Critical Features of Special Education Teacher Preparation:
A Comparison with Exemplary Practices in
General Teacher Education
Prepared for the Center on Personnel Studies in Special Education
Mary T. Brownell
Dorene R. Ross
Elayne P. Col6n
Cynthia L. McCallum
University of Florida
(COPSSE Document No. RS-4)
Center on Personnel Studies in Special Education
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
CENTER ON PERSONNEL STUDIES IN SPECIAL EDUCATION
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO BOULDER
INSTRUCTIONAL RESEARCH GROUP, LONG BEACH, CA
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.
Brownell, M.T., Ross, D.R., Col6n, E.P., & McCallum, C.L. (2003). Critical features of special
education teacher preparation: A comparison with exemplary practices in general
teacher education. (COPSSE Document Number RS-4). Gainesville, FL: University of
Florida, Center on Personnel Studies in Special Education.
Additional Copies may be obtained from:
P.O. Box 117050
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611
thatVork 352-392-2655 (Fax)
U. S. Office of Special
Education Programs 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.
In tro d u c tio n..............4 ...........................................................................
Framework for Defining Effective Practices in Teacher Education ...............7..............
M e th o d o lo g y ......... ......................................................................................................................................... 1 2
Features of Special Education Programs Described in the Literature ................................14
Conclusions about the Tw o Literature Bases ............................................. 21
Recommendations for Future Research.......................................... 24
R E F E R E N C E S ........................................................................................ 2 8
Table 1. Number of Reviewed Programs with Identified Characteristics .....................13
Chronic teacher shortages in special education combined with concerns about a dwindling
teacher work force have many special education professionals concerned about the ability of
school districts to implement a free and appropriate public education for students with
disabilities. Fears about impending shortages have led many states, local districts, and
institutions of higher education to develop alternative routes to the classroom (Feistritzer, 1998).
The nature of these alternative routes and their capacity to ensure that qualified special education
teachers are available to serve the increasing population of students with disabilities is largely
unknown (Rosenberg & Sindelar, 2001). Moreover, the development of these alternative routes
comes at a time when teacher education is coming under fire for its perceived inability to prepare
teachers adequately for the realities of the classroom.
Critics argue that teacher education programs are not intellectually challenging and act as
deterrents to bright young people interested in entering the classroom (Finn & Kanstoroom,
2000; Matthews, 2002; Walsh, 2001). Moreover, the federal government recently lent
considerable credence to their position. The U. S. Secretary of Education, in a highly
controversial report about teacher quality, claimed that a teacher's verbal ability and subject
matter knowledge are key factors in improving student achievement but that the role of teacher
education is questionable (U. S. Department of Education [USDOE], Meeting the Highly
Qualified Teachers Challenge, 2002). Teacher education advocates counter that there are
positive relationships between teacher certification status and student achievement,
demonstrating that teacher education plays a role in teacher quality (Darling-Hammond, 1999;
Felter, 1999; Hawk, Coble, & Swanson, 1985; Laczko & Berliner, 2001). Specifically, Darling-
Hammond reported that states with the highest proportions of certified teachers tend to have the
highest National Education Assessment Program (NAEP) scores. Additionally, in a study
controlling for student socioeconomic status and school characteristics, Laczko-Kerr and
Berliner (2002) found that students taught by certified teachers performed significantly better on
standardized tests of reading and language arts (but not mathematics) than those taught by under-
Researchers critical of teacher education, however, suggest that alternatively certified teachers
are just as effective in influencing student achievement, particularly when they have content
expertise in the subject they are teaching (Ballou & Podgursky, 1999; Miller, McKenna, &
McKenna, 1998). Drawing on a different analysis of NAEP scores and certification status,
Goldhaber and Brewer (2000) found no significant differences on tests of student achievement in
mathematics and science between teachers with permanent licenses and those with emergency
licenses if the teachers on emergency license also had subject matter preparation. The critics of
teacher education use Goldhaber and Brewer's research and similar findings to conclude that
teacher education provides a hurdle to qualified persons interested in pursuing a career in
teaching rather than enhancing student achievement.
Parallel to the debate about certification and teacher quality, we have seen a spate of national
reform reports targeted at teacher education since the mid-1980s. Among the most widely cited
national reports are: A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983);
A Nation Prepared (Carnegie Task Force on Teaching as a Profession, 1986); Tomorrow's
Teachers (Holmes Group, 1986); Tomorrow's Schools of Education (Holmes Group, 1995); A
Call for Change in Teacher Education (National Commission on Excellence in Teacher
Education, 1985); What Matters Most: Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF, 1996); Doing
What Matters Most (Darling-Hammond, 1997); and Better Teachers, Better Schools
(Kanstoroom & Finn, 1999). Although the recommendations from these reports vary, each is
focused on the importance of the quality of the teaching force and on the quality of the
preparation of teachers. Valli and Rennert-Ariev (2000) reviewed nine of these proposals to look
for areas of agreement and disagreement related to recommendations for teacher education
reform. The strongest consensus was on the importance of content preparation in the discipline
and multicultural emphasis. They also found strong consensus for: (1) the use of authentic (i.e.,
field-based) pedagogy; (2) the existence of a clear programmatic vision; (3) programmatic
emphasis on learning and development, curriculum and assessment, reflection and inquiry; and
(4) the use of performance assessment. There was consensus but less support for including
emphasis on special needs students, collaboration, and technology, and for the use of
professional development schools.
It is important to recognize that the national reform reports accept the premise that teacher
education makes a difference and, therefore, view highly specified reforms in teacher education
as the most appropriate path for improving programs. Yet, a debate continues among researchers
and policy makers about the value and impact of teacher education. This debate is most evident
in recent reports that seriously question the utility of teacher education and in responses from
teacher education advocates who adamantly defend the value of teacher education (Darling-
Hammond, 2002; USDOE, 2002; Walsh, 2001). The debate rages because we lack powerful,
definitive studies about the impact of teacher education. Available studies show that teachers
with pedagogical preparation in particular content areas compared to teachers with subject matter
preparation only: (a) are better able to engage students in the learning process and tend not to
teach as they were taught (Kennedy, 1999; Grossman, 1989); (b) attribute their knowledge of
instruction and management to their educational course work (Adams & Krockover, 1997; Flint,
Leland, Patterson, Hoffman, Sailors, Mast, et al., 2001; Grossman & Richert, 1988; Grossman,
Valencia, Evans, Thompson, Martin, & Place, in press; Valli & Agostinelli, 1993); and (c) are
able to reorganize their knowledge of subject matter in appropriate ways in education course
work that focuses on content area pedagogy (Gess-Newsome & Lederman, 1993; Grossman &
Richert, 1988; Grossman, et al., in press). However, data generated in many of these studies are
limited to small numbers of preservice students or beginning teachers, single institutions, and
more often, single courses or programs within an institution (Wilson, Floden, & Ferrini-Mundy,
2001). Thus, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the features of effective courses or
programs across institutions to generalize about characteristics of effective teacher education.
Despite these limitations, a comprehensive review of the research on learning to teach and a
large-scale study of preservice and alternative certification programs provide some general
information about features of effective teacher education (National Center for Research on
Teacher Learning (NCRTL), 1991; Wideen, Mayer-Smith, & Moon, 1998) and reinforce some
recommendations from national reform reports. In a review of 97 studies on learning to teach,
Wideen and his colleagues found that programs capable of producing conceptual change in
preservice students had certain features: (a) use of pedagogy and program experiences that help
preservice students examine their beliefs, (b) strong programmatic vision that fosters program
cohesion, (c) small programs marked by a high degree of faculty and student collaboration, and
(d) carefully constructed field experiences where university and school faculty collaborate
extensively. NCRTL (1991) also found that teacher education programs with specific attributes
could make a difference in teachers' beliefs, even though the change was relatively small.
