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Release: April 10, 2001

UI endorsement offers hope for special education teacher shortage

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- To help combat a statewide shortage of certified special education teachers, the University of Iowa College of Education is launching an undergraduate endorsement that will give new teachers the necessary skills to fill these positions immediately after graduation.

Currently, undergraduates receive certification in elementary or secondary education, teach for several years and then return to the UI for its graduate program in special education. But Gary Sasso, Ph.D., a professor in the UI College of Education, said demand for special education has grown so great in Iowa and nationally that the college decided to offer students more comprehensive training and certification in special education while they're undergraduates.

"Until now education undergraduates who wanted to teach special education had to petition the state for an emergency certificate," Sasso said. "In turn, they had to promise the state that they would eventually get certified. The problem, of course, is that you get people in special education classrooms who are not fully certified."

One recent national study says there is a "critical" shortage of personnel to meet the needs of children with disabilities. In 1997-98, more than 4,000 special education teaching positions were vacant, and an additional 32,000 special education teachers were not fully certified for their positions. In Iowa, an estimated 10 to 30 percent of special education teachers have conditional certification.

Demand for special education certification is high at the UI, as well, Sasso said. Of 150 students recently asked informally whether they planned to seek special education endorsement, more than half raised their hands.

Even students who don't plan to teach exclusively in special education classrooms could benefit from the certification, Sasso said. Due to inclusion practices, many regular education classrooms are "muticategorical" -- meaning they include both special education and typical students. Coursework required for the new certification -- including classes in behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, and assessing students' needs, as well as a practicum and student-teaching experience -- will provide students the skills and knowledge necessary to successfully manage such classrooms and teach students with special needs.

This fall's pilot certification program will be limited to 25 students who will work toward dual certification -- elementary education and special education. Depending on the program's success, it could be expanded in two or three years.

"We think this could have a pretty immediate impact on the shortage," Sasso said. "Students who start taking the certification classes this fall will be hitting the job market in just a couple years."