Demand for Master’s Prepared Special Ed Teachers is Rising in the District of Columbia
District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) reports that between 2013 and 2016 the number of special education teacher positions increased remarkably. The biggest increase was as the elementary level, where 59 new professionals were hired. Seven new special ed teachers joined the District’s middle schools while the number of high school special education teachers remained constant.
Over the three-year time span, this marks a 25 percent increase in the total number of special education teachers in the entire district:
- 2013 – 591 special education teachers
- 2014 – 659 special education teachers
- 2015 – 701 special education teachers
- 2016 – 738.5 special education teachers
The most recent special education teacher additions since 2015 have been in the following five wards:
- Ward 1 – 2 new special education teachers
- Ward 3 – 4.5 new special education teachers
- Ward 8 – 5.5 new special education teachers
- Ward 6 – 12.5 new special education teachers
- Ward 7 – 23.5 new special education teachers
These increases have been in response to the rising demand for special ed teachers, which is further highlighted by DCPS’s new school devoted entirely to special education. Ensuring that DC’s students with special needs have an equal access to quality education is vital for the future, and is also the law of the land. Of the 56,000 students in the District of Columbia, approximately 20 percent qualify for special education accommodation (US DOE). That is one in five, or around 11,200 total students.
Disabilities vary with most students falling into one of these categories, according to the DOE:
- 4,522 students with a specific learning disability
- 1,478 students with emotional disturbances
- 1,400 students with multiple disabilities
- 875 students with an intellectual disability
- 792 students with a speech or language impediment
- 491 students on the autism spectrum
- 39 students with hearing impairment
- 28 students with traumatic brain injuries
In fiscal year 2016 the total amount allocated to special education was $98.96 million, an increase of $2.4 million over the previous year.
What Special Education Looks Like in Washington DC
District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) has four primary goals for its special education programs:
- Increase academic performance
- Include more students
- Better prepare students for the workforce and college
- Involve students’ families in their child’s success
A good place to observe how special education looks in action is the River Terrace Special Education Center. This new special education school opened in 2015 and serves students with profound intellectual disabilities as well as those who have medically complicated situations, visual impairment, hearing impairment, and autism. Serving the most disabled one percent of students in DC, 100 percent of River Terrace’s students have special needs and have access to the school’s many resources:
- Common Core-based academic standards for education
- Reading education programs
- Math education programs
- Blended online and classroom learning programs
- Art, music, and life skills education
- Hospitality, horticulture, and health services
- Physical education that includes aquatics, dance, sports, and special Olympics
Master’s prepared teachers provide one-on-one assistance in each of these programs to meet students’ individual special needs.
DC’s Outstanding Master’s-Prepared Special Education Teachers
While the River Terrace Special Education Center is a great example of the resources available for special needs students in DC, there are also plenty of special education programs within local schools throughout the district.
Eastern Senior High School is a great example of such a school, which is positioned to become the highest performing comprehensive high school in Washington DC by 2020. The school’s Autism Inclusion program pairs special education teachers with high functioning autistic students to give them additional resources for developing academic and social skills.
Not only has this program earned accolades for its student successes, one of its special education teachers was recently awarded the Washington Post Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award. Presented to teachers who encourage quality and creative instruction while substantially improving education in the District, Monique Marshall-Ferguson was happy to accept the award out of recognition of the work she does with high functioning autism students in an inclusive setting.
Pursuing a master’s degree in special education hasn’t gotten in the way of outstanding teaching, and all of Marshall-Ferguson’s students in the Autism Inclusion Program are on track to graduate with their peers.