Specifically, programs with a coherent programmatic vision that embraced a more constructivist
orientation to teaching and learning and opportunities to apply knowledge acquired in content
pedagogy courses to the classroom were best able to change preservice teachers' beliefs. While
these studies demonstrated that programs with specific features are capable of changing teachers'
beliefs, we do not know if a change in beliefs influences what graduates do in the classroom. To
better determine the influence of teacher education on teacher learning, we need cross-
institutional studies that delineate the features of effective teacher education programs and
document programmatic impact on preservice students' conceptions of teaching, classroom
practices, and the achievement of children in their classrooms (Wilson, et al., 2001).
To design cross-institutional studies, we need criteria for differentiating teacher education
programs. In general education, Wideen and his colleagues along with NCRTL researchers have
already identified criteria that may be useful to differentiate programs for study. More recently,
two separate large-scale studies of teacher education in general education have provided
additional information about program features that influence preservice teacher beliefs and
classroom practice. These studies, which were funded by the Association of American Colleges
of Teacher Education (AACTE) and the International Reading Association (IRA), included 15
institutions that varied dramatically in institutional type. Findings from these studies support
many national reform agendas' recommendations and provide clear evidence for how
recommendations might be operationalized in teacher education programs.
Special education has no similar conceptual or research base on which to draw. This situation is
quite problematic, given the critical need for teachers in special education and the emergence of
multiple alternative paths to the classroom. Some are as labor-intensive as many preservice
programs, and others are brief (Rosenberg & Sindelar, 2001). A conceptual framework for
differentiating the features of preparation programs would assist researchers in designing studies
that compare preservice and alternative programs on key variables. Thus, the purpose of our
paper is two-fold. First, we present a framework for analyzing literature on special education
teacher education. The framework is based on themes generated in general education from the
AACTE and IRA studies, which provide in-depth information about how the recommendations
from the reform reports can be put into practice. Additionally, these studies support and extend
findings from the Wideen, et al. (1998) literature review and NCRTL's (1991) comparative study
of preservice and inservice programs. Second, we use this framework to analyze literature in
special education that focuses largely on program descriptions and evaluations. Specifically, we
conducted an exhaustive review of special education teacher education program descriptions and
program evaluations. Program practices identified in this review are compared to practices
deemed as exemplary in general teacher education. We conclude with steps to improve the
special education teacher education research base.
FRAMEWORK FOR DEFINING EFFECTIVE PRACTICES
IN TEACHER EDUCATION
The conceptual framework described in this section includes features that characterize 15 teacher
education programs nominated as exemplary by other teacher educators, school-based
professionals, and graduates of the programs. The AACTE studies involved 7 institutions with 3
different levels of teacher preparation (i.e., graduate level, undergraduate 4-year programs, and
5-year masters programs that resulted in a Master's degree). These institutions were Bank Street
College of Education, University of California-Berkeley, University of Southern Maine, Trinity
University, University of Virginia, Alverno College, and Wheelock College. The selected
institutions had reputations among teacher educators, district administrators, principals, and
program graduates for preparing teachers to teach diverse students using learning-centered
practices (Darling-Hammond, 2000). To identify critical program features across the 7
institutions, external researchers involved in the AACTE studies used qualitative methodologies
that varied from one study to the next. All researchers gathered extensive information about the
individual teacher education programs and employed qualitative or quantitative methodology to
collect information about participating students or program graduates. The IRA studies involved
8 institutions selected by a panel of teacher education experts for their excellent undergraduate
programs in reading education (Harmon, Hendrick, Martinez, Perez, Strecker, Fine, et al., n. d.).
These institutions included Florida International University, Hunter College, Indiana University,
Norfolk State University, University of Nevada at Reno, University of Texas at Austin,
University of Texas at San Antonio, and University of Sioux Falls. To identify critical program
features, faculty from each program outlined program features that contributed to its overall
effectiveness and described how those features were operationalized. Researchers determined
common features, conducted interviews with first-year teachers who graduated from the
institutions, and compared graduates of reading programs to graduates from the same
institutions' elementary education programs. Across the two studies, there are seven features
common to effective teacher education programs in general education:
1. coherent program vision
2. conscious blending of theory, disciplinary knowledge, and subject-specific
pedagogical knowledge and practice
3. carefully crafted field experiences
4. standards for ensuring quality teaching
5. active pedagogy that employs modeling and promotes reflection
6. focus on meeting the needs of a diverse student population
7. collaboration as a vehicle for building professional community
Coherent Program Vision
Programs in both studies have a clear vision that is shared by the faculty and permeates all
course work and field experiences. For instance, at Alverno College, the faculty designed their
program around a college-wide, ability-based curriculum that clearly articulates the knowledge,
skills, and dispositions students must demonstrate to move through various phases of their
program (Zeichner, 2000). This curriculum provides faculty with a common language for
communicating with each other, students, and school-based personnel about teaching and teacher
education. Supervising teachers and students who are new to the program are explicitly taught
this language in courses. Alverno faculty recognized that it takes two to three years for new
faculty to learn the program adequately. All faculty are expected to collaborate to refine the
program's vision, and faculty who do not believe in this vision usually leave the institution. In
the IRA programs, faculty identified vision as the driving force behind their programs and the
reason for their excellence. While program visions varied, having a vision resulted in coherent
programs where individual students were valued and a premium was placed on the integration of
research, theory, and practice. The faculty in the reading program at the University of Sioux Falls
emphasize the importance of balancing current reading research with a realistic view of reading
instruction practices. To accomplish this vision, faculty help preservice students to apply
teaching theories to classroom situations by reflecting on various theories in the context of their
classroom practices. This is designed to help students shift away from the status quo.
Conscious Blending of Theory, Disciplinary Knowledge, and Subject-
Specific Pedagogical Knowledge and Practice
Faculty in identified programs design course work and other program experiences to help
students create linkages between the knowledge they are acquiring in course work and classroom
practice. Programs in the AACTE studies place heavy emphasis on grounding theory,
disciplinary knowledge, and subject-specific pedagogical knowledge in the context of practice.
For instance, at Trinity College, "the program consciously and conscientiously blends theory and
practice" (Koppich, 2000). Faculty members work hard to ensure that students acquire
disciplinary knowledge as well as the pedagogy for enacting that knowledge. They accomplish
this goal by modeling active pedagogy, spending considerable classroom time discussing
important readings, and providing students with numerous opportunities to practice what they
learn in applied settings and to reflect on their experiences. In the IRA institutions, faculty use
pedagogy that encourages students to examine their current knowledge and beliefs about literacy
learning; the purpose is to push them to use more theoretically grounded literacy processes in
their classroom practices (Harmon, et al., n.d.). For instance, at the University of Nevada, Reno,
students participate in a tutoring experience with struggling readers. Faculty members aid novice
teachers in applying content learned in coursework. Additionally, an Early Learning Center at
the university coordinates tutoring experiences linked to course work in assessment.
Carefully Crafted Field Experiences
Field experiences in these programs are well integrated with course work, developmental in
nature, supervised carefully, and extensive. In the AACTE and IRA programs, students spend
extended time in classrooms selected for the skills of the cooperating teachers. These collaborate
with university faculty members to help students practice what they learn in course work. In
addition, the provision of multiple field-based experiences allows students to start out slowly and
progress to increasingly more challenging teaching situations. For instance, in the
Developmental Teacher Education Program at the University of California at Berkley, students
focus on course work and observation in their first year. In the second year, students participate
in an intensive clinical experience that is connected to course work. The curriculum is spiraled so
that students can revisit teaching-related issues at increasingly higher levels of understanding.
Attached to all field-based experiences are student-teaching seminars that promote the
integration of theory and practice, problem-solving, and interaction between first- and second-
year students. Additionally, students are placed in classrooms with good teacher-mentors who
demonstrate special expertise in some aspect of working with children. These students receive a
high level of supervision from cooperating teachers and supervisors to encourage reflection on
their practices and ensure that they are developing key teaching competencies. Apprenticeships
are also evident in the IRA institutions. For instance, at Hunter College, methods and
foundations courses are paired with one-credit field experiences where preservice teachers gain
some early contact with pubic school students and teachers. These field placements are used to
illustrate theoretical concepts in class and as points of discussion. A full-time Director of Clinical
Field Placements works with students to place them in classrooms that do not duplicate previous
experiences. Faculty members provide regular feedback through multiple observations and
written evaluations, enabling students to learn increasingly complex skills.
