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It is no secret that there is a dearth of teachers nationwide, and in special education, the shortage is especially severe. To address the challenge head-on, the Johns Hopkins School of Education and its partners, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) and the Montgomery County Education Association, recently received a $1.4 million Maryland State Department of Education grant to pilot the Rising Into Special Education Teacher Collaborative (RISE-TC).

RISE-TC will promote high-quality preservice practicum and professional development experiences among School of Education graduate students and current faculty in MCPS and imbue them with the latest evidence-based, culturally responsive special education teaching practices to prepare them for a full career in special education.

“The RISE-TC model will shape teachers’ self-efficacy and mastery in classrooms, but there is also an aspect of cultural and linguistic responsiveness to increase and improve equitable access to high-quality learning for students with disabilities of all backgrounds,” says Alexandra Shelton, a Johns Hopkins special education faculty member who will co-lead RISE-TC.

“We are also intent on retention of these highly trained teachers through ongoing professional support,” adds Rebecca Cruz, School of Education faculty co-leader of the collaborative. “The project aims to build parity between our practicum and Montgomery County professional development opportunities so that the special educator pipeline becomes more robust.”

Three pillars

RISE-TC is based on three pillars: a yearlong practicum, intensive professional development, and strong peer assistance and review.

In the practicum, students will teach beside teachers already supporting students with disabilities in MCPS. RISE-TC ensures that they have adequate time working in a partner school for a full year and become embedded in the school community where they’re completing their practicum, Shelton says.

While RISE-TC’s professional development program will support teaching and the use of evidence-based practices, the Peer Assistance and Review program is designed to provide intensive assistance by a consulting teacher for first-year, conditionally certified special education teachers in the county’s public schools, followed by additional early-career mentoring and instructional coaching.

“The RISE-TC model will not only develop special education teachers’ skillsets by teaching them in a new way, but the pilot will then be replicated across the state,” Cruz says.

21st-century skills

The evidence-based practices will be targeted at both inclusive educational settings where students with and without disabilities learn together in the same classroom as well as in special-education-specific settings exclusively for students with disabilities.

Students in the RISE-TC program will earn their Master of Science in Special Education and qualify for Maryland special education certification in one of two tracks, the first aimed at grades 1 through 8 and the second at grades 6 through 12. RISE-TC is designed for any special education teachers who are interested, no matter where they are in their career, Shelton says.

The program is being piloted this year with a handful of students, but Shelton hopes to enroll 15 graduate students in the practicum, 40 teachers in the professional development program, and another 40 teachers in the Peer Assistance and Review program. Graduate students and teachers will receive a stipend for participation.

“It’s not enough to just have teachers be present in the classroom,” Shelton continues. “We want them to be prepared. We want them to be effective, and we want them to use practices that are considered culturally responsive and sustaining so that they can support the diverse body of students with and without disabilities in the schools where they will most likely be teaching.”

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