Colorado Desperately Needs Special Education Teachers with Master’s Degrees
Right now, the demand for master’s prepared special education teachers is particularly acute in non-metropolitan areas, a phenomenon discussed in Colorado Public Radio’s September 2015 article, “A Colorado Teacher Shortage Puts Rural Schools on the Brink of Crisis.” Considering that special education teachers are perennially in demand, this current shortage means that, “special education teachers are especially coveted,” as the article states. Teachers with graduate credentials are in such high demand that School District #16 in Garfield County is offering to pay for its teachers to go to school and earn a master’s degree.
From 2001 until 2014 the number of Colorado K-12 students with special needs has climbed from 78,715 to 90,904. That represents an increase of about 13 percent. Among a total statewide student population of 747,541 that means more than one in 10 students has some type of disability. Current data shows a more specific breakdown of the number of students with special needs in Colorado (US Department of Education):
- 32,967 students with a specific learning disability
- 13,231 students with a speech or language impediment
- 6,653 students with emotional disturbances
- 4,037 students on the autism spectrum
- 2,915 students with an intellectual disability
- 1,271 students with hearing impairment
- 523 students with traumatic brain injuries
- 299 students with visual impairments
Since 2001, funding for Colorado’s special education programs has also increased, with budgetary allowances for education growing by $1.15 billion to the present 2016-2017 school year’s level of $6.3 billion. Funding for special education is derived from three main sources in the following approximations:
- 70 percent of funds come from a school district’s general budget, which is a percentage of the state’s total education budget
- 20 percent of funds come directly from state sources to a school/district for specialized staff and materials
- 10 percent of funds come from federal sources directly to administrative units
Colorado Provides Equal Education Opportunities for Every Student
Special education in Colorado is designed to allow each student to reach their full academic and social potential. This starts at the state level with the Colorado Department of Education’s Office of Special Education. While this agency plays an important role at the state level, it’s easier to see how master’s-prepared special education teachers are helping their students on a local level. Denver Public Schools is a good place to start. This district offers a range of programs and resources for students with special needs, including:
Speech Language Pathology Department – Composed of 100 speech pathologists this department provides diagnostic and adaptive resources for students with speech issues; specializations include autism, language disorders, stuttering, phonology, and response to intervention processes.
Office of Social and Emotional Learning – This agency offers resources for students with extra social and emotional needs.
Gifted and Talented Department – Many special needs students belong in advanced programs for gifted students where they are also entitled to accommodation for their disability.
Department of Psychological and Social Work Services – This department provides extra help for students with varying levels of psychological challenges including those stemming from a hectic home environment.
Department of Special Education – This department is dedicated to providing an educational experience grounded on the unique needs of each child.
18-21 Transition Program – This program helps students gain the credits they need to graduate with individualized assistance as well as guidance in transitioning to the workforce, college, and independent living.
Assistive Technology Student Services – This agency allows public school students to obtain any type of assistive technology they need to allow them to be active learners in their classrooms, such as audio amplification devices, specialized computer programs, iPads, laptops, and more.
Master’s Prepared Special Education Teachers In the Local Community
Colorado is home to a wide array of special education teachers with advanced training in many different backgrounds. One great example is Vicky Nissen, hailing from Colorado Springs’ Ray E. Kilmer Elementary School in Lewis-Palmer School District #38. Nissen takes a humble approach to her profession, noting, “I did not choose teaching; teaching chose me.” She earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education special education, and her master’s degree in special education with a focus in acoustic handicaps.
In her classroom it’s second nature to prepare students for academic success and meet their needs. What Nissen puts extra attention into is building relationships: relationships with her students, with her students’ families, and with her fellow colleagues. Mastering the human-side of special education, Nissen also applies what she learned in graduate school on a daily basis using tools like:
- MTSS Process (multi-tiered system of support)
- Research-based best practices
- Data collection and analysis
- Differentiating instruction
- Standards-based instruction