Special education degree program could come to Alaska

UAS holds conference for interested players

Posted: Monday, February 21, 2011

Alaskans interested in a special education teaching career have a problem — no bachelor’s degree program is offered in the state.

The University of Alaska Southeast recently held a conference to try to change that. Community special education professionals from Sitka, Ketchikan, Juneau, the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, Alaska Department of Labor, SERRC and other key players all attended.

Deb Lo, dean of education at UAS, said there is a problem in Alaska now where those seeking special education teaching degrees have to go out of state. She said this negatively impacts Alaska’s ability to retain certified special education teachers.

“They last an average of two years and then they leave,” she said. “There are 18 unfilled spec ed positions in Alaska right now. They are staffed, we think, by long-term subs. It would be a really good thing if Alaska students had the option to go into special education. We think if we trained Alaska students we’d have a much better attrition rate.”

Thomas Scott Duke, associate professor for the School of Education, said the University of Alaska system has a master’s program in special education.

“There is nothing in the state — no way a person in this state can get a teaching certificate in special ed at the bachelor level,” he said. “We’re trying to create an entry-level pathway.”

The university invited state-level educational employees and special education directors to help create a quality special education program on Tuesday.

The group honed in on several areas of the future degree. They broke into teams of four to draft courses that would fit into the UAS credit spectrum. One area they considered was whether to make it heavily special-education intensive, or to make it a dual-certificate model where a student could get a certificate in teaching special education and elementary education.

Most seemed to favor a more intensive special education program. Duke suggested having enough early childhood courses available so that students could be certified for preschool-12, not just kindergarten-12.

“In a lot of the communities there’s one special education teacher that needs to work with everybody,” he said.

Part of his group’s recommendation also included student teaching in two segments — one portion of the student teaching would be with high needs level children, the other would be with mild and moderate need. The students also would have to spend one half at the primary level, the other half working with secondary level.

Duke’s model was also heavily reading intensive.

“My experience is, a lot of the behaviors were triggered by reading,” Duke said, who was a special education teacher. “Effective reading instruction becomes effective management.”

Commonalities between the groups included having courses for behavior and the classroom environment; language and literacy — two sections; collaboration (with other staff and most especially families); assessment; Individual Education Plans, history of special education, the special education handbook, law; and transitions.

Sitka School District special education director Mandy Evans said they needed to be cautious tying together IEP’s and a specific curriculum. She suggested they focus on teaching students to use special education procedures for a kid so they can access curriculum.

Now Lo, Duke and Jill Burkett, UAS program faculty, will develop course descriptions to align with what structures the group thought would be most beneficial. Lo felt they had the core of the program and hopes to be able to offer the degree to incoming freshmen in the fall of 2012.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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