Standards for Ensuring Quality Teaching
Faculty in AACTE and IRA programs use a variety of strategies to ensure that they are
graduating able teachers. These strategies range from high admissions standards (e.g., high GRE
and GPA scores required of students entering the teacher education program at the University of
Virginia) to stringent exit criteria based on classroom performance. Students in the Extended
Teacher Education Program (ETEP), which was developed through the collaborative efforts of
the University of Southern Maine and the Gorham School district, have to demonstrate that they
are capable and committed to teaching. These students must meet basic entrance requirements
(standardized test scores and overall GPA); submit three letters of recommendation; complete 36
hours in an appropriate area of concentration (e.g., social studies, English); submit a resume and
catalog of learning and teaching experiences; and write an essay responding to the program's
mission statement. Once admitted, student interns participate in several evaluation activities
(formative and summative). The interns meet weekly with university coordinators to articulate
how they are improving their teaching according to 11 ETEP outcomes and twice during the first
semester with the cooperating teacher and university coordinator to review their performance in
terms of the 11 outcomes. In the second internship, students must go beyond evidence of the 11
outcomes to integrate what they have learned from their course work and field experiences when
they develop an interdisciplinary unit. At the completion of their program, students present a
portfolio to several cooperating teachers, a principal from their placements, and two university
coordinators. Along with other evidence compiled by the review team, the presentation
determines whether or not a student is recommended for Maine's 2-year provisional teaching
Many of the AACTE and IRA institutions, especially those in urban environments, also attempt
to balance equal access with equity of opportunity. At these institutions, faculty maintain a
commitment to recruit diverse preservice students and graduate qualified teachers by using
multiple admission criteria and mechanisms for monitoring student progress. For example,
faculty in the reading program at Florida International University refer students from
underrepresented groups who do not meet the basic criteria for entrance to a committee that
reviews the admission application in order to evaluate the student's record, strengths, and
commitment to elementary education. Faculty members monitor student progress frequently
using portfolios to ensure teaching competence and to identify academic and emotional supports
students need to be successful.
Active Pedagogy That Employs Modeling and Promotes Reflection
Faculty at AACTE and IRA institutions use active pedagogy that helps students connect theory
and practice and promotes student reflection. At Bank Street College, faculty design courses to
connect theoretical ideas, instructional demonstrations, and field experiences. They teach most
classes employing a workshop format where students have opportunities to use curriculum
resources, to work collaboratively and independently, to practice strategies and concepts learned,
and to see curriculum and teaching methods in action. The workshop format also helps students
raise and discuss pedagogical questions and tie these questions to their personal experiences,
promoting greater reflection. Faculty members at IRA institutions create experiences that
challenge students to move beyond sometimes simplistic views of literacy learning and teaching.
At Hunter College, faculty members promote reflection by encouraging in-class discussion,
using field placement examples to illustrate theoretical concepts, creating portfolios or using
journals, and providing regular feedback through multiple observations, written evaluations, and
Focus on Meeting the Needs of a Diverse Student Population
The ability to address the needs of a diverse student population is an important emphasis of
programs involved in these two studies. In the AACTE studies, researchers selected programs
based on their reputations for preparing teachers to work with diverse children. At Wheelock
College, faculty members attend to diversity issues in required courses, assignments, and field
experiences. All students take a course entitled "Children and Their Environments," which
incorporates an ecological view of human development and attempts to help preservice students
"understand children and families from a multicultural, multisocial, and multiethnic perspective"
(Miller & Silvernail, 2000, p. 72). As part of this course, students spend 30 hours in a field
placement where they observe and write about the child's environment. Students also participate
in two practicum experiences (total: 450 hours); one must include children from diverse cultures
and with disabilities. Faculty at IRA institutions are also committed to addressing student
diversity, and this commitment is represented in their program content. For instance, faculty at
the University of Texas at San Antonio teach "Introduction to Reading" programs at an inner city
school so that preservice students can acquire the skills they need to teach children with diverse
Collaboration as a Vehicle for Building Professional Community
The AACTE and IRA programs place a heavy emphasis on building professional community-
developing vehicles for promoting collaboration between faculty members, students, and
classroom teachers. At the University of Virginia, education and liberal arts and science faculty
collaboratively designed the English major for teachers-in-training and co-advise students
completing the 5-year undergraduate and masters program. Moreover, faculty from this program
stress the importance of building community in the classroom by using a cohort structure,
working on ways to foster community in secondary classrooms, and encouraging preservice
students to work together and respond to each other's ideas. Faculty members at the University
of Texas at Austin create vehicles for fostering collaboration with the surrounding schools so that
students and professors can be a part of the larger school community. For instance, one reading
specialization cohort spends the majority of their time in a public school serving students in
poverty. These preservice students take most of their courses and participate in a tutoring activity
at the school. Additionally, preservice students are placed in a year-long observation and student
teaching experience with teachers selected for their competence and ability to serve as mentors.
In summary, the AACTE and IRA studies provide more in-depth information about the specific
features of programs that exemplify excellence for many in the teacher education profession.
Program features identified as effective in these two studies support the conclusions of a research
review of programs from single institutions (Wideen, et al., 1998), and some of the findings
generated by NCRTL (1991). What is missing from the AACTE, NCRTL, and IRA studies as
well as the Wideen et al. review is a strong link between program features, actual classroom
practices, and student performance.1 Given study limitations, findings across these studies do
provide a starting point for analyzing the special education literature, and it is that literature base
to which we now turn.
1 IRA researchers are analyzing data collected from observational studies of the participating
beginning teachers and collecting student achievement data in their classrooms. Although the
studies are not yet complete, these data sources will provide rich information to support or to
disconfirm findings from the interview studies and will provide the best linkages to date between
teacher education practices, beginning teacher outcomes, and student achievement.
Special education teacher education is not an established area of inquiry. We found no solid
syntheses of available programs and their features. Our research included literature on special
education teacher education published in the last 11 years. All Special Education personnel
preparation programs and programs within a program, both traditional and alternative programs
at undergraduate and graduate levels, were included.
A number of strategies were used to locate relevant literature. First, we entered keywords into
the ERIC, PROQUEST, and PsycInfo databases, including combinations of the following:
research, teacher education, special education, effectiveness, preservice preparation, policy,
program evaluations, program descriptions, and exemplary teacher education. We then
conducted a search of the Library of Congress using the keywords: teacher education, teacher
preparation, and preservice preparation.
Second, we conducted hand searches of the five top refereed journals in teacher education:
Journal of Teacher Education, Teaching and Teacher Education, Teacher Education and Special
Education, Action in Teacher Education, and Teacher Education Quarterly. After collecting
relevant articles published in the last 11 years, ancestral citations were identified. We limited our
search to program descriptions and evaluations in special education published from 1990-2001.
We assumed that publications in the last decade would reflect best practices in special education
teacher education and provide information for ancestral citations. Eighty (80) publications were
gathered, and 74 reviewed; 6 publications with insufficient information were discarded.
Table 1. Number of Reviewed Programs with Identified Characteristics
Categories Characteristics Programs (N)
Degree Undergraduate 21
Certification only 5
Not Specified 9
Orientation Special Education 38
Not Specified 4
Type Program part 10
Alternative program 24
Not Specified 4
Level of Institution Teacher Education 25
Research I 30
Research II 7
Not Specified 2
Funding OSEP-funded 19
FEATURES OF SPECIAL EDUCATION PROGRAMS
DESCRIBED IN THE LITERATURE
We reviewed a variety of programs across many institutional contexts to determine if common
features would emerge. Table 1 lists the number of programs reviewed along with demographic
characteristics of the programs and their institutions. The literature described both undergraduate
and graduate education programs at Teacher Education, Research I, and Research II institutions.
