Recently passed Pennsylvania legislation changes how special education teachers become certified, and, while other institutions are scrambling to comply, Clarion University is ahead of the curve.
In 2008, in reaction to No Child Left Behind, Pennsylvania mandated that special education certifications be split into grades pre-K to grade 4 and grades 7-12, according to Dr. Gwyneth Price, director of Clarion’s School of Education. At the same time, the state mandated that a special education teacher also had to be certified in a content area such as math, English or social studies.
“As a result of the mandates, there is a severe shortage of qualified special education teachers, and the state has changed its mind,” Price said. “Anyone getting certified after January 2022 will not need a separate content area, and special education certification will cover grades pre-K to 12 (or age 21).”
As a leader in teacher preparation programs, Clarion University anticipated such a result. The university complied with the mandates but continued to prepare special education majors according to best practices and according to how schools hire for these positions.
“Special education is, in itself, a much more complex set of skills than most people think,” said Dr. Rick Sabousky, chair of the special education department. “Special educators are very involved in activities across the school life of those with disabilities. These activities range from helping some students negotiate the general classroom setting to pull-out-style programs teaching reading, mathematics and even content areas like science and social studies. Special educators are also helping facilitate the transition from school to adult life.”
Sabousky said schools are looking for flexibility when hiring educators. The new legislation allows them to hire one person who could work in the elementary setting part of the day and a high school setting another part of the day.
Clarion’s Intervention Specialist Program, vital since 2008, features unique courses focusing on evidence-based pedagogy.
“We had a pretty strong indication that the number of secondary special educators would be very limited, so we set out to create a program that would produce a new kind of professional that could fill that void but also have a unique skill set,” Sabousky said. “Since the law allowed ‘Reading Specialist’ – a K-12 certification – to go along with special education, and reading is typically the largest area of need in special education, we combined the two. We also added unique mathematics methods courses, as well as courses in behavior disorders of children and youth, learning disabilities and a variety of field placements. The graduates from this groundbreaking 3+2 program have been and continue to be in high demand.”
The intervention specialist program combines special education preparation at the undergraduate level, special reading education, and mathematics content knowledge and methods to ensure that individuals with specific learning needs and diverse abilities, who are entitled to a free, and appropriate quality education utilizing specialized teaching, receive it at all age levels. Upon completion of the program, students will earn a Bachelor of Science in special education degree, a M.S. in special education degree, and be prepared to sit for the examinations required by the Pennsylvania Department of Education for special education as well as reading specialist certification.
Sabousky said now that Governor Wolfe has signed this new legislation into law, other schools in the commonwealth will be working to catch up and react to the new mandates.
“Due to the Intervention Specialist program, Clarion University’s Department of Special Education is already uniquely positioned to meet the new demands. We can offer incoming students the new preK-21 certification as a standalone four-year degree, or students can continue on to one of two master’s degrees in an accelerated fashion,” he said. “All students, current and prospective, can be confident that they will receive the preparation necessary to meet the requirements for certification and be highly effective special educators,” Sabousky said.