Grant Supports High-Needs Disability Education

Education Department’s $1.2 million award helps to launch a GW master’s program focused on helping students with brain injury and autism transition to adulthood.

July 25, 2016

GW’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development is launching a new online master’s program that will train teachers working with high-needs disabled students to transition into adulthood.

The new program in secondary transition was started with help from a $1.25 million grant from the federal Education Department.

Special education is one of six fields in 2015-2016 significantly threatened by teacher shortages, according to the Teacher Shortage Area Nationwide Listing from the federal government.

Starting in spring 2017, the new program will provide partial financial aid over the next five years for 45 master’s candidates.

“We are honored by the Department of Education’s acknowledgment of our special expertise in this area and are very much looking forward to making a significant contribution toward addressing special education teacher shortages nationwide,” said Michael Feuer, dean of GSEHD.

“One of our main goals as a school is to prepare future educators committed to expanding opportunities and transforming the lives of their students.”

The new, nationally-recognized degree program is made possible by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004, which called for states and local education agencies to identify practices that coordinate activities for students with disabilities in alignment with the general secondary education curriculum.

The program is one of a few in the United States and is the first to combine transition services with a focus on acute brain injury and autism. This is an important area of education that needs support: Students with acute brain injury and autism have been identified as high-need target populations by the Education Department and most state education agencies.

The GSEHD program also is the first of its kind to be offered online, which will help reach teachers in rural areas where there may be inadequate professional development opportunities.

The program is open to current teachers and non-teachers alike and meets the “Guideposts for Success” established by the Labor Department’s National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability/Youth. It also meets the Council for Exceptional Children’s transition standards.

The program starts dents identified, as the first large wave of students with brain injury and autism spectrum disorder is approaching graduation. In order to change the outcomes for these students, evidence-informed practices must be used in teacher preparation programs serving this population, according to education experts.

“There is widespread agreement that when it comes to educating teachers who support students with high-needs disabilities, the type and rigor of training is essential,” said Carol Kochhar-Bryant, GSEHD senior associate dean.

GW’s new 36-credit online master’s degree program will prepare educators to align the secondary general education curriculum with community-based learning and transition services and to promote the success of all students by nurturing and sustaining school cultures and instructional programs. It builds on a strong track record of graduate-level special education expertise at GW.

Recruitment efforts will be consistent with the White House’s Ready to Work initiative and will specifically target working professionals, people with children, career switchers— for instance, a psychologist who has not taught, but wants to become a teacher—and people living in geographically isolated areas. This nationally recognized program is open to any prospective student nationwide who has already earned a bachelor’s degree and will provide the master’s-level work and teacher certification needed to apply for a job at any school district in the country.

“Teachers are often deterred from pursuing graduate programs, especially in special education, because they are inconvenient and costly,” said Dr. Kochhar-Bryant. “We hope that by equipping more passionate and qualified teachers with the latest research and practices in these areas, we can help improve learning outcomes for students with high-needs disabilities.” 

The program’s first cohort will begin in spring 2017. Those who wish to enroll in this program can apply online.