South Carolina Special Education Sets a High Bar
Like every other state in the union, South Carolina has been hit hard with the rapid increase in Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnoses among its population of school age children. The South Carolina Autism Society estimates that 70,000 individuals in the state have autism; further, the society reports that the Centers for Disease Control found that the prevalence rate expanded by 30% in only two years, between 2008 and 2010.
Although this sudden surge in demand for the accommodations necessary to adequately serve special needs students has hit hard in South Carolina, the state has borne up well under the pressure. As ranked by the federal Department of Education under criteria established by the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), South Carolina has consistently fallen into one of the top two levels of service each year, a testament to the many master’s-educated special education teachers working in schools throughout the state.
Although the state underwent a protracted fight with the Department of Education over IDEA grant funding between 2011 and 2016, a recent settlement in the case ensures that top marks will continue to accrue to the state. In fact, $51 million in withheld federal funding is being released back to the state, and the state itself is distributing $60 million to school districts as part of the settlement. Further, regular federal funding will resume, to the tune of $180 million annually.
Master’s-Prepared Special Education Teachers are Key to Improving Student Performance
It doesn’t matter how much money school districts receive if it is not spent wisely on programs and technologies that actively help special needs students. That’s where South Carolina’s special education teachers come in.
The state Office of Special Education Services (OSES), in conjunction with South Carolina special educators, has been developing a State System Improvement Plan (SSIP) for all 1,245 public schools in the state. The plan will offer a comprehensive six-year structure for improving results for children with disabilities.
The plan they have developed calls for constant in-class assessments conducted by expert teachers to determine student requirements. In order to ensure those teachers are at the top of their game, professional development through continuing education in best practices and the latest technologies for special education is part of the package. Finally, the plan calls for heavy and detailed engagement between educators and the families of students in Individual Education Plans (IEP) to ensure continuity of teaching and discipline both at school and at home.
The entire plan is built on a blueprint of authentic engagement, calling for teachers to truly connect with both their students and the families of those students. Master’s-level special education teachers will be well positioned to take on such difficult assignments.
The Outcomes Justify the Approach in South Carolina Special Education
Although the SSIP is still in its formative phases, the elements of the program that South Carolina’s special education teachers have been using so far are already paying dividends for their students.
One of these approaches is the principle of least restrictive environment, the idea that students with special needs learn best the more closely they are included in general education programs. This means that IEP students are given the same coursework, with special accommodations made to keep them in the classroom with other students.
The state inclusion rates in South Carolina for special education students in every category are better than the national average. Eighty-four percent of parents report positive interaction with school staff and teachers to improve services for their children.
The influx of funding for South Carolina special education is a welcome addition to an already strong state program, but more master’s-educated teachers will be required in the future to make best use of those funds.