduring use of selected assistive technology.

Finally, physical, occupational, and speech-language therapists as well as vision and mobility
specialists all make important contributions to the use of assistive technology and to the overall
quality of the educational experience. We know that these and other therapies must be well
integrated into day-to-day routines and the curriculum to make a difference (Rainforth, 1997).
Teacher candidates need to understand the importance of collaborating with therapists and taking
full advantage of their expertise.

Peer Connections and Support Systems

For quite some time, our field counted and constructed typologies of the interactions that
occurred between students with significant disabilities and those without. Judith Snow and
Marsha Forest (1987) and Jeff and Cindy Strully (1989) changed the dialogue around
interactions and basically asked us to consider two questions: (1) Do we understand the
importance of relationships (not just "peer interactions")? (2) Have we confronted biases that
may interfere with believing that a person without disabilities would want to become a friend of
someone with significant disabilities? Through a Circle and Maps process, Snow and Forest
(1987) helped us understand the confined relationships that often characterize the lives of
students with significant disabilities. Their social circles were mostly filled with family
members and people who were paid to be in their lives (e.g., therapists, respite workers,
teachers). Through an active process involving the student with disabilities and regular
education peers, Snow and Forest demonstrated how educators could expand the circle to include
many meaningful friendships. This meant that teacher candidates needed to see the importance
of friendship development as part of the curriculum:

Developing friendships is not something that comes easily or naturally to most of us,
children or adults. Most people simply have trouble connecting with other people. The
schools, for their part, pay little attention to the social and educational value of
friendships. Yet, it is our friendships and relationships that are our only real hope, our
guideline to being true members of our community. It is friendships that protect us from
vulnerability and ensure that our lives are rich and full. However, the lives of people who
are labeled as mentally retarded, developmentally disabled, or whatever, seem to be filled
with loneliness and isolation, that is, with few, if any friends. This is something that all
of us must work to change. (Strully & Strully, 1989, p. 61)

This would mean that, as part of the teacher education curriculum, special educators would
understand and be able to carry out their role in facilitating friendships (Turnbull, Pereida, &
Blue-Banning, 2000).

For students with behavioral challenges, facilitating friendships and other types of support circles
often have a greater importance. The student who has many outbursts or significantly withdraws
will almost certainly be lacking in reciprocal relationships. Teacher candidates will need to
extend their repertoires so that they are equally equipped with strategies to reduce the student's
isolation and thoughtfully promote positive peer relationships. This is not to suggest that the
answer to all behavioral issues lies just with developing relationships. Developing a strong
repertoire of behavioral support strategies is critical to the success of teachers (Horner & Carr,
1997). Effective behavioral support continues to be a major concern of first-year special
educators (Mastropieri, 2001). Even though it is covered in teacher education programs, we
agree with Mastroprieri that teacher candidates need more guided practice implementing
behavioral support strategies during their programs.

Being Explicit about Curriculum Expertise and Getting Help from
Well-Designed Materials

Curriculum clarity, like role clarity, is desperately needed in our special education teacher
education programs. It is not unusual to examine university program outlines and course syllabi
and find little about what curriculum expertise is expected of the candidates. Given little
guidance except for the NBPTS standards with respect to curriculum knowledge in teaching
standards documents, this section presented explicit curriculum areas that should be prominent in
teacher education programs for special educators of students with significant disabilities. Some
areas sufficiently overlap with the expertise needed by other teachers and do not require a
separate course or experience directed at those preparing to teach students with significant
disabilities (e.g., adapted regular curriculum, culturally responsive instruction, assistive
technology). Other curriculum areas, in our judgment, simply do not overlap to the extent
necessary to develop the depth of expertise required and need to be addressed in several targeted
courses/experiences where teacher candidates focus exclusively on learners with significant
disabilities (e.g., vocational and daily functioning preparation, literacy, communication and other
foundational skills, authentic instruction and assessment). If teacher candidates are expected to
develop a reasonable level of expertise in these areas, teacher education programs must make
space for them.

In addition to becoming more explicit about the curriculum content in which candidates should
acquire depth, it is important to consider curriculum guides and other teacher materials. If
designed well, these materials can help teachers with the pressing matters of what to teach, how
to teach it, and how to measure progress. Through analyzing the literature and their own
longitudinal study of three English teachers, Grossman and Thompson (2004) drew several
important conclusions about new teacher learning and the use of curriculum materials. They
found that new teachers spend large amounts of time searching for helpful curriculum materials
and that these materials do in fact greatly influence their ideas about classroom practice. They
also discuss the observed progression of materials use-with the new teachers "sticking close to
the materials they have at hand" (p. 3), then later making adjustments as they learn more about
their students and further develop their curriculum expertise. Finally, they discuss the
importance of teacher candidates analyzing and critiquing curriculum materials during their
teacher education program to avoid a situation where new teachers flounder as they search for

materials or perhaps "latch on to curriculum materials uncritically" (p. 24). Teacher educators
know that candidates are resource hungry. We could do much more to help them find good
teacher guides and curriculum materials. We could also increase our efforts toward collaborating
with accomplished teachers to create and publish much-needed curricular products.


Hey, Don't Forget About Me! (Thomas, 1976) is a book connected to an Invisible College, a
structure used by CEC to bring together key leaders for the purpose of discussing and
disseminating important practices in the field. Norris Haring, Lou Brown, and Richard Sherr
asked 12 individuals to write chapters in this pivotal book. According to Thomas, the editor, "A
parent [Ruth Sullivan] was chosen as one contributor to represent those who live the vigorous
role of advocate and consumer" (p. ix). Sullivan, the parent of a 16-year-old son with autism,
begins her chapter by discussing four realities and realizations:

1. The first and hardest thing to accept is that the problem is severe, unrelenting, and

2. The second realization is that there are few, if any, services for the child.

3. Shortly comes the third realization-that unless the system changes, most of these
children will never get what they need.

4. A growing number of parents come to yet a fourth realization-that the system is
changeable...that many within the system itself are becoming their allies and that by
banding together with others this new parent power can crumble walls which only a few
years ago were considered impregnable. (Thomas, 1976, p. 37)

The notion of teachers becoming allies with parents and working together to change systems has
very strong roots in the professionalization of teaching students with significant disabilities. For
the new teacher, this can be a very intimating proposition, not just from the standpoint of
becoming a co-advocate, but also because parent partners, as Sullivan (1976) indicates, "often
perceive their children's needs at least as well as professionals do" (p. 40). It takes a mature
professional to enter into a partnership and understand that the parent may have the best working
knowledge of how to do many things that are also addressed in the school curriculum. The
professional needs to manage their feelings of being intimated by parents (Boyer & Lee, 2001)
and see them as vital resources and allies in the education process.

Allies with Parents

Teacher candidates should understand that partnerships between families and professionals often
fall short of recommended practices (Summers, et al., 2005). Even today, parents continue to
express the "stress and exhaustion caused by the perceived necessity to fight for services, cope
with humiliating or disrespectful regulations or provider attitudes, or otherwise deal with
breakdowns in their relationship with professionals" (Blue-Banning, Summers, Frankland,
Nelson, & Beegle, 2004, p. 182).

Helping teachers understand the importance of reciprocal partnerships is a critical part of a
teacher education program. One of the many ways to address this is by using case studies as in
Culture in Special Education: Building Reciprocal Family-Professional Relationships
(Kalyanpur & Harry, 1999). Their rich case studies emphasize the importance of developing a
"posture of cultural reciprocity." In one example, a professional makes the assumption that Rani,


a 22-year-old Native American woman, needed to move out of her parents' home and become
more financially and physically/geographically independent. Had this professional:

...engaged in a dialogue with Rani's parents, he might have discovered that although
moving out may be an option as Native American children become adults (Clay, 1992), it
does not always entail leaving the reservation-indeed, Rani's six older sisters live within
proximity of their parents on the same reservation-and that the family places an
emphasis on interdependence and on "looking after one's own" (Kalyanpur, 1998, p.
320). Furthermore, Rani's disability gives her special status, and there is no stigma to her
not moving out. On the contrary, her family assumes that she will continue to remain
with her parents for as long as they can look after her, after which she would move into
the care of one of her sisters. (Kalyanpur & Harry, 1999, p. 126)

What about students whose parents might not have the access, resources, or feelings of
empowerment to bring about changes for their children? One rule of thumb we can offer our
teachers in training is: for every child who directly benefits from one's advocacy, identify
another child or two who do not now receive this level of support and make it happen for them.