Program descriptions also highlighted an alternative university program, a part of the traditional
program offered, or an account of an entire program, as well as the nature of the program (e.g.,
categorical, noncategorical, or blended across general and special education). Programs that were
federally funded through the USDOE's Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) were
To identify common program features, the first author counted the number of program
descriptions that included each specific program feature. Two other authors re-examined articles
to verify that these features were present and counted the number of programs that included each
feature. In the following analysis, we describe common program features with two caveats. First,
papers were written for a variety of purposes, e.g., to describe the evolution of a program or how
teacher educators overcame barriers in developing a program. Thus, authors may have omitted
important descriptive information about programs. Second, a large number of papers were
published as ERIC documents, and the quality of those documents varied greatly-from rich,
extensive descriptions of programs to minimal descriptions.
Frequently Described Program Features
Although many of the program descriptions were not sufficiently rich, we assumed that
frequently mentioned program features represented valued practices. It is clear from our review
that many teacher educators in special education consider extensive field experiences,
collaboration, and program evaluation to be important program components, although the ways
in which they operationalized these components varied. It is also apparent that many faculty
members realize the importance of focusing on inclusion and cultural diversity. Special
education programs in teacher education, however, are quite diverse in terms of program
orientation. Some programs maintain a more positivist view of educational practice and others
have moved toward more constructivist views.
Crafting extensive field experiences. Well-crafted, extensive, carefully supervised field
experiences seem to be an important marker of teacher education practice in special education. In
at least one third of the programs, faculty described extensive field experiences that were well
supervised and incorporated practices acquired in course work (Bay & Lopez-Renya, 1997;
Benner & Judge, 2000; Browning & Dunn, 1994; May, Miller-Jacobs, & Zide, 1989).
Particularly at the undergraduate level, programs included semester- and year-long daily field
experiences that took place in schools for a half to a full day. These programs were preceded by
one or two practicum experiences that lasted for a semester and involved considerable time in the
classroom. Preservice programs with the most intense field components (e.g., Bay & Lopez-
Reyna, 1997; Epanchin & Wooley-Brown, 1993; Keefe, Rossi, Valenzuela, & Howarth, 2000;
Lovingfoss, Molloy, Harris, & Graham, 2001) required early field experiences, one or two
practicum experiences, and a semester- or year-long student teaching placement. Programs with
such extensive field experiences recognized the developmental nature of teaching. According to
Lovingfoss, et al. (2001), field experiences at the University of Maryland "are sequenced to
permit each student to demonstrate increasing levels of competency and responsibility" (p. 106).
In this 5-year program, students observed in a variety of settings during their first semester. They
go on to complete four semesters of practicum where they assess and teach children in general
education classrooms and special education settings related to their chosen specialty areas (i.e.,
either early childhood, educational handicaps, secondary/transition, or severe disabilities). These
experiences culminate in a 12-week, full-time internship program. At the University of
Kentucky, participants in the TREK program (a distance education masters program for
practicing teachers) enrolled in 21 credit hours of supervised practice across five semesters.
Practicum requirements were fulfilled in their classrooms under the supervision of selected
master teachers. In addition to describing extensive field experiences, faculty mentioned careful
supervision as an important feature of their programs (Burnstein & Sears, 1998; Ludlow, 1994;
Langone, Langone, & McLaughlin, 1991; Rosenberg & Rock, 1994). In their description of two
alternative preparation programs in special education, Otis-Wilburn and Winn (2000) noted that
teams of four faculty continuously incorporate input from cooperating teachers, school
principals, and their own direct assessments of student performance to determine if students have
met expected standards of performance. Other programs relied heavily on mentor teachers who
were carefully selected and trained to supervise teachers. For instance, in a collaborative
program developed with a nearby school district, university supervisors from Johns Hopkins
University worked with mentor teachers to observe and evaluate students (King-Sears,
Rosenberg, Ray, & Fagen, 1992). Mentor teachers and university supervisors observed students
weekly using a structured interview process called the "supervision throughput model" (O'Shea,
Hoover, & Carroll, 1988), which involves collaboration between the practicum student,
university supervisor, and cooperating teacher to identify areas in need of improvement and
provide coaching to address those needs.
Creating links between theory and practice. This also seemed to be a high priority for
faculty: at least one third of the programs indicated that knowledge and skills acquired in course
work were integrated with experiences in field placements. How this integration occurred,
however, varied from one program to the next. Some programs carefully linked course content
with field experiences by asking students to use specific assessment and instructional activities
learned in the classroom (e.g., Fox & Capone, 1993; Ludlow, 1994; Miller, Wienke, &
Friedland, 1999; Rosenberg & Rock, 1994; Russell, Williams, & Gold, 1992). In these
programs, the link between practices learned in individual courses and field experiences was
clear, but the integration across courses was less apparent. Other programs attended to
integration across courses by teaching courses in integrated blocks, weekly seminars, or both.
Many programs used case-based approaches, portfolios, and weekly seminars to help students to
reflect on what they were learning across courses and to discuss how they were applying
knowledge and strategies in schools (Affleck & Lowenbraum, 1995; Bay & Lopez-Reyna, 1997;
Burstein & Sears, 1998; Emond, 1995; Epanchin & Wooley-Brown, 1993; Lovingfoss, et al.,
2001; May, et al., 1989; Otis-Wilburn & Winn, 2000; Sobel, French, & Filbin, 1998).
Interestingly, this integrative approach to fieldwork and course work often characterized
programs focusing on cultural diversity or unification with general education.
Working together. Collaboration is clearly a valued component of teacher education
programs in special education. Over half of the program descriptions provided information about
how their program addressed collaboration. The programs emphasized collaboration in different
ways that included: (a) knowledge of collaborative skills, (b) faculty-to-faculty collaboration, (c)
school-to-faculty collaboration, and (d) use of student cohorts. Over half of the authors
described course work that provided students with information about working with other
professionals and families. While the majority of programs indicated that faculty used specific
course work to teach preservice and inservice teachers collaborative and consultation skills (Bay
& Lopez-Reyna, 1997; Browning & Dunn, 1994; Kemple, Hartle, Correa, & Fox, 1994;
Lovingfoss, et al., 2001), rarely did they mention the pedagogy used to develop these skills. In
only one program, faculty described how they used projects to help students apply collaborative
skills. At the University of Kentucky, inservice teachers working toward certification in severe
disabilities were required to perform consultation and collaboration projects in their classrooms
using the skills and knowledge acquired in class (Grisham-Brown, Collins, & Baird, 2000);
however, these projects targeted collaboration with other professionals, not families. In a
different program, faculty assumed that faculty modeling would teach students the necessary
skills. In the University of New Mexico Dual License Program, two faculty members with
backgrounds in general and special education worked together: (a) to administer the program, (b)
work collaboratively with graduate assistants to supervise the field experiences, and (c) provide
instructional support to other general and special education teaching faculty (Keefe, et al., 2000).
What was unclear in this program description was whether and how faculty teach students to use
collaborative skills with either professionals or families.
