MLFTC expands commitment to personalized learning


Kari Redfield

While many U.S. communities suffer a general shortage of teachers, the crisis in special education is particularly acute. According to an analysis of federal data by the Education Week Research Center published in December 2018, the number of special education teachers nationally has declined by 17% in the past 10 years.

The work of special education requires specialized preparation. And it’s hard.

“We’re making changes and additions to our portfolio of programs to better serve special education students and the people who educate them,” says Carole Basile, dean of ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

The college has made five major changes to its special education programs, including adding:

  • A BAE in Special Education with a concentration in Visual Impairment

  • A doctoral program cohort in special ed

  • A dual-certification BAE in Elementary Education and Special Education in Yuma and the Gila Valley

  • Master’s degree improvements for autism spectrum disorders and applied behavior analysis

  • Continued focus on the well-regarded annual conference: Teacher Educators for Children with Behavior Disorders

These are in addition to MLFTC’s other special ed degree offerings: BAE in Special Education and Elementary Education, BAE in Early Childhood and Early Childhood Special Education, MEd in Special Education (Teacher Certification) and graduate certificates in applied behavior analysis and autism spectrum disorders.

Here’s how these changes are helping to fill the expertise gap and the geographic need in underserved areas. This is all part of the MLFTC commitment to helping all learners.

BAE in Special Education with a concentration in Visual Impairment

This fall, MLFTC begins offering a Bachelor of Education in Special Education with a concentration in Visