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Funding addresses special education crises

March 2, 2007

Photo of a teacher and a group of students in an inclusive class settingThe United States faces an ever increasing shortage of special education professors and teachers. According to a national survey of the country's doctoral programs, only two of three special education faculty positions are filled each year. In addition, the number of special education graduates has decreased while those awarded doctoral degrees in special education are choosing to work in arenas other than higher education. SF State has received funding from the U.S. Department of Education to address this crisis as well as to prepare special education teachers for the growing number of culturally and linguistically diverse students with autism.

The Doctoral Special Education Leadership Preparation (SELP) project of the San Francisco State and University of California, Berkeley, joint doctoral program and Project Mosaic, which prepares special education teachers for work with Autism Spectrum Disorders, will each receive about $200,000 during the next four years.

Marci Hanson, professor of early childhood special education and principal investigator of SELP, said the support will help her program in two ways. "Our doctoral programs require full time student status," Hanson said. "This support allows us to award stipends to qualified students so they can take the time to devote to their studies."

"In addition to faculty shortages, we have to address the increasing linguistic and cultural diversity in the classroom," Hanson said. "Part of this funding will be used to recruit and support qualified special education Ph.D. candidates from underrepresented parts of the general population, including individuals with disabilities."

Pamela Wolfberg, assistant professor of special education and founder of Project Mosaic, will use the funding to focus on the increasing number of culturally and linguistically diverse students identified with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Scholarships and stipends will be awarded to future special education teachers working in Project Mosaic, which focuses on helping educators meet the unique needs of students with varying degrees of social, communication and cognitive challenges. Wolfberg will also use some of her funding to expose students to settings outside of the university classroom. "We will give our students the opportunity to learn their special education teaching skills in schools and community-based programs that serve and advocate for children, families and adults with Autism," she said.

Wolfberg's co-principal investigator on the project, Assistant Professor of Special Education Pamela LePage, has a child with autism. "As an educator and a parent, I know how important it is to families of children with autism to find good services for their children and how difficult it can be to find well-educated, qualified professionals to help them," LePage said. "I am optimistic that project Mosaic will help increase the pool of qualified educators who are prepared to work with children with autism."

Wolfberg and LePage are both graduates of the SF State/UC Berkeley joint doctoral program in special education.

"We're very excited about expanding the program in this way," Wolfberg said. "And we are proud to be able to provide such valuable experience to our students."

-- Denize Springer
Photo: Courtesy of Pamela Wolfberg


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Last modified March 2, 2007 by University Communications