Master’s-educated Special Educators Making a Difference For North Carolina’s Exceptional Children
Unlike most states, North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction doesn’t refer to its special needs programs as “special education.” Instead, these programs fall under the auspices of the Exceptional Children Division, which ensures that students with disabilities develop intellectually, emotionally, and vocationally right along with the general student population.
Like every other state, however, North Carolina has been hit with a wave of children with diagnoses of Asperger’s syndrome or other autism spectrum disorders. According to the Autism Society of North Carolina, ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) is the second most common developmental disability found in the state, with roughly 1 in every 58 children in North Carolina suffering from the disorder.
Although that is a higher diagnosis rate than what is found in most of the country, North Carolina has only around 12 percent of its student population registered in Individual Education Programs (IEP), slightly less than the national average of around 13 percent.
Federal Funding Helps to Hire Master’s-Prepared Special Educators
The state spends around $4,000 annually for each of those special needs students, with a variety of specialized grant and funding programs in place to cover the cost. Additionally, the federal IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) offers school and district-specific grants. From the state and federal level, more funds than ever have been made available to North Carolina schools for the purpose of hiring an adequate number of master’s-prepared special education teachers to accommodate the needs of the state’s exceptional students.
Despite the fact that the state has been on the IDEA “Needs Assistance” list for more than two years running now, the Exceptional Children Division has been successful in working to improve graduation rates among special needs students from a low of 49 percent in 2006 up to 62 percent by 2013.
The state uses a program called Child Find to detect and evaluate potential IEP-candidate students early on in their school career. By helping parents and teachers both identify students with possible challenges, the state ensures that exceptional children are given the assistance they need as quickly as possible.
Recognition for One Special Education Teacher on the Way to a Master’s Degree
Overcoming budgetary issues to provide the best possible education to special needs kids takes more than a big heart—it also takes advanced training in working with disadvantaged populations. Today’s crop of teachers working in special education are getting those lessons by studying for master’s degrees in the field, and the effort is paying off for both them and their students.
North Carolina’s Sarah Luz is one of them. Influenced by her own middle school experience volunteering to help in Life Skills class, and by an older sister who had become a teacher, she was motivated to go into special education teaching.
As a student teacher, she was exceptional enough that she had a job offer from Trinity High School before she had even completed her probationary period there. While still in the middle of studying for her master’s degree in Adaptive Curriculum Special Education K-12, Luz showed school administrators her deep and personal commitment.
Her work involved pulling students out for reading and writing services, and co-teaching a senior English class that combines both general and special education students. She was hired as an Exceptional Children’s Resource and Inclusion English teacher.
Luz didn’t just catch the eye of the Trinity High School administration, though; she was recently nominated for North Carolina Student Teacher of the Year.
Luz credits her dual enrollment in undergraduate and master’s programs during her final year at school with giving her the skills needed to succeed in North Carolina’s special education system. The state will need more teachers like her to continue improving the Exceptional Children programs.