Increasing the Number of Special Education Teachers to Accommodate a Growing Number of Students with Special Needs
The New Jersey Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) is responsible for administering all federal funds distributed in the state for special education assistance, and for monitoring and collecting statistics on the education and outcomes for all students in the state with disabilities between the ages of 3 and 21.
According to the most recent reports, there are more than 230,000 students with special needs enrolled throughout New Jersey’s 616 public school districts, representing about 16 percent of the state’s total student population. This is significantly higher than the national average of 13 percent, and OSEP has been working hard to ensure these students have everything they need to learn and thrive. Hiring highly dedicated, master’s-educated special educators is only one of many steps they are taking to improve the state school system.
New Programs Rely on Dedicated Master’s Prepared Educators to Drive Better Outcomes
Driven in part by a dramatic uptick in autism and Asperger’s diagnoses, in 2011 the U.S. Department of Education named New Jersey among the states that need assistance when it comes to special education. According to the New Jersey Department of Education’s analysis of special education funding, autism-spectrum issues alone comprise more than 17 percent of high-cost special education students.
The state legislature created a special Task Force on Improving Special Education for Public School Students, led largely by educators who hold advanced degrees in special education. From the Task Force, two different programs emerged to assist special education efforts in the state:
- Universal Design for Learning Supports (UDL) – Offers educators a blueprint for creating curriculums that would give all individuals an equal opportunity to learn
- New Jersey Tiered System of Supports (NJTSS) – A framework of supports and interventions designed to improve student achievement
The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has also allowed individual schools and districts to apply for grants to fund specific special education programs, in some cases delivering over $1 million in additional program funding over the basic state allocation. The money goes to programs and materials that make a big difference in the classrooms for special needs students every day.
A Bright Future for New Jersey’s Special Education Programs
The Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN) has been made available to help keep parents of special needs students plugged in to education and healthcare services and provide a forum for special educators to help inform and empower parents of children with special educational needs.
This partnership between teachers and parents works to assist special needs students in a holistic way that ensures a greater level of continuity and cohesion between what happens at school and what happens at home.
In particular, the Parent Training and Information Center makes available some of the same resources special ed teachers use when working with special needs students in the classroom. By presenting a united front at home and in the schools, together New Jersey’s parents and educators are beginning to make inroads in special education that will benefit students throughout their lives.
Today, with these programs in place, the federal Department of Education now recognizes New Jersey to be among the states that meet the needs of their special education students. Master’s-prepared teachers have the skills, training, and preparation to make the new programs work and deliver big value on the additional investments.
The improvement in special services education is obvious across the state—one of the finalists for the 2016 New Jersey Teacher of the Year award was a 5th grade special education teacher, a high honor for any teacher. Jeanette Wehner’s efforts to integrate both special and general education students in a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) program have been lauded around the state.