As in the University of New Mexico model, faculty collaboration was a featured component of
many teacher education program descriptions (Keefe, et al., 2000; Kemple, et al., 1994; May, et
al., 1989; Sobel, et al., 1998). Faculty worked collaboratively with other faculty in 39 of the
programs, and it appeared from many of the descriptions that collaboration was employed to
create a coherent program. How collaborative arrangements were operationalized, however,
varied from program to program; in many cases, authors indicated the existence of collaborative
relationships but did not describe the nature of that collaboration. In some programs, faculty
collaboratively planned course work to ensure that skills and knowledge from different
disciplines were addressed. For instance, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, faculty co-
planned course work to integrate knowledge and strategies from special education and bilingual
education (Bay & Lopez-Reyna, 1997). In other programs, faculty seemed to be collaborating
more extensively to plan the program and individual courses, integrate knowledge across
disciplines, teach courses, and monitor student progress in the field. At the University of
Wisconsin Milwaukee, faculty collaborated in four-member teams to plan courses that
incorporate practices from general and special education and to monitor student progress (Otis-
Wilbum & Winn, 2000). University of Washington faculty from general and special education
extended this type of collaboration by co-teaching courses. Faculty collaboration even occurred
across universities to deliver special programs, e.g., the alternative certification program offered
by the University of Virginia, George Mason University, and Virginia Commonwealth
University to prepare teachers to work with children and youth with severe disabilities (Snell,
Martin, & Orelove, 1997). What was unclear in many descriptions that focused mainly on
specialized programs within larger teacher education programs was the extent of faculty
collaboration beyond the specialized programs.
Many teacher educators also acknowledged the important role that schools play in the education
of preservice and inservice teachers. In 43 program descriptions, authors described some type of
partnership with public schools. Most partnerships involved the selection of high-quality field
placements and mentor teachers to assist with the supervision of preservice and inservice
teachers working toward certification (Rude, Dickinson, & Weiser, 1998; Savelsbergh, 1995;
Emond, 1995; Kozleski, Sands, & French, 1993). Sometimes, these partnerships employed a
professional development school model involving entire schools selected to work with a teacher
education program. At the University of Washington, preservice students were placed in partner
schools where best practices were modeled and teachers from those schools co-taught courses in
an integrated block with university faculty. In other cases, individual teachers across a district or
districts were selected to work with students because of their expertise. For instance, in a
collaborative alternative certification program implemented across three institutions, faculty
selected master teachers from various technical assistance centers to monitor practicing teachers
participating in the program. These master teachers helped participants implement research-
based instructional practices in their classrooms (Snell, et al., 1997) and supervised the quality of
that implementation. In the most sophisticated instances of collaboration, entire school faculties,
and sometimes school district personnel, collaborated around the following activities: (a)
planning the teacher education program, (b) identifying quality placements for teacher education
students, (c) selecting students for the program, (d) mentoring students, (e) evaluating their
progress in the classroom, (f) co-teaching courses in the teacher education program, and (g)
participating in training to become a mentor teacher (e.g., Affleck & Lowenbraum, 1995;
Emond, 1995; King-Sears, et al., 1992; May, et al., 1989; Hall, Reed, & McSwine, 1997). Clear
examples of programs that demonstrate most of these features can be found at the University of
South Florida (Epanchin & Wooley-Brown, 1993) and at Johns Hopkins University (King-Sears,
et al., 1992).
Teacher educators described using student cohorts to foster collaboration in 24 cases (Burnstein,
Cabello, & Hamann, 1993; Corbett, Kilgore, & Sindelar, 1998; Gettys, Tanner, Bibler, Puckett,
Brower, Goode, et al., 2000; Lesar, Benner, Habel, & Coleman, 1997). At the University of
Wisconsin Milwaukee, students moved through the program in cohorts, which were just one
vehicle that faculty used to foster strong collaboration (Otis-Wilburn & Winn, 2000). Faculty at
Providence College placed practicum and internship students in their unified elementary and
special education program in cohorts at selected school sites (Ryan, Callahan, Krajewski, &
Flaherty, 1997). In practicum placements, preservice students collaboratively planned and
implemented instruction under the ongoing supervision of faculty, who are monitoring the
development of essential collaborative skills. While many programs indicated that they used
cohorts, faculty did not talk about how students in cohorts worked together or were taught the
collaborative skills necessary for working together.
Despite the apparent value that teacher educators placed on collaboration, finding ways to work
together was challenging. In some cases, faculty interested in creating more collaborative
programs had to navigate challenges that included differing faculty perspectives about teaching
and learning, bureaucratic and school-based barriers, and cultural barriers created in institutions
where research and individual faculty productivity were valued more highly than teacher
preparation. At Utah State University, faculty in special and general education decided
collaboratively to run a dual certification program rather than a unified program, because there
were so many philosophical differences in how they viewed instruction. While their views of
early childhood practice were similar, Kemple and her colleagues (1994) at the University of
Florida faced more bureaucratic and school-based challenges when instituting a unified early
childhood special education program. There were difficulties in identifying field placements that
modeled inclusive practices, in securing the necessary financial resources to support
collaboration, and in determining how to share tasks associated with running and monitoring the
program collaboratively. At the University of Washington, faculty encountered cultural barriers
as they developed a unified teacher education program across separate special and general
education programs (Affleck & Lowenbraun, 1995). Development of their unified program was
particularly challenging due to their practices of offering categorical special education programs
and rewarding faculty members exclusively for the accumulation of grants, doctoral student
production, and scholarship. Despite these challenges, there were also key supports for
collaboration. For example, Affleck and Lowenbraun reported that one college dean provided the
initial support for program restructuring by deciding to rebuild their teacher education programs
completely and establish a model team-based Middle School Professional Development Center.
Evaluating the impact of teacher education programs. Many authors described their
methods for evaluating the effectiveness of their teacher education programs. These methods
varied widely and focused on different outcomes, e.g., student satisfaction with the program,
observed teaching performance, faculty perceptions of the program, and cooperating teachers
and administrators' perceptions of the student teacher and program. If they used assessment, the
majority of programs used indirect assessment techniques that included surveys or interviews
with current or former students as the single method for providing feedback about the program
(Belknap & Mosca, 1999; Bay & Lopez-Reyna, 1997; Goodwin, Boone, & Wittmer, 1994;
Minner, Tsosie, Newhouse, Owens, & Holiday, 1995). Surveys like those at the University of
Kentucky (Grisham-Brown, et al., 2000) and the University of West Virginia (Miller, et al.,
1999) were used to determine if graduates used practices learned in their program and their
perceptions of the program. Other programs created a more robust assessment by combining
several indirect assessment methods (Keefe, et al., 2000; Sobel, et al., 1998; Panyan, Hillman, &
Ligget, 1997). For instance, Burstein, Cabello, & Hamann (1993) used The Teacher Inventory on
the Education of Diverse Students to assess students' pre- and post-training beliefs about
teaching diverse children. Students also completed surveys about their competencies and
satisfaction with the program both during the program and one year after graduation.
Additionally, faculty frequently discussed findings from the surveys, students' reflection logs,
and ideas about how to modify the program based on these findings.
Direct student assessment was used to evaluate teaching competence in more than one fifth of
the teacher education programs. Most of these programs combined direct and indirect assessment
methods (Aksamit, Hall, & Ryan, 1990; Benner & Judge, 2000; Cambone, Zambone, & Suarez,
1996; Corbett, et al., 1998; Snell, et al., 1997). In an alternative certification/masters program at
Johns Hopkins University, faculty evaluate the effectiveness of their program using: (a) direct
observations of student teachers by the university supervisor and district personnel, (b) surveys
completed by principals and special education supervisors rating graduates' competence, (c)
surveys from supervisory personnel comparing beginning teachers from traditional certification
programs to graduates of the alternative certification programs, (d) performance evaluation data
on beginning teachers from traditional certification programs, (e) self-report data from program
participants rating their professional growth and development over the course of the project, and
(f) certification or graduation rates of program participants (Rosenberg & Rock, 1994).
