In Delaware, Special Education Teachers with Advanced Education are in High Demand
Despite having the third-highest concentration of special education teachers of all states in the nation, Delaware is still working to meet the demand for these professionals – especially those who have graduate-level training. In a Delaware Online piece – “Delaware special education needs are growing sharply” – the Secretary of Education described a plan to spend 6.9 percent more in 2017 than in 2016. This increased spending is spurred by the fact that the state’s school system saw an additional 848 special needs students enrolled between 2015 and 2016.
That is a huge increase, especially when considering that Delaware has a significantly higher percentage of disabled public school students than the national average. Out of a total of around 118,000 students, about 17,000 qualify for special education services. That represents 14.4 percent of the state’s student body, compared with the national average of 12.9 percent.
Shown here is a breakdown of disabilities among Delaware students best served by teachers with advanced degrees in special education (US Department of Education):
- 8,765 students with a specific learning disability
- 1,604 students with an intellectual disability
- 1,486 students with a speech or language impediment
- 944 students on the autism spectrum
- 720 students with emotional disturbances
- 224 students with hearing impairment
- 59 students with visual impairments
- 59 students with traumatic brain injuries
- 59 students who are deaf and/or blind
Funding for special education comes mostly from state and local sources, with some federal funding mixed in as well. Districts receive grants from the state to pay for education based on their enrollment figures; schools with a higher percentage of special needs students are allocated more. The US Department of Labor reports that in 2015 special education teachers in kindergarten, elementary school, and secondary school earned a combined total of $84.1 million.
Fiscal year 2017’s education budget includes the following funds, part of which go towards funding special ed (source: Delaware Office of Management and Development):
- $76.4 million for public education projects
- $15.8 million to maintain classroom size
- $9.4 million for continuing projects that support access to early learning programs for low-income children
How Delaware is Supporting Students with Special Needs
Special education funding supports a wide range of important programs and accommodations that ensure students with unique needs have access to the same kind of quality education as any other student in the state. Delaware’s system of support is activated when a parent or teacher notices that a student is struggling in class. At this point they can request an official inquiry known as an Educational Evaluation.
An evaluation that involves a team of special education teachers with advanced degrees and experience, school staff, counselors, the student, the student’s parents, and additional experts, will look for underlying factors and determine if special education is the right solution.
If the Education Evaluation results in the conclusion that special education is needed then the team will meet with the child, parents, and special education teachers to create an Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP details the special education resources the student can access, and can include any of the following:
- Use of assistive resources or technology
- One-on-one extra help or counseling from a special ed teacher in a general population classroom
- Individually focused teaching in a separate special education classroom
- Supplemental instruction in a separate classroom during the day, after school, or during the summer
- Transfer of the student to a different school that specializes in accommodating students with similar special needs
How Special Education Looks in Delaware Classrooms
To get a real sense of how special education looks on the ground we can take Wilmington’s Christina School District as an example. Students qualifying for special education here automatically get:
- Inclusive practices – this means that students with disabilities are educated with their non-disabled classmates to the greatest extent possible or appropriate
- Transition services – these are extra resources for students and their families that help with the transition between school and adult life
- Access to the REACH Program (realistic educational alternatives for children with disabilities) if needed – a separate school in Wilmington that provides comprehensive education for students with significant intellectual abilities aged five to 21 years old
- Access to the Delaware Autism Program at Brennen School in Newark, if needed – this is an entire school with master’s-prepared special education teachers who specialize in working with students on the autism spectrum
Students whose Individualized Education Program specifies extra assistance at their local school may find themselves in a similar situation to students at Bancroft Elementary School in Wilmington’s Trinity Vicinity neighborhood. Bancroft’s special education program serves students with special needs that include instruction in a separate classroom. Here students in grades K-2 will encounter language arts and mathematics teacher Kristin Roberts.
Roberts was inspired to get her master’s degree in elementary special education after helping her younger brother as he struggled with a learning disability throughout his school years. This gave her the opportunity to see what it was like to be a student with a disability firsthand. Through this experience she realized, “a teacher can make a life-changing impact on a child’s life.” Actively involved in promoting and improving the quality of special education and students’ lives at her school, Roberts earned the district’s 2016-2017 Teacher of the Year award.