Special Education in Wisconsin
As is the case in the states neighboring it on every side, Wisconsin’s services to special education students rank as “Needs Assistance” by the U.S. Department of Education as of the 2010/2011 school year, according to Education Week. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that the state has a higher than average percentage of students with Individualized Education Programs: 14.9 percent compared to the national average of 13 percent. Concordia University’s Wisconsin Special Education (SPED) Outlook reports that the state employs over 7,700 special educators. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) oversees public education and libraries in the state, while its Special Education Team concerns itself with policy concerning special education procedures and improving outcomes for students with disabilities. The DPI divides its special education programs into several Disability Areas: Autism, Cognitive Disability, Deafblind, Emotional Behavioral Disability, Hearing, Other Health Impairment, Orthopedic Impairment, Significant Developmental Delay, Specific Learning Disability, Speech and Language, Traumatic Brain Injury and Vision.
Types of Licenses
Special Ed Degree Programs in Wisconsin
The graduate special education program at the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology & Special Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was rated 11th in the country by U.S. News & World Report. Students can earn a generalized master’s degree in special education or pursue a master’s degree in one of three specific areas of special education; a doctorate degree program in special education is offered as well. The university also offers an undergraduate program in special education that results in a bachelor’s degree as well as certification to teach special education in Wisconsin schools. With the vibrant, diverse city of Milwaukee as a backdrop, the University of Wisconsin’s Education Department attracts many students to its degree and certification programs. Its Exceptional Education Department focuses on preparing teachers to work in urban special education classrooms. The Special Education Certification track is flexible, allowing students to serve as intern teachers while earning certification. Although most most students pursue this program as a post-baccalaureate course of study, both bachelor’s and master’s degree options are available. Program participants can choose to pursue certification in a number of specialties. The non-certificate master’s degree program allows students to select an area of focus including Assistive Technology, Transition from School to Life, Literacy and Learning Disabilities, Multicultural Special Education, Students with Significant Disabilities (Cognitive Disabilities & Autism or Emotional/Behavioral Disabilities), Early Intervention/Early Childhood, Early Intervention/Deaf and Hard of Hearing and Teacher as Leader. The university also offers an Urban Education Doctoral Program with an Exceptional Educational Specialization with several focus areas.
For profiles of all the schools in Wisconsin that offer master’s in special education programs, click here.
Alternatives to Certification
In certain cases, the DPI awards an Initial License to people who have teaching experience but have not completed an educator preparation program. The License Based on Equivalency is intended for individuals who have an undergraduate degree and who have taught in a public, charter or private school for three years; candidates must assemble a portfolio of evidence attesting to teaching competency. The DPI’s Alternative Route Pathway applies to individuals who have a bachelor’s degree with a major in the subject they wish to teach but not a license, allowing them to work while they complete the requirements of licensure. This program is only offered for those seeking to teach in one of the state’s shortage areas, which, as of 2013, includes special education. Check the DPI’s Index of Approved Wisconsin Alternative Programs to ensure that an alternative program meets state requirements. The DPI also sponsors the Wisconsin Improvement Program, in which candidates train in classrooms with mentor teachers for a full semester before earning an Intern License that allows them to work in their own classrooms.
Working in Special Education in Wisconsin
- Wisconsin’s Personnel Development System, a project of the DPI, outlines the theories and practices employed by the state in regard to reforming and improving professional development for educators. See the DPI’s Special Education Training and Technical Assistance page for information and resources specific to Wisconsin special educators.
- The College of Education & Professional Studies at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater provides special education courses that educators can apply toward professional development requirements or use to earn cross-categorical licensure.
- The Wisconsin Education Association Council’s Professional Resources webpage lists course offerings and resources for Wisconsin teachers.
Wisconsin Special Educator Organizations
The Wisconsin Education Association Council is Wisconsin’s National Education Association-affiliated union for public school educators and staff, as well as retired educators and students in teacher preparation programs. DPI’s Wisconsin Council on Special Education is appointed by the state superintendent; it convenes to interpret educational policy and advise state education agencies regarding compliance issues.