The number of students enrolled in special education programs is on the rise, according to numerous sources in education:

  • Over the past decade, the number of students in the United States enrolled in special education programs has risen 30 percent, according to the National Education Association (NEA).
  • Nearly six million students with disabilities attend public schools in the U.S., reports the Education Week Research Center.
  • Students receiving special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Part B, make up roughly 9 percent of all six-to-21-year-olds.
  • And, New Jersey has the largest percentage of students receiving these special education services, at 11.6 percent, according to the Institute on Disability.

Along with those statistics, three out of every four students with disabilities spends at least 40 percent of their school day in regular classrooms, alongside peers without disabilities, according to NEA. The result is an increased need for teachers trained to face the additional challenges of teaching students with a wide variety of disabilities, even as general educators.

With the increase in accommodating more children in inclusion classrooms, Monmouth University has seen increased enrollment in our special education programs, and has added programs and requirements to meet the growing need for special education teachers.

In fact, many of the superintendents and principals in the 30 New Jersey school districts that Monmouth University works with advise teacher candidates that they will be more marketable if they add the special education or ESL (English as a Second Language) endorsement, even if they intend to work as a general educator.

State Board of Ed Calls for Stronger Preparation of Teachers Last fall, the New Jersey State Board of Education adopted regulations to update teacher preparation and certification requirements for all teachers, affecting both “Certificate of Eligibility with Advanced Standing” (CEAS), formerly termed “traditional route” and “Certificate of Eligibility”(CE), formerly “alternate route” educator preparation programs. The regulations include the following changes for CEAS candidates and preparation programs:

Minimum GPA for entry into a program has been raised from an individual candidate’s 2.5 to ‘cohort average’ of 3.0, with no individual below a 2.75;

Passage of basic skills assessment is required prior to starting coursework in a program (the Praxis Core Academic Skills Test is currently being used) and;

Passage of a performance-based assessment is required for certification for candidates.

The New Jersey Department of Education is now working with educator preparation programs to prepare for full implementation of the edTPA, the new exam that teacher candidates will need to pass to earn certification, starting in the 2017-2018 school year. The edTPA is the first and only nationally-available, educator-designed, subject-specific performance assessment for beginning teachers. It is built on a deep analysis and understanding of what constitutes effective teaching and learning.

In addition to these updates, New Jersey will also require extended clinical components to support rich and relevant school-based work prior to full-time teaching.

There are two clinical components all teachers must complete: clinical experience, or “practicum,” and clinical practice, or “student teaching.” Practicum is designed to connect theory to practice by affording teacher candidates opportunities to observe and assist with student learning. Student teaching serves as the culminating field-based experience or internship, where teacher candidates gradually take on more classroom responsibility, and ultimately demonstrate their ability to lead student learning.

Monmouth Helps Students Get Ahead for Special Ed The new requirements will enable teacher candidates to experience a full PreK- 12 school year during the clinical components of their training. While not mandated yet, Monmouth University is among the first institutions of higher education in New Jersey to pilot the more rigorous clinical components, to gradually increase candidates’ responsibility in an educational setting.

Monmouth University’s School of Education offers an abundance of options for aspiring educators. Specifically addressing the growing need for teachers certified in special education, Monmouth offers a degree in PreK-3 education with a concentration in various subjects, along with a Teacher of Students with Disabilities endorsement; and a number of five-year Baccalaureate/Master’s programs, which allow a student to complete both an undergraduate degree and a Special Education graduate program in Teacher of Students with Disabilities, in just five years.

Monmouth’s graduate education endorsement and certification programs include:

  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA);
  • Autism;
  • Teacher of Students with Disabilities (endorsement);
  • Learning Disabilities Teacher-Consultant (post-master’s endorsement);
  • English as a Second Language (ESL) (endorsement)

To assist working teachers seeking to add to their training, most of Monmouth’s education offerings are hybrid programs – a combination of in-class and online. Some are exclusively online.  For example, both ABA and Autism certificate programs can be completed entirely online.

How is New Jersey Faring? New Jersey’s teachers benefit from exposure to a variety of professional experience, to help prepare them to meet the challenges of educating students with a wide variety of abilities. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced No Child Left Behind (NCLB), requires that states test at least 95 percent of their students with disabilities and include the test scores of students with disabilities in school ratings. The theory is that by analyzing students with disabilities data, you can evaluate your school’s demographics and compare your school to other schools and districts across the country. 

Data from the federal Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs indicates that while only 65.2 percent of students with disabilities (ages 14-21) graduate with a regular high school diploma, an impressive 84.8 percent of New Jersey’s classified students earn a high school diploma, and graduate with their peers. In comparison, the national average for all public high school students is 81 percent. (National Center for Education Statistics, 2015)

In New Jersey there are new, increasingly stringent teacher preparation and certification requirements and increased accountability for working teachers to prepare students for standardized tests. Truly preparing our future educators to weather the changing climate, and arming them with the ability to educate not only mainstream students, but all students, has never been more vital.

Wendy Harriott, Ph.D. is associate dean of the School of Education at Monmouth University.

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