Similarly, faculty at Wheelock College use multiple data sources to determine program
effectiveness (Cambone, et al., 1996). Specifically, they used teaching portfolios, certification
checklists completed by university supervisors and mentor teachers, pre- and post-training self-
evaluations on beginning teacher competencies established, narrative evaluations completed by
the university supervisors and mentor teachers, performance evaluations by employers, data on
the number of graduates seeking teaching positions, and focus group interviews with mentor
Focusing on inclusion and cultural diversity. Attempts to address inclusion and cultural
diversity were widespread. This was not surprising given the prominent role that inclusion plays
in the national debate on how best to serve students with disabilities and the overrepresentation
of children from ethnic and linguistic minority groups in special education. In 10 program
descriptions, authors mentioned inclusion or cultural diversity as program topics but did not
elaborate on how they addressed these topics (Benner & Judge, 2000; Corn & Erin, 1996;
Lehmann & Sample, 1997; Rude, et al., 1998). Four other authors described course work that
focused on cultural diversity or inclusion but did not discuss the pedagogy they used or how
faculty crafted field experiences to help students learn relevant pedagogical skills (Campbell &
Fyfe, 1995; Ganser, 1996). One third of the authors delineated fieldwork and classroom practices
they used for ensuring that graduates could work in inclusive settings. Eighteen authors
described methods used to help teachers address the cultural and linguistic needs of students with
disabilities, and 17 discussed how their faculty helped students learn about inclusion. However,
approximately 85% of these programs addressed both inclusion and cultural diversity, reflecting
a broader focus on diversity that included both children with disabilities and those with diverse
cultural and linguistic needs (Corbett, et al., 1998; Keefe, et al., 2000; Kemple, et al., 1994;
Sobel, et al., 1998; Otis-Wilburn & Winn, 2000).
Maintaining a positivist or constructivist orientation toward learning and
teaching. Many program descriptions reflected positivist, constructivist, or blended
orientations toward learning and teaching. These variations are not surprising given the strong
role that behavioral theory has played in special education and the emergence over the past two
decades of more constructivist practices in special education. A strong competency-based
approach to teacher education reflected in many programs is perhaps one indicator of the role
that positivist thought has played in special education. This approach assumes that a specific set
of knowledge and skills exist and should be disseminated to students (Blanton, 1992).
The vast majority of program descriptions included competencies that faculty expected students
to acquire by graduation; however, the manner in which competencies were addressed was either
not clear (as in 30% of the descriptions) or varied depending on the orientation of the program
(e.g., see Emond, 1995; Heston, Raschke, Kliewer, Fitzgerald, & Edmiaston, 1998; Salend &
Reynolds, 1991; Sebastian, Calmes, & Mayhew, 1997.) Some teacher education programs
adopted what appeared to be more positivist approaches to teacher education (Grisham-Brown,
et al., 2000; Miller, et al., 1999; Snell, et al., 1997; Russell, et al., 1992). Faculty in these
programs viewed competencies as knowledge and skills to be acquired in course work and then
applied in practical settings. For instance, the collaborative masters program between George
Mason University, University of Virginia, and Virginia Commonwealth University (Snell, et al.,
1997) organized course offerings to include the 123 Program Quality Indicators of educational
services for students with severe disabilities along with competencies set forth by the Virginia
Department of Education. The Program Quality Indicators represented research-validated
practice. Identified practices were taught in course work and participating teachers worked in
their respective classrooms to implement them. Master teachers from nearby technical assistance
centers worked with participating teachers to implement practices appropriate to their context at
an acceptable level of competence. A positivist orientation was also evident in programs that
required students to use behavioral methods to demonstrate the effectiveness of their teaching.
For instance, the University of Maryland and the State University of New York at New Paltz
required students to use single-subject methodologies to evaluate the effect of their instruction on
student learning (Lovingfoss, et al., 2001; Salend & Reynolds, 1991).
Approximately 40% of the teacher education programs descriptions indicated that faculty
maintained more constructivist views of learning to teach (Affleck & Lowenbraum, 1995;
Anderson & Baker, 1999; Epanchin & Wooley-Brown, 1993; Hall, et al., 1997). Instead of
teaching students to apply research-based methods and interventions, these programs employed a
variety of pedagogical techniques to help teachers consider their beliefs about teaching and
learning as well as the diverse needs of their students when planning for and evaluating
instruction. Teacher-educators used a combination of belief inventories, case studies, weekly
seminars, teaching portfolios, coaching, and various assessment projects to help students: (a)
examine their beliefs about instruction; (b) integrate the knowledge they were acquiring in
course work with prior knowledge; (c) acquire academic, social and cultural knowledge about
their students; and (d) reflect on the impact of their instruction. For instance, in an alternative
training program offered by the University of South Florida, students complete inventories
designed to assess their background and beliefs about instruction and learning early in their
program. These inventories were used to introduce self-reflection about teaching. Students also
kept journals that contained reactions to clinical experiences as well as class readings and
discussions. At the University of New Mexico, Keefe and her colleagues (2000) promoted
reflection in their dual license program by employing weekly seminars, written reflections, oral
debriefings, interactive e-mail journals, student self-assessments, and student participation in
rubric development. Interestingly, many of the programs that embraced more constructivist
orientations were focused on cultural diversity or were unified, blended, or dual certification
programs. This suggests that prevailing views of teaching and learning in multicultural and
general teacher education are influencing how special education faculty conceptualize their
While programs tended to present a particular orientation, we were not sure how pervasive
orientations were. In some cases it was often difficult to determine if faculty adopted positivist or
constructivist orientations. Moreover, some program descriptions indicated that faculty either
blended or maintained multiple orientations to learning (Correa, Rapport, Hartle, Jones, Kemple,
& Smith-Bonahue, 1997; Ryan, et al., 1997; Salzberg, Lignugaris-Kraft, & Monson, 1997). For
instance, in the merged elementary and special education program at Providence College, faculty
abandoned the "model of the teacher as a technician and adopted] the model of the teacher as a
professional" (Ryan, et al., 1997, p. 72). Providence faculty now use active pedagogy to
encourage students to develop a reflective stance toward their teaching and a repertoire of
strategies that allow them to individualize for students in their classrooms. At the same
institution, faculty teach research-based strategies (e.g., direct instruction), because they believe
that effective instruction is relevant to all students. Other faculty (e.g., those who run the dual
certification program at Utah State University) chose to maintain separate positivist and
constructivist orientations. Faculty members argued that philosophical differences were so strong
that attempts to bridge those differences could derail any efforts to educate special and general
education preservice students jointly (Salzberg, et al., 1997).
CONCLUSIONS ABOUT THE TWO LITERATURE BASES
The special education programs we reviewed appear to share features with programs considered
exemplary in general education. In both fields, teacher education is labor-intensive, carefully
crafted, focused on connecting theory and practice, collaborative, and invested in creating
teachers who can respond to the needs of children and youth, particularly those with diverse
needs. However, not all special education faculty use the same methods as their general
education counterparts. Moreover, some of the qualities of the exemplary teacher education
programs (e.g., clear programmatic vision, integrating subject-matter pedagogy with educational
theory and field experience) described earlier are referred to minimally in special education.
Similarly, special education teacher education programs have unique features differentiating
them from exemplary general education programs described in this paper.
Commonalities and Differences between the Two Literature Bases
Faculty in the exemplary general education programs and special education programs reviewed
realize that extensive, well-planned field experiences are important if teachers are to apply
content from their teacher education programs. Additionally, faculty from both fields are aware
of the importance of ensuring that preservice and inservice student teachers have opportunities to
practice what they learn in well-supervised settings so that they can make connections between
theory and practice. Thus, special and general education teacher-educators have worked to craft
programs that integrate course work with well designed and supervised fieldwork.
Similarly, faculty in the special education and the exemplary general education programs
stressed the importance of collaboration between faculty, school personnel, and
preservice/inservice teachers. As in the exemplary teacher education programs, special education
faculty worked closely with other faculty in their disciplines and general education to integrate
program content, plan their course work, sometimes even co-teach course work, and work with
students in the field. Additionally, both groups worked to create connections between the
university and schools, so that students had opportunities to learn in high-quality field
experiences and school personnel became invested in the teacher education enterprise. Special
education programs, in some cases, demonstrated an even greater commitment to collaboration
than the exemplary teacher education programs by offering course work designed to help
students acquire collaborative skills. Program descriptions in both areas, however, omit a focus
on improving collaboration with families. While some special education faculty indicated that
their program contained course work on families, it was not clear how students were taught to
apply the knowledge and skills they acquired about families. Given that collaboration requires
sophisticated interactive skills, particularly when teachers are dealing with people who may
maintain a different perspective than their own, careful instruction in these skills seems
necessary (Brownell & Walther-Thomas, 2002).