It is hard to imagine where our field would be without the strong parental voice that has pushed
and shaped our work. This voice needs to be heard throughout the teacher education program.
Parents are important in introductory courses where they routinely talk to classes, co-teach
sessions, or teach the class; in case studies, and, most importantly, in experiences where teacher
candidates are paired with students and their families. In addition, they are important in
culminating methods courses where teacher candidates demonstrate their ability to communicate
effectively with parents, including those relationships where cultural differences exist between
teachers and families (Harry, et al., 1999; Harry, et al., 2005). Teacher candidates will also need
extensive practice (including role playing) and critical feedback on how they work with parents
when designing IEPs, developing behavioral support plans, advocating for inclusion, and
addressing issues deemed as important to families (Kroth & Edge, 1997).

Student Voice

Years ago Houghton, Bronicki, and Guess (1987) did a study revealing that staff teaching
learners with significant disabilities responded to student-initiated expressions of preference or
choice at a very low rate. Staff responded to only 15.4% of the initiations during structured
activities and about 7% of the time during unstructured activities. This study was cited in
Williams' (1991) call for a communication imperative where "every person, regardless of the
severity of his or her disabilities, has the right and ability to communicate with others, express
everyday preferences, and exercise at least some control over his or her daily life" (p. 543).
According to Williams, such an imperative requires that we acknowledge that

individual preferences of persons with disabilities are often ignored because their
expressions have been seen by others as aberrant, off-task, non-compliant, inappropriate,
excessive, challenging, aggressive, self-injurious, or nonsensical, are rarely as attempts to
communicate to others their valid wants, needs, fears, wishes, or desires. (p. 543)

Today, attitudes toward student empowerment have shifted considerably. We now have student-
led IEPs, students participating in transition planning, and an increasing body of work about the

importance of self-determination (Browder, Wood, Test, Karvonen, & Algozzine, 2001; Malian
& Nevin, 2002; Test, Fowler, Wood, Brewer, & Eddy, 2005). We need to help current and
future teachers take this empowerment seriously and never to be satisfied with token gestures.
Many of us have sat through IEP meetings where the student with significant disabilities is
questioned half-heartedly about preferences (e.g., "Which school job do you like, the office job
or library job?). The student, without real purpose, points to the picture of the office job. Being
treated as a token part of the decision-making process is not the same as having a voice. We
know that truly understanding a student's preference requires an extensive amount of give and
take, active encouragement, and listening. If a student's input is a result of this extensive
process, then the teacher has done his or her job. If not, much work needs to be done to help the
teacher understand the complexities involved in achieving true empowerment. This and other
competencies with respect to student empowerment need to find their way into teacher education
courses (Thoma, Nathanson, Baker, & Tamura, 2002).

School Partnerships and Model Demonstration

One of the most powerful ways to learn best practices is through sustained involvement in a
setting where these practices exist. The true strength of a teacher education program lies in the
ongoing collaborative relationships with schools (Holmes Group, 1986) where both partners see
the immense value of working together to prepare the next generation of teachers. Teacher
educators incorporate examples and lessons from the field into their repertoires; school staff
become a part of a network of teachers focused on best practices and continued professional
development. Together, teacher educators and school staff share the commitment to resolving
and demonstrating new and promising educational approaches. "Carefully crafted field
experiences," as noted by Brownell and colleagues (2005), is one of the seven critical features of
teacher education, based on the results of two recent large-scale studies: a study sponsored by the
Association of American Colleges of Teacher Education [AACTE] (Darling-Hammond, 2000)
and a study by the International Reading Association [IRA] (National Commission on
Excellence in Elementary Teacher Preparation for Reading Instruction, 2003). Model
demonstrations served the field of significant disabilities well in its early years and will continue
to be important as districts and universities work together to show that wide-scale
implementation of promising practices is possible.


The national capacity to prepare qualified teachers for students with significant disabilities was a
major agenda item in the mid-1970s, when large numbers of previously unserved students
entered public schools. One early proposal to address the personnel needs was to prepare
individuals who would not need a baccalaureate degree or traditional certification. The thinking
was that students with significant disabilities could be served by paraprofessionals because they
were viewed as incapable of learning much beyond basic daily functioning skills (Sontag &
Haring, 1996). This proposal lost out to stronger voices advocating for comparability in teaching
standards and a recognition that highly skilled teaching was needed, not simply caregiving or
basic support in daily functioning. Today the expectation is that students with significant
disabilities will be served by certified special educators who will work in collaboration with
regular educators, therapists, and paraprofessionals to meet the extensive needs of their assigned

Addressing Continuing Shortages

Populating schools with diverse and highly qualified special educators is a continuing challenge
for our profession. Using three major sources of national data, Boe and Cook (2004) established
that the shortage of fully certified special education teachers was 9-11% from 1987-1988 to
1999-2000 (p. 2). When the data are examined to focus exclusively on beginning special
educators, the shortage of those fully certified climbs to 31.8% (Boe & Cook, 2004, p. 3; also see
Billingsley, 2002). Shortages are likely to be an even bigger problem in urban areas (Carlson,
Brauen, Klein, Schroll, & Willig, 2002; Darling-Hammond & Sclan, 1996).

Analyzing the records of randomly selected students from a large, urban system for 4 or 5 years
could be revealing. How many of the special education teachers assigned to a particular student
were fully certified? For example, brief consideration of this question led to observations about
several students with significant disabilities known to the authors. Brandon is a first grader. In
his young career he already has been assigned two intern teachers who are learning on the job.
Ellis is in middle school. His current teacher is an intern, and his previous two teachers were
also emergency-certified. The mother ofBrandi, a 10th grader with severe disabilities, expressed
concern that her daughter has never been assigned to a fully licensed special educator. Yolanda
is considered lucky because 3 of her most recent 4 teachers were certified. What is the
cumulative effect of being educated year after year by someone who is not fully licensed and is
learning almost everything on the job?

We need to envision the day when all districts (urban and rural) actually get to choose from a
pool of highly qualified applicants. One powerful way to understand how far away we are from
achieving this goal is to look at the applicant pools in our own communities. For example, the
Milwaukee Public Schools average two applications for every opening compared to some
Milwaukee suburbs that "can draw from a pool of 500 to 700 candidates for the most popular
jobs" (Zahn & Schultze, 1998). It does not take a major study to conclude that any organization
with only two applicants for each opening is in deep trouble. Given shortages like this, it is
clear that teachers need to be drawn from all pipelines, including alternative certification, and
that we must ensure multiple pathways to teaching while learning how to make each pathway
effective in producing high-quality teachers (Zeichner & Conklin, 2005).

Alternative certification. The teacher shortage has led to many alternative and fast-track
programs for post-baccalaureate students interested in becoming teachers. About 10 percent of
beginning special educators complete their certification through an alternative route program
(Billingsley, 2002). While many questions remain about the effectiveness of these programs, the
programs have clearly been able to attract a more diverse pool of teacher candidates than
traditional teacher education programs (Wilson, Floden, & Ferrini-Mundy, 2002). About 38%
of students in special education in our U.S. schools are from culturally and linguistically diverse
backgrounds, yet only 14% of their teachers are from similar backgrounds (McLeskey, Tyler, &
Flippin, 2003). As Rosenberg and Sindelar (2005) aptly point out, traditional special education
teacher preparation programs have not been particularly successful in their quest to recruit and
retain teacher candidates of color. While we believe that White teachers are certainly capable of
practicing culturally responsive teaching, this is not a substitute for a strong and visible presence
of teachers from underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds. In addition, simply because
alternative certification programs often yield greater diversity does not mean that this pathway
should become the predominant route for recruitment. Using data from a longitudinal study of
career urban educators, Lyons (2004) concluded that the ethnically and socioeconomically
diverse study participants are "not looking for the easiest or fastest route to a credential, but are
attracted to a high-status, two year master's program that emphasizes equity through education"
(p. 30).

Another important characteristic of the teachers prepared in alternative certification programs is
that many are choosing teaching as a mid-career path. This group of candidates tends to be older
than their undergraduate counterparts and have more life experience. They are more likely to be
parents and have already had a job or career. For the most part, these students have already
transcended the self-oriented student preoccupations characteristic of many young
undergraduates and are more "other-oriented" (Goodlad, 1990, p. 288), potentially making the
transition to teaching a smoother process. The attrition rate for those entering teaching mid-
career is much lower than for younger special educators (Billingsley, 2004), another factor to
consider when addressing severe teacher shortages.

Alternative certification programs are not the sole answer to chronic teacher shortages but should
be recognized as an important part of the array of programs offered by an institution. Alternative
program content, expectations, and course scheduling must be linked with real experiences for
nontraditional teacher candidates. There should be sensitivity to the professional and personal
demands placed on them as they teach while enrolled in the program (Rosenberg & Sindelar,
2005). This by no means translates to lowered standards or expectations. Indeed, these
candidates must be held to the same rigorous set of standards as traditional students. One
challenge is to structure the alternative program to assure a reasonable level of expertise before
the teacher candidate assumes full on-the-job responsibility. Many programs (52% according to
the Center on Personnel Studies in Special Education, 2005) have no more than 3 months
training before they are expected to assume a teaching position. If the field continues to
implement programs of this nature, in essence, we are accepting models in which large numbers
of students end up sacrificing their learning so that their on-the-job teachers can learn. Teacher
educators and their district partners must work creatively to redesign programs so that children
are guaranteed a qualified teacher from the first day. Finally, no matter what model is
constructed, all require well coordinated and building-based mentor support and strong induction
experiences (Ingersoll, 2003; Rosenberg & Sindelar, 2005).

Non-categorical licensing. "In the last 30 years there has been a clearly identifiable shift
from special education licensure models that were based solely on categories of disabilities to

models that retain categorical options and also offer non-categorical options" (Geiger,
Crutchfield, & Mainzer, 2003, pp. 22-23). The shift toward non-categorical licensing makes
sense in that 46% of beginning teachers work with students from two or three disability groups,
and 31% serve students from four to six disability groups (Billingsley, 2002). As schools
become more inclusive and create collaborative team structures with special educators as
members, flexibility in the role of the special educator is highly desired. For example, an
elementary school may have two special educators, one assigned to the primary team, the other
to the intermediate team. The expectation is that the special educator will work across disability
areas, advocating for and meeting the needs of any student with an IEP at that level. It is logical
that many graduates of non-categorical programs may not feel fully prepared to serve students
with significant disabilities or other students with whom they did not have sufficient contact. In
this case, it is important to ensure mechanisms for advanced training are in place (Ryndak, Clark,
Conroy, & Stuart, 2001; TASHResolution on Teacher Education, 2002). This advanced training
would specifically target the areas of curriculum specialization discussed in the previous section
and would ensure supervised field experience with students with significant disabilities.
Consistent with the notion of advanced training, many states with a primarily non-categorical
licensure structure can and usually do have specialty endorsements for particular disability areas,
e.g., Severe Disabilities (Geiger, et al., 2003).

Adding alternative certification programs to the preparation pipeline and using a non-categorical
licensing structure are two strategies that should help ease the shortage of a diverse and talented
teaching pool. However, a related issue is retaining the teachers once they begin their careers
(Ingersoll, 2003). Because teaching conditions contribute to attrition (McLeskey, et al., 2003), it
is important to work in concert with the district to improve conditions.

Helping to Prepare Other Team Members: Regular Educators,
Therapists, and Paraprofessionals

It is possible for special education faculty to devote all their teaching resources to the direct
preparation of special educators. However, the capacity to provide a good education to students
with significant disabilities depends on much more than the special educator. To the extent
possible, it makes sense for special education faculty to work collaboratively with faculty who
prepare other critical team members, including regular educators and therapists. In addition,
special educator teacher candidates (and to some extent regular educators) will need to be
prepared to work with paraprofessionals who are essential members of the team.

Regular educators. Almost all regular education teachers will teach students with IEPs-an
average of 74% according to Education Week's Quality Counts survey (Olson, 2004). Unless
preparation is substantial and well-integrated, pre-service students are likely to feel unprepared
to work with students with disabilities (Cook, 2002). While there is much activity in teacher
education related to preparing candidates to work with students with disabilities (collaborative
programs, restructured introductory courses, co-teaching, field experiences, accommodation
strategies built into methods courses), a sustained line of research to determine the strategies that
have the greatest impact is needed (Pugach, 2005).

How much expertise related to teaching students with significant disabilities is reasonable to
expect of an initially licensed regular education teacher? This question was addressed by the
Collaborative Teacher Education Program for Urban Communities at University of Wisconsin
Milwaukee that led to the development of an initial list of expectations for regular education

teachers in their work with students with significant disabilities (Ford, Pugach, & Otis-Wilborn,
2001). Minimally, regular education teacher candidates should:

* be committed to teaching the full range of learners with disabilities
* have an understanding of disability that demystifies it and goes beyond the label to appreciate
more fully "what's going on with a learner"
* be reasonably prepared to anticipate high priority needs and make routine accommodations
for the students with IEPs
* be prepared to work within an inclusive and collaborative structure
* demonstrate awareness of the political, social, and historical context of special education,
particularly as it relates to the urban schools/districts in which they work. (p. 278)

It helps that texts about inclusive education are increasingly written for regular educators with
the intent of helping them see their students with significant disabilities as academic learners. For
example, in their edited book, Access to Academics for ALL Students: Critical Approaches to
Inclusive Curriculum, Instruction and Policy, Kluth, Straut and Biklen (2003) present chapters
on literacy, mathematics, music, science, social studies, and extracurricular activities that call for
pedagogy that is responsive to all students while providing rich and challenging expectations.

Clarifying the desired expertise of regular educators and ensuring that it is sufficiently addressed
in teacher education will more likely occur if there is a regular presence of special education
faculty throughout the program. This is the stance taken by many programs (Blanton, Winn,
Griffin, & Pugach, 1997), including UW-Milwaukee's Collaborative Program:

The fact that regular teacher education faculty are committed to accepting the need to
prepare our graduates to work with students with disabilities in principle is not a powerful
enough teaching strategy, even in combination with a dedicated course in special
education. It simply does not provide our students with access to faculty who are
steeped in special education as their fundamental professional identity. Rather, a heavy,
regular and continuous presence of special education faculty is necessary across the
regular education preservice program if we are to be effective in assuring that our
graduates are prepared to work effectively with students with disabilities. Together these
experiences provide a nearly continuous authentic context for what students have been
learning and thinking about in relationship to working with students with disabilities.
(Ford, Pugach, et al., 2001, p. 278)

In summary, we have known for some time that we have to go beyond the one time inclusion
course for regular educators and more fully situate disability studies and inclusive pedagogy into
the overall curriculum. The presence of special education faculty in the regular education
teacher education program as well as in programs that prepare therapists and paraprofessionals
seems especially critical to make a difference in this area.

Other special educators, therapists and paraprofessionals. While collaboration
brings rewards, teacher candidates will also need to recognize the challenges and manage the
demands on many fronts. Not only is it important for special educators to function as part of a
team with regular education staff, they must also find time and meaningful ways to collaborate
with special education staff. Often it is important for special educators to meet regularly with
other special educators in the building (e.g., to adjust teaching loads, share resources, solve
scheduling problems). Also of critical importance are the multidisciplinary teamwork and
I- n

coordinated integrated therapies (Ham, Bradshaw, & Ogletree, 1999; Rainforth, 1997) in which
special educators must play a key role. Ideally, some collaborative practice occurs at the
preservice level (with speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, physical
therapists) so that the special educator feels reasonably empowered prior to his or her first
teaching assignment.

Finally, one pressing collaborative relationship encountered by new teachers is working
effectively with paraprofessionals. As more and more students with significant disabilities
access inclusive classrooms and community vocational settings, there has been an increasing
reliance on paraprofessionals and some concern about whether there is over-reliance on this
support model (Brown, Farrington, Ziegler, Knight, & Ross, 1999; French & Pickett, 1997;
Giangreco & Broer, 2005; Giangreco, Edelman, Broer, & Doyle, 2001). Giangreco and Broer
used feedback on questionnaires from 737 school personnel and parents to examine the
utilization of paraprofessionals in inclusive schools. This study confirmed that special educators
spend a significantly smaller percentage of time on instruction than do the paraprofessionals they
supervise (p. 21) and that nearly 70% of the paraprofessionals agreed that they were making
curricular and instructional decisions without always having oversight by a teacher special
educator (p. 23). Paraprofessionals play a critical role in helping to extend special education
services to a wide range of environments. The paraprofessional role can also serve as a career
ladder strategy by providing a potentially strong pool of individuals from which to select teacher
education candidates. While some efforts can be made to enhance the qualifications of and
improve training for paraprofessionals, Giangreco and Broer make a compelling argument that
real change will not occur without a corresponding focus on preparing regular and special
educators to improve their support of their paraprofessional team members. Teacher educators
must find a place in an already compact program to help candidates develop the skills necessary
to support and supervise teaching assistants in a collaborative manner.

Following Teacher Education Graduates: Induction and Continued
Professional Development

We are in an era of increased accountability that includes mandated teacher testing, a stronger
push toward program accreditation, and pressures from politicized, competitive forces that
challenge "traditional" routes to certification and, in some cases, pose the question about whether
teachers need to be certified at all (Wilson & Youngs, 2005). Rather than resist accountability, a
better response might be for teacher education faculty to decide which questions are reasonable
to ask about their programs. Examples of such questions include:

* Exactly how many special educators were prepared this year to work with students with
significant disabilities?
* What basic profile information do we have about these completers-how diverse are they
and how successful were they in fieldwork, coursework, portfolio reviews, and test scores?
* What predictive information can be discerned from the admissions data?
* What positions did they fill and what was the effect on teacher shortages?
* What impact are they having on the achievement of their students and do the students'
parents and school administrators agree with this assessment?
* How are our graduates performing after completing the program at one year out, three years
out, five years out, assuming they are still teaching?

Once the questions are agreed on, the challenge is to implement a sustainable process that goes
well beyond the pass rates on tests required in the 1998 accountability provisions of Title II of
the Higher Education Act (Public Law 105-244).

Examining how well our teacher education graduates are doing will require some contact with
them during their induction years. While there are many critical features of programs designed to
support teachers in their first years of teaching (e.g., responsiveness to their unique stressors and
needs; a supportive and nurturing school culture), the involvement of a mentor is often seen as
one of the most critical support structures (Griffin, Winn, Otis-Wilbom, & Kilgore, 2003).
Building-based mentors for new teachers of students with significant disabilities is very
important on many fronts, but the building may not have an experienced teacher who can provide
good modeling and strong expertise in teaching students with significant disabilities. It will be
important to work with the district to develop and draw from a network of teachers who are in
the position to provide this support.

Finally, we know that a teacher education program must have a dynamic element that promotes
continued professional development and brings teacher-leaders back into the mix (National
Commission on Teaching & America's Future, 1996). Like the induction years, it is critical that
continuing development efforts are done in close collaboration with districts. One of the more
exciting vehicles for achieving this is through study groups or task forces where groups with
similar interests get together to study or develop curriculum. This serves at least two purposes:
(1) it provides a professional development vehicle for new and experienced teachers, and (2)
such groups can actually produce much needed, practical curriculum materials that can be
disseminated through commercial publications, district curriculum manuals, and online. We
understand the frustration of new teachers who get excited about the possibilities, yet come up
short when looking for curriculum manuals to help guide their instruction (e.g., What do home-
school journals look like? What does a day-by-day reading program look like? How do you
incorporate school and classroom jobs into the daily schedule? What about community-based
jobs for older students?). Thus, one very important professional growth opportunity is the
development of practical curriculum materials that are sorely needed by initial teachers of
students with severe disabilities.


In many ways, teacher education for students with significant disabilities has been the powerful
force envisioned in the mid-1970s meetings described by Sontag and Haring (1996). This paper
provided an opportunity to revisit some critical elements that contributed to professionalization
of the field and to examine their relevance today. The analysis presented in this paper offers a
starting point to consider revisit practices and consider their value as we shape today's teacher
education programs focused on student with significant disabilities. Our recommendations are
outlined below.

1. Focused Advocacy: Maintain a focus on significant disabilities, while continuing to push
for inclusive structures; help teacher candidates recognize that advocacy is needed, not
only because having a significant disability still makes one vulnerable in our society, but
also because injustices related to race, ethnicity, and poverty exist for students i i/h
significant disabilities and require diligence and action. Continued research is needed to
understand the advocacy stance of prospective teachers and how it is developed,
particularly in non-categorical licensure programs. What identities are being developed
by teacher candidates? Is it important to have a subset of special education teacher
candidates who have a passion for and identify primarily with students with significant
disabilities? Do teacher candidates of students with significant disabilities see gender,
race, culture, and poverty as significant or does "severe disabilities" trump all other
aspects of their students' lives? How do these concerns about identity and advocacy
affect students? Does it make a difference in how learners with significant disabilities are
served and what they achieve?

2. Meaningful Outcomes: Join i/ i/h others and play a leadership role in defining the
outcomes desired for learners i i/h significant disabilities; these outcomes should be
inclusive, but not to the point that they no longer respect the unique and valued
contributions we know are possible and necessary for students il ih/ significant
disabilities. Here, we would advocate strongly for a national consensus panel of leaders
(including parents, consumers, and curriculum leaders) who can debate and ultimately
define meaningful outcomes for learners with significant disabilities. This panel would
develop clear expectations and standards that can be used by states when revising their
alternate assessment systems and by teacher education programs as they help new
teachers evaluate the attainment of meaningful student outcomes. Like all other teacher
education professions, we need good research and demonstration efforts to establish
practical and effective ways for teacher education programs to judge the performance of
their candidates, based in part on the achievements of their students with significant

3. Curriculum Guidance: Ensure that teacher education programs provide strong
curriculum guidance in both the overlapping and the specialized content. A national
consensus panel would go a long way toward helping to define the specialized content
needed in teacher education programs for students with significant disabilities. An
analysis of this content expertise could produce interesting results and might lead to a
large-scale discussion of what curriculum is considered a priority when preparing new
teachers. Also research is needed to gain a better understanding of the influence of state
standards and alternate assessment systems as well as professional teacher education
standards in influencing the curriculum for students with significant disabilities.

