Special Education Program Launched at Concordia

One of CPS’ central challenges is addressing the population of Black and Latina/o students who are disproportionately placed in special education programs as compared with students of other ethnicities.  The bigger and largely unspoken need is the shortage of special education teachers in the district, which further disproportionately impacts Black and Latina/o students.

College of Education alumna Valerie Jones is addressing this imbalance at the core.  Jones, PhD Special Education ‘13, has created the new Master of Education in Special Education program at Concordia University Chicago, transforming a curriculum of a handful of courses into a full-fledged program producing licensed teachers ready to serve Chicago area students.

At Concordia, she is focused on building skills for teachers to integrate small group interventions into their future curricula.  While lesson plans are written at a certain grade level or with specific content in mind, most plans are targeted to reach students in the middle performance group, students performing at average or above.  English language learner students and students with special education needs often fall into groups performing at a lower rate.  Jones works with her teacher candidates to target these groups, teaching skills in building small groups based on reading level or conceptual understanding and differentiating text and strategies to reteach material and scenarios to achieve comprehension.

Jones is also focusing on addressing the needs of early childhood students with special education needs.  A course she designed focuses on toddlers and preschoolers and tactics for teachers to mesh in-class learning with the needs and wants of parents.  Her students recently completed a community mapping project to plot out community resources and channels that serve youngsters with learning disabilities.

This curriculum building is informed by Jones’ research while a doctoral student at the College of Education.  Her dissertation research focused on small group reading instruction for students in grades 4-5 and how teachers work with these groups when one group member includes a student with special education needs.  She found teachers were very supportive and attempted to not engage in too much hand-holding.  Teachers would respond to partially correct answers by prodding to arrive at the fully correct answer.  However, Jones says her research also highlighted teachers not posing as many higher order thinking questions initially to students with special education needs.  She says teachers in small group settings can work on developing student strengths through more literal comprehension questions that build into more challenging questions.