Preparing teacher education graduates to meet the needs of a diverse student population is clearly
important to teacher educators across both disciplines. All exemplary teacher education programs
and many special education programs reviewed offer experiences that focus on diversity;
however, special education faculty place greater emphasis on the inclusion of students with
disabilities. Additionally, all the exemplary teacher education programs provide course work and
field experiences that are likely to promote conceptual change about diverse learners (Wideen, et
al, 1998). That is, course work is integrated with fieldwork, faculty and students work closely
together, active pedagogy is used to promote student reflection, and students are well supervised
in field experiences. How pervasive these practices are in the special education programs
reviewed is unclear. Only about one third of the programs reviewed described practices that were
similar to those employed by the exemplary teacher education programs.
Teacher educators in the programs reviewed demonstrated that it was important for their
programs to have an impact on student learning; however, the manner in which they determined
program impact varied. The student data collected in the AACTE and IRA programs involved
some type of direct assessment of student performance, usually documented through teaching
portfolios and multiple observations in the field, and these assessments were based on well-
articulated standards of practice. Special education program descriptions also mentioned
employing evaluation data to determine program effectiveness; however, the majority of those
programs relied on interviews and/or surveys to determine graduates' satisfaction with the
program and their preparation regarding key competencies, or faculty members and school
supervisors' perceptions of the program and its graduates. (Kenney & LaMontagne, 1999;
Kozleski, et al., 1993). We believe that indirect assessment alone, however, is insufficient for
determining the impact of a program. From our perspective, what teachers ultimately do in the
classroom determines the effectiveness of teacher education. Thus, it was encouraging that
approximately one fourth of the special education programs employed direct student
assessments; however, we do not know if described evaluation practices were integral
components of the special education programs. Some programs may have conducted evaluations
to meet the federal requirements associated with OSEP-funded preparation programs. Moreover,
it is important that we acknowledge how controversial teacher evaluation issues are. In the
professional literature, there is considerable discussion about the criteria that should be used to
evaluate the impact of teacher education on its graduates (Cochran-Smith, 2001) and the validity
of current assessments (Good, 1996). Teacher education programs have come under increasing
pressure to be accountable for demonstrating that their graduates are competent teachers, e.g.,
Title II reporting requirements under the Higher Education Act and the National Association for
the Accreditation of Colleges of Education requirement for evidence of student performance. We
now expect to see more focused efforts on evaluation in both general and special education and
more research about how best to accomplish this task.
Program orientation varied more widely in the special education programs than in the exemplary
teacher education programs. The programs in the AACTE and IRA studies adopted constructivist
orientations to learning, although special education programs represented a continuum from
positivist to constructivist. Some special education programs did not provide sufficient
description to determine an orientation (Ashcroft, 1990; Clarken & LeRoy, 1998; Easterbrooks
& Laughton, 1997; Fager, Andrews, Shepherd, & Quinn, 1993). Constructivist-oriented
programs in special education used a variety of methods (e.g., journals, beliefs inventories, and
discussions in weekly seminars) to help students reflect on their beliefs about learning and
instruction as well as the effect their instruction was having on the children/youth they taught
(Campbell & Fyfe, 1995; Epanchin & Wooley-Brown, 1993; Kozleski, et al., 1993; Hall, et al.,
1997). Programs adopting a constructivist orientation were usually integrated or dual preparation
programs or programs focused on preparing teachers to work with culturally and linguistically
diverse (CLD) students. Programs with more positivist orientations tended to focus on helping
students learn skills (e.g., curriculum-based or functional behavioral assessment skills) to
evaluate their instruction, although they did not mention any attempts to help students examine
how their prior beliefs and knowledge were influencing what they were learning in the program
and practicing in the classroom (e.g., Grisham-Brown, et al., 2000; King-Sears, et al., 1992;
Langone, et al., 1991; Rosenberg & Rock, 1994).
In the special education program descriptions, we saw limited evidence of two defining features
of exemplary teacher education programs: a strong programmatic vision and a heavy emphasis
on subject matter pedagogy (e.g., reading, mathematics, science). In the AACTE, IRA, and
NCRTL studies, a clear vision drove the design of the programs and their implementation.
Moreover, faculty in the AACTE and IRA studies continually used these shared visions to revisit
programs and make revisions. In special education, some program descriptions articulated a clear
vision, and others did not. Programs combining general and special education or those focusing
on cultural diversity were more likely to articulate themes or goals that faculty used as the basis
for making decisions about program experiences (e.g., see Affleck & Lowenbraum, 1995;
Aksamit, et al., 1990; Bay & Lopez-Reyna, 1997; Benner & Judge, 2000; Kemple, et al., 1994;
Sobel, et al., 1998). Special education programs maintaining a separate identity were less likely
to describe goals that could be used to drive the program, with few exceptions (Kenney &
LaMontagne, 1999; Lovingfoss, et al., 2001; Rosenberg & Rock, 1994). Exemplary programs in
teacher education also placed heavy emphasis on subject matter pedagogy and its interface with
educational theory and field experiences; special education programs tended to focus on more
generic pedagogy (e.g., instructional methods, assessment, individualized education plans,
collaboration). Only in the case of unified programs (e.g., see Affleck & Lowenbraum, 1995;
Meyer, Mager, Yarger-Kane, Sarno, & Hext-Contreras, 1997; Norlander, Case, Reagan,
Campbell, & Strauch, 1997; Ryan, et al., 1997) and a few special education programs (Epanchin
& Wooley-Brown, 1993; Giovani, Zide, & Banahoan, 1974; Lovingfoss, et al., 2001) did faculty
focus on the integration of subject matter pedagogy with special education and classroom
practice. Many of the programs accomplished this integration by infusing special education
competencies into subject-specific pedagogical course work or teaching courses in integrated
Special education programs were distinguished from the exemplary teacher education programs
(and we suspect general education teacher education programs overall) in terms of the amount
federal funding received. A number of special education programs were funded through
USDOE's OSEP (Goodwin, et al., 1994; Snell, et al., 1997; Grisham-Brown, et al., 2000;
Kemple, et al., 1994; Miller, et al., 1999). There is no similar funding source in general
education. These funded programs typically focused on specific needs within special education,
such as preparing sufficient numbers of teachers to serve students with severe disabilities or
preparing teachers to work in inclusive environments. This demonstrates OSEP's commitment to
ensuring an adequate number of special education teachers for all children/youth with disabilities
and that students are educated successfully in inclusive environments (Engleman & Maddox,
1997; Ludlow, 1994; Grisham-Brown, et al., 2000; Miller, et al., 1999). What we do not know is
how similar funded programs are to other programs offered at the same institution. These funded
programs provide support for faculty to implement practices (e.g., extensive field supervision
and program evaluation) that they may not ordinarily have the funds to do. Additionally, these
funded programs may not be well integrated with long-term programs at the institution, because
the sustainability of these programs beyond the funding cycle is questionable.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
Research in special education teacher education is almost non-existent. Only a few experimental
studies have examined the effects of different pedagogical approaches on the learning of
preservice students in special education. As in general education, the special education
community desperately needs comparative research that documents the characteristics of
effective teacher education programs. This comparative research is important, because policy
and program decisions involve choices between different ways of preparing teachers. These
choices are shrouded in increasingly contentious debates as teacher shortages reach crisis
proportions. Findings from comparative research can inform the education community about
what is needed to prepare quality teachers. Determining how to make these comparisons is
difficult, given that teacher education programs (both traditional and alternative in general and
special education) vary considerably (Wenglinsky, 2000; Wilson, et al., 2001). Researchers need
ways to characterize programs for further study so that more useful comparisons can be made.