4. Partnerships: Create enduring partnerships ith parents and individuals ith significant
disabilities so that teacher candidates hear their voices throughout the teacher education
program. Create an interdependent relationship i/ ith school districts one that is so
powerful that teacher candidates feel that they are a part of this partnership. Far more
needs to be understood and published about the role that parents and consumers can have
on the preparation of future teachers. Our field would be helped by drawing on the
research and practice designs used in urban teacher education to study dispositional
change in prospective teachers with respect to racial and cultural biases. We need to
know more about the most effective ways to challenge candidates about their views on
disabilities and working with parents. We also need to share tested, powerful techniques
to help candidates develop the skills necessary to engage in reciprocal parent
relationships and to empower learners with significant disabilities. If we have not
already done so, teacher educators need to initiate the development of PK-16 partnerships
or councils. Many current issues (e.g., teacher shortages, alternate certification programs,
retention, induction) require discourse and action at levels beyond Professional
Development Schools and individual faculty partnerships.

5. Capacity for staffing schools with diverse and high quality teachers: Develop district-
university councils that jointly plan, oversee, and seek innovative solutions to staffing
needs. Take accountability seriously and track the success of one 's program, addressing
and routinely reporting on issues related to capacity. Develop a set of questions to
monitor each year, such as the questions posed in this paper: How many new teachers
have we fully prepared to work with students with significant disabilities? How diverse
are they? How effective are they? How have we made a difference in Districts' capacity
to address the needs of students with significant disabilities? Do parents and district
officials agree with our assessment? We will need manageable and meaningful models to
account for program effectiveness. These models should be based on collaborative
relationships with the Districts whose shortages we are trying to address. Like other
teacher education fields, we must struggle through the process of identifying valid ways
to measure the effectiveness of our graduating teachers based on the performance of their
students. Because parents have so much at stake here, their views must be part of any
evaluation tool.

This represents a starter list of research and practice directions based on revisiting five essential
elements of teacher education in significant disabilities. Given how much has changed in the
past few decades, it is an appropriate time to reflect on the status of teacher education for
students with significant disabilities and firm up new directions. Inclusive education, non-
categorical licensure, and unified special/regular teacher education programs are major
developments with major implications. There are many unresolved issues for teacher educators
and other stakeholders. Now seems like an important time to work toward resolution.


The professionalization of teaching and learning for students with significant disabilities
emerged from a strong, grassroots advocacy movement. The elements that characterized this
movement have proved helpful when reviewing the current status of teacher education programs
and setting directions for the future. Many issues were raised throughout this paper, but none
more compelling than the need to maintain some level of focused advocacy on behalf of students
with significant disabilities. As the field has become more inclusive and cross-categorical (both
positive directions), students with significant disabilities are positioned to benefit from schooling
in more ordinary and less specialized ways.

Yet, in this inclusive school we envision a continuing role for a special educator who has unique
expertise in supporting students with significant disabilities. This is an educator who is not
overwhelmed by the new student who has Prader-Willi, deaf-blindness, or severe autism. He or
she has a base of knowledge from which to work when understanding this learner and the role
that disability may play. This educator knows how to advance the learning of students whose
pace of skill acquisition is quite discrepant from their peers and works closely with family
members, exchanging daily insights and information of mutual concern. This educator seeks to
prevent inequities that might occur because of race, ethnicity, or poverty and is very responsive
to students' cultural and linguistic differences. This educator advocates for inclusion and
collaborates effectively with colleagues to ensure that the regular curriculum meaningfully
accommodates learners with significant disabilities. He or she also works collaboratively to
ensure that specialized curriculum needs are addressed without isolating the student or disrupting
the regular experience. This educator is very concerned about results. Regardless of the age of
the student, he or she has a sense of responsibility for the outcomes achieved once the student
transitions from school into employment and/or a postsecondary school setting. This educator
maintains student portfolios, involving the students as well as parents and school administrators
in the process. Finally, she or he is an accomplished teacher who stays abreast of the field and
communicates regularly with others who share the same passion for educating students with
significant disabilities.


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