The mission of the Department of Special Education is as follows: 1) To prepare knowledgeable, ethical, caring decision makers for students with special educational needs in the context of diverse and inclusive social groups, communities, families, and students: 2) To prepare specialists to serve students and families with specific educational needs through a) assessment and intervention; b) leadership and collaboration, and c) clinical application, research, and practice.
This department supports the mission of the College of Education by providing supporting classes to undergraduate students seeking to become teachers; providing master’s level training and licensure for teachers desiring to work with students having special needs; and providing doctoral level training and supervision for those planning to assume leadership roles in special education.
The major role of the Special Education program in the state of Kansas is to prepare teachers, consultants, and administrators for children with exceptional needs in public schools. The special education department takes this role seriously, and expands it to demand that such teachers be trained in the most current, research-based and practice-validated methods and procedures available. While many graduates move to other regional areas, the majority stay and teach in Kansas, and their ability to work with students, parents, support staff, and the public at large is a considerable contribution to the daily lives and education of children in the state.
This role is accomplished in several ways. At the initial licensure level (Elementary or Secondary Education), all students in the college take an introductory course in Special Education taught in the Special Education department. As a part of the Elementary Education degree, students may choose an area of concentration in Special Education (similar to a minor), which provides a further 15 hours of course work in this area. Faculty in the department also teach a UGE (Undergraduate General Education) course in Human Exceptionality for the university at large. At the master’s level, programs lead to full endorsement in Special Education. Currently, these programs prepare teachers in Learning Disabilities, Mental Retardation, Emotional/Behavioral Disabilities, Early Childhood Special Education, and Gifted. Due to changes in licensure requirements at the state level and to budget cuts within the college, these will be changed to prepare teachers for students at the Adaptive and Functional levels of learning. At the doctoral level, students are prepared for a variety of roles including special education leadership, administration, policy making, and college teaching.
Quality of Faculty
Quality in teaching and advising, research and scholarship, and service to the department, college, university, community, and profession, are the major goals of the department. The collaborative and supportive nature of the members of this department is outstanding and valued by colleagues and students alike. The department currently consists of four tenured faculty members at the level of full professor and two .8 time faculty members at the assistant professor level. Two faculty members have left in the last two years, one to retirement and one to relocation. These positions have not been filled. One faculty member currently serves as Assistant Dean in the College of Education (a full time commitment), and one as the Coordinator of Teacher Education (a half time commitment).
Quality of Students
Admission requirements include undergraduate teacher preparation similar to that obtained at K-State; an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0, particularly in the last two years; and evidence of successful teaching experience or other work with children and youth. All incoming students meet these criteria. In addition, students applying for the doctoral program must achieve a minimum GRE score of 459 verbal; 501 quantitative; and 4.5 writing. There are currently 103 students in the master's program and 10 students in the Ed.D. program in Special Education. The professional curriculum provided in the Master’s program based on research-validated strategies, theoretical understanding, and applied skills is approved by NCATE and the Kansas Department of Education.
Demand for special education teachers in all states including the state of Kansas is high. There is a tremendous need for qualified teachers to serve students whose development and performance does not follow typical patterns. In Kansas, many districts are forced to hire untrained teachers in this area because they cannot find qualified professionals to fill the positions. At the college and university level, the lack of doctoral level faculty is also causing many positions to go unfilled.
The doctoral program (Ed.D.) in Special Education was initially targeted as having low enrollment and plans were made to discontinue it. Currently, those plans have been withdrawn and the Ed.D. will continue to be offered in Special Education. This decision is a sensible one as there is a tremendous need for faculty members in Special Education across the country. A recent study from Vanderbilt University provided the following information: 30% of special education faculty vacancies across the country are currently open; 20% more have been closed because they couldn't be filled; 30% fewer doctorates were awarded in special education during the year of the study (1998) than 20 years ago; and 50% of those awarded doctorates in special education chose to work in settings other than higher education
The Ed.D. program in Special Education at K-State has traditionally been tied to an administrative path, but information on the current situation in higher education as led the department to encourage students to look at the possibility of teaching at the post-secondary level. This is a challenge given that according to the recent Vanderbilt study, the median starting salary for a faculty position in special education is, on average, 18% less than a similar job in a school district.
Service Provided to the Discipline, the University and Beyond
The special education program supports the mission of the K-State to serve the people of Kansas by providing highly qualified teachers to assist in the education of children and youth with disabilities. It is the goal and mission of the department to see that every Kansan receives the type of educational experience that allows for as complete, satisfying, and productive a life as possible. In addition, the department serves the school districts, teachers, and parents of many Kansas children by providing training, information, support, and consultation. Faculty members serve the discipline of special education as researchers, authors, presenters, editors, and reviewers.
Service to the university is a major part of the responsibilities of members of the Special Education Department. College service on and chairing committees, sponsoring student organizations, and speaking to student groups has always been a part of the mission. Department faculty also serve the university on committees, task forces, scholarship groups, and Faculty Senate. At the present time, both the Chair of the Faculty of the College of Education and the President of Faculty Senate are members of this department.
The number of majors in the master’s program ranged from 32 to 47 for the five year period; however, in Fall 2003 there were 103 students participating in the 38 credit hour master’s program. The new program emphasis in Adaptive/Functional Special Education is attracting an increased number of Elementary or Secondary education graduates at K-State to continue on to this master’s program. This trend is expected to continue.