Michigan Continues to Rely on Master’s Educated Teachers to Serve its Students with Special Education Needs
Michigan’s schools, led by Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, are making significant strides in special education by creating tiered systems designed to help students as their needs change throughout their academic careers. The philosophy of the multi-tiered systems of support involves recognizing that every student “needs varying levels of support to achieve their highest potential.”
Lt. Gov. Calley and the task force on special education have set forth no less than 26 recommendations that represent a long-term cultural shift in the way Michigan schools serve students with special education needs. Some of the recommendations include:
- Enacting a law limiting the use of seclusion and restraint on students in emergency situations
- Reinstating an appeals process for special education complaints
- Using mediators to resolve special education complaints
- Analyzing mediation data to create a better process of solving special education problems
- Ensuring the process for developing special education rules is transparent
- Ensuring that parents and guardians are fully informed about procedures and problem-solving options
According to Calley, schools should build services around the needs of kids, rather than creating services based on a child’s special education label or diagnosis. He also said that students with special needs should be served in the general education classroom whenever possible and that schools should make every effort to adopt positive behavior intervention and support programs.
Rising Numbers of Special Education Students
During the 2014-15 school year, 13.3 percent of Michigan’s student population—about 206,000 students—needed special education services. Rural and urban districts had an even higher percentage of special education students than suburban districts, although 2014 statistics showed that the number of students with special education designations varied from district to district:
- The Mount Clemens School District in Southeastern Michigan had the highest percentage of special education students, at 26.5 percent.
- In Macomb County, 36 percent of the school districts had a higher percentage than the state average.
- The Wyandotte School District had the highest percentage of special education students among Districts in Wayne County at 24.7 percent.
- About 18 percent of the student body of the Detroit Public Schools was categorized as special needs during the 2014-15 school year.
Students in Michigan receive special education services designed to serve young learners with 13 different types of disabilities:
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Cognitive Impairment
- Early Childhood Development Delay
- Emotional Impairment
- Hearing Impairment
- Physical Impairment
- Severe Multiple Impairment
- Specific Learning Disability
- Speech and Language Impairment
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Visual Impairment
- Other Health Impairments
Michigan’s Integrated Behavior and Learning Support Initiative
Michigan’s Integrated Behavior and Learning Support Initiative, which receives both federal and state funds, encourages in-classroom support for struggling students in the early grades. Although all students complete the same lessons, the program provides additional support and extra time for students with special needs to ease the burden on schools with a high number of students with special educational needs.
The Integrated Behavior and Learning Support Initiative, which now includes 23 intermediate school districts and 28 local school districts, costs about $4.7 annually—$3.3 million of which comes from the state.
The ultimate goal of the initiative is to provide consistency in special education identification and services throughout the state. Interestingly, the special education referral rate for the 43 Michigan schools participating in the program dropped by 25 percent between the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years. At the same time, middle school reading proficiency increased 22 percent and students requiring intensive reading support dropped 29 percent.
How One Special Education Teacher in Michigan Engages Her Special Needs Students
Nancy Cool, a Kent County teacher known for her commitment to her special needs students, was honored with an Excellence in Education award from the Michigan Lottery in 2016. The Excellence in Education award recognizes outstanding public school teachers across the state every school year.
Nancy teaches at the Pine Grove Learning Center in Grand Rapids, which is part of the Grand Rapids Public Schools. She earned a BS from Trenton State College and then went on to earn her master’s degree in special education from Oakland University. She furthered her special education knowledge base by taking courses on working with young learners with learning disabilities and autism.
Nancy originally started her teaching career as a physical education teacher, but she soon realized she had a special knack for teaching children with special needs. She now works with students within the autism spectrum disorder from ages 5 to 14, many of whom have sensory and behavioral issues.
She regularly motivates her special education students by introducing them to new learning opportunities, such as a sensory garden, which allows students with disabilities to taste, touch, and smell herbs and plants.