The common characteristics identified in this literature review can provide one vehicle for
selecting programs that will result in more useful research comparisons.
In making recommendations for future comparative studies, we draw heavily on the work of
Suzanne Wilson and her colleagues (2001), who recently have provided an extensive review of
the teacher education literature. As in general education, researchers external to the teacher
education institutions under study must conduct comparative studies that accountfor differences
in preservice and inservice teacher populations, provide both broad generalizations about
effective teacher education and in-depth information about program features, and link program
features to valued criterion measures (Wilson, et al., 2001 To date, researchers in general
education have studied their own institutions; thus, the samples are limited and the credibility of
the studies questionable. Large-scale comparative studies (e.g., the AACTE, NCRTL, and IRA
studies) can help rectify these concerns; however, it will be imperative that such studies look at
the influence of different program features on comparable student bodies. Having students who
are comparable in terms of verbal ability is important, given the role it is believed to play in
teacher performance (Walsh, 2001).
Additionally, studies must include quantitative and qualitative methodologies that, taken
together, can support robust generalizations about teacher education and provide rich
explanations of programs. Robust generalizations can inform state and national policy, and
teacher-educators can draw on information provided by in-depth studies to develop and revise
their current programs. Moreover, we need consensus about the criterion measures to be used to
determine the effectiveness of teacher education programs. Criterion measures, at a minimum,
must include valid and reliable measures of teacher knowledge and behavior. In determining
these measures, we must come to terms with what makes an effective special education teacher,
and how indicators of effectiveness might vary by level of disability, by the role played by the
special education teacher, and by the context of instruction (i.e., urban, rural, and suburban
settings). Otherwise, it will be impossible to tie program features to what teachers actually learn
We must also determine how teacher knowledge, skill, and practice contribute to student
outcomes across the disability spectrum. Making these linkages is challenging, because
researchers in special education cannot simply rely on standardized national and state
assessments, as many studies in general education have done. Nevertheless, without linkages
between teacher knowledge and skills and student achievement, practitioners and policy makers
cannot evaluate the effectiveness of special education teacher education.
Future studies must investigate the role of subject matter knowledge in special education
practice. This research is particularly important in special education, because preservice students
are often not prepared in a subject area. Research in teacher education, although inconclusive,
(Wilson, et al., 2001 suggests that subject matter preparation results in improved outcomes for
students, but that teacher educators need to know what effective subject matter preparation looks
like. AACTE studies demonstrated that in programs identified as exemplary, subject matter
preparation was carefully linked to course work in pedagogy and educational foundations as well
as to clinical experiences. However, these studies provide no data on the pedagogy used by
subject area faculty. We also need to know what adequate subject matter preparation looks like
when teachers are responsible for teaching multiple subjects to students with varying disabilities
in a variety of contexts (e.g., resource room, consulting teacher, co-teacher). In the IRA studies,
teachers extensively prepared in literacy did not feel more prepared to teach mathematics than
comparable graduates from more generic elementary education programs (Flint, et al., 2001).
These findings are relevant to special education teachers who often teach or provide consultation
in a variety of subject areas and serve students with varying disabilities across several grade
We need to know how methods courses, foundations courses, and field experiences contribute,
singularly and in interaction i/th one another, to the preparation of beginning special education
teachers (see Wilson, et al., 2001) and how these contributions might differ in unified
preparation programs versus more traditional special education programs. In elementary and
special education, where students are being prepared across multiple subject areas, educational
methods and foundations courses as well as field experiences constitute most, if not all, of the
course of study in a teacher preparation program. Special education programs tend to provide
methods instruction that is not tied to a specific content area; elementary programs and many
unified preparation programs tend to address pedagogy in reading, mathematics, science, and
How do these differences in pedagogical preparation affect the knowledge and practice
of a beginning special education teacher?
Is knowledge about teaching students with disabilities sufficiently infused in unified
Do unified programs adequately prepare teachers to meet the needs of students with
Are students prepared in stand-alone special education programs able to teach content
adequately in resource and self-contained settings or to contribute to the knowledge of
general education teachers in collaborative relationships?
In addition to knowing how course work contributes to beginning teacher practice, we need to
know what constitutes effective teacher education pedagogy. In special education, we have spent
the majority of our time describing the content preservice students should learn in teacher
education; however, we do not know if the pedagogical practices used in our teacher education
course work help novice teachers acquire and apply that content. In general education, teacher
educators promote active pedagogy that fosters reflective classroom practice. That is, general
educators adopt a constructivist perspective on teacher learning. Our review of teacher education
practices reveals that many programs, particularly those focusing on cultural diversity or unified
teacher education, are using more constructive pedagogy; however, some teacher education
programs in special education continue to rely on pedagogy that is grounded in positivist theories
of learning. As such, we are left with some basic questions about the comparative effectiveness
of these approaches to teacher learning.
Because clinical experiences are more effective when they are tied to teacher education course
work (Wideen, et al, 1998; Wilson, et al., 2001), we need to know more about how schools and
colleges collaborate to provide teacher education, how these collaborations affect the design of
clinical experiences, and how collaboration iihi parents fits into these relationships. We also
need to know how clinical experiences influence the beliefs and practices of beginning special
education teachers working in various instructional contexts. Experiences that help a beginning
teacher to be effective with students with mild cognitive disabilities may or may not be similar to
those needed by teachers of students with severe and profound cognitive disabilities.
In conducting teacher education research, we need to recognize that not all preservice special
education teachers have the same learning needs. Because of the chronic need for teachers in
special education, it is critical that we understand what effective preparation looks like for
different populations ofpreservice teachers. Many teachers prepared through alternative routes
may already have extensive backgrounds in special education and/or pedagogy. They may be
teachers working on emergency certification in a special education classroom, former general
education teachers wishing to teach children with disabilities, or parents entering teaching as a
second career. The knowledge and preparation these mature adults need are likely to be quite
different from what is needed by traditional college students.
In addition to providing linkages between teacher preparation, beginning teacher quality, and
student achievement, teacher education research in special education needs to consider
contextual variables (e.g., working conditions in schools that may mediate a program's
effectiveness. We need to understand how teacher preparation and contextual variables interact;
otherwise, we will be unable to discern if a teacher's performance is the result of his/her
preparation program or the conditions encountered in the initial years of teaching. Current
evidence in general education suggests that the workplace has a powerful influence on whether
or not teachers maintain what they have learned in their teacher education programs (Zeichner &
Hoeft, 1996). Higher attrition rates in special education suggest that beginning special education
teachers may encounter difficult working conditions that thwart their attempts to operationalize
what they learned in their preservice programs.
Finally, we need more research to examine the impact of OSEP funding on the preparation of
special education teachers. To date, we know little about the impact of OSEP-funded programs
on teacher quality or retention in special education. Additionally, we do not know about the
sustainability of OSEP-funded programs and what institutional factors affect the sustainability of
these projects. Given the significant investment of federal dollars in the preparation of special
education teachers, we need to know a good deal more about the impact of this investment.
At a time when teacher education is coming under severe scrutiny, a rigorous research agenda,
such as the one we have just outlined, seems more critical than ever. We need greater
commitment on the part of the federal government and professional organizations (e.g., AACTE
and IRA) to fund multi-institutional, longitudinal studies of teacher education. Recently, the
USDOE's OSEP and OSER have funded two large-scale studies of teacher education (e.g., the
Center for the Study of Teaching Policy and the Center for Personnel Studies in Special
Education). These research centers will add to the knowledge base already provided through the
Teacher Education and Learning to Teach, AACTE, and IRA studies. Although these research
efforts have or will provide critical knowledge to inform the education community, they are not
sufficient to inform a healthy research agenda. The teacher education enterprise is incredibly
complex, particularly in special education where beginning teachers play so many different roles
and serve students with such diverse needs. Consequently, the special education research
community needs sufficient support to address these complexities and to establish a professional
knowledge base in teacher education that can rival the knowledge base for the instructional
innovation literature for students with disabilities.
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