BU Wheelock Joins AACTE Reducing the Shortage of Special Education Teachers Networked Improvement Community

Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development has joined a team of 11 peer colleges and universities collaborating on a project led by the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE) that seeks to examine ways of helping school districts address the critical need of recruiting and retaining special education teachers.

Together, the institutions involved in this project form the Reducing the Shortage of Special Education Teachers Networked Improvement Community (NIC). They share a commitment to increasing recruitment into their special education teacher preparation programs, with a focus on recruiting diverse candidates; addressing teacher turnover through strengthened partnerships with PreK-12 schools and districts; and developing new programs that aim to prepare and retain diverse special educators for specific vacancies.

Addressing the critical need for well-trained special educators, project leader and AACTE Assistant Vice President of Programs and Professional Learning Jacqueline Rodriguez notes that “half of all schools and 90% of high-poverty schools struggle to find qualified special education teachers.”

“Special education teacher shortages often have a disproportionate effect on English learners and African Americans who are overrepresented in special education,” said Dr. Rodriguez. “This initiative is critical for helping to improve access to learning for students with disabilities from all backgrounds and to better equip special education teachers to become more effective in the classroom.”

The project began in 2019 with an original group of ten colleges of education, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Cleveland State University, Eastern Michigan State University, Texas State University, University of Central Florida, University of Nebraska at Omaha, University of Northern Colorado, University of Oregon, Virginia State University, and Western Kentucky University.

BU Wheelock will be the only private institution in the NIC, as well as the only member located in the northeastern United States. As BU Wheelock’s partner district, Boston Public Schools will be the largest school district involved in the project. Notably, he goals of this project overlap with existing partnerships and research facilitated by BU Wheelock faculty, including Rebekah Louis, Liz Bettini, and Nathan Jones.

From 2014 to 2016, BU Wheelock participated in AACTE’s NIC on Black and Latinx Male Teachers, an effort which drew on the expertise and experience of Hardin L.K. Coleman, then Dean, and Michael Dennehy, Executive Director of College Access & Student Success.

Three teams of BU Wheelock faculty and staff, and staff from Boston Public Schools are involved the Reducing the Shortage of Special Education Teachers NIC:

  • Steering Committee
    • Mary Churchill, Associate Dean of Strategic Initiatives & Community Engagement
    • Mike Dennehy, Executive Director, College Access & Student Success
    • Nancy Harayama, Program Director for Special Education
    • Eleonora Villegas-Reimers, Clinical Professor, Elementary Education
    • Lauren Zimmerman, Graduate Assistant
  • Core Team
    • Cerrone Daly, Director of Diversity Programs at BPS
    • Eleonora Villegas-Reimers Clinical Professor, Elementary Education
    • Elizabeth Bettini Assistant Professor, Special Education
    • Nathan Jones Associate Professor, Special Education
    • Rebekah Louis, Faculty Director of Clinical Education
  • Advisory Group
    • Tom Reis, Assistant Registrar
    • Ryan Lovell, Director Professional Preparation
    • Katharine Nelson, Assistant Dean for Enrollment & Student Affairs
    • Kenann McKenzie, Director, Aspire Institute

At BU Wheelock, work will begin with an analysis of the recruitment and enrollment of prospective students into our special education teacher preparation program, and will continue with an analysis of program coursework and completion, student placements, and longer-term special education teacher retention.

Another important aspect of the project involves seeking ways to encourage self-disclosure of disability among teacher candidates. Many candidates, the team shares, are hesitant to make such disclosure for a variety of reasons. The team hopes to support diminishing the stigma associated with self-disclosure.

The BU Wheelock team anticipates that the three-year project will result in an 20% increased in overall enrollment of teacher candidates in special education teacher preparation programs; a 30% increase in the enrollment of teacher candidates of color into those programs; and a 15% increase in the enrollment of teacher candidates with a disability into those programs.

The team notes that their efforts will rely heavily on participation from Boston Public Schools and Cerrone Daly, whose involvement can help enable broad, systemic changes to how special education teachers are recruited, trained, and retained in Boston. Looking beyond the project’s direct focus on special education teacher candidates, the team also plans to share the knowledge and practices generated via this project with BU Wheelock’s other academic focus areas when possible, broadening the impact of the work.