U.S. Department of Education Awards Dominican $800,000

Dominican has been awarded an $800,000, four-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education to prepare students for careers as special education teachers. The grant will support student scholarships as well as a teacher-training model created by faculty in Dominican’s School of Education that could be used by universities throughout the United States.

The training model, titled Project Sage, is designed to increase the number of special education teachers able to serve California’s rapidly growing diverse student population, as well as help combat the high teacher turnover rate in special education said Dr. Rande Webster, Director of Special Education at Dominican University of California.

While the national shortage of special educators continues to rise, the shortage in California is acute. In the past five years, special education student enrollment increased by 7.39 percent, but the number of special education teachers increased by only 1.34 percent, according to figures from the California Department of Education.

The bulk of the grant will be allocated for student training scholarships, providing up to 48 students with the opportunity to receive a need-based scholarship over four years that will enable them to earn a either a dual general education/special education teaching credential, or a special education teaching credential. Dominican will focus on recruiting special education teachers from underrepresented groups.

“There is a shortage of highly qualified underrepresented personnel to serve ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse populations in programs for students with high-incidence disabilities,” said Webster.  “Our recruitment efforts will target para-professionals, mid-career professionals interested in changing careers to become teachers, and general education certificate-holders interested in becoming special educators.”

The grant also will allow Dominican faculty to fully develop, implement, and disseminate a dual-credential special education teacher-training model that can be used by higher education teaching programs throughout the United States, said Dr. Edward Kujawa, dean of Dominican’s School of Education.

Since the implementation of new Education Specialist Credential Program standards in 1997, there are few collaborative training models in teacher preparation programs.  Currently, there are 49 special education teacher preparation programs in California.  Of those, only nine offer dual-credential certification in which coursework between general education and special education is integrated.

Project Sage is designed to train teachers through general education theory; basic and applied research in special education; professional preparation in general education and special education; and field-based experiences in local schools that reflect effective practices in general education and special education.

Collaboration between general education and special education is critical to student achievement, said Webster. Project Sage will require special education candidates to take 50 percent of their coursework in general education classes. In addition, special education candidates will be required to student teach in both general education and special education settings for a full semester.

Project Sage also offers an “intern” teaching program, in which candidates have the option of working full-time as special education intern teachers while they complete their coursework.

A unique aspect of Project Sage is the emphasis on teacher mentoring, which currently is not included in special education teacher training programs in California. Upon graduation from Dominican, each new teacher will be paired with an experienced special education mentor during the formative years of his/her teaching career.   

The U.S. Department of Education estimates that up to 45 percent of special education teachers who receive a teaching credential leave the profession within the first five years, said Webster.

“This mentoring component is critical in order to retain special education teachers. Currently, while mainstream teachers are mentored by more experienced peers during their first few years on the job, special education teacher training does not have any mentoring component built into the program,” said Webster.

This is the third major grant received by the University this spring. Other grants include $222,222 from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to support the work of the Region 9 Environmental Finance Center (EFC9), which recently relocated to Dominican. Dominican also recently was awarded $150,000 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in support of breast cancer research at the University.

Posted June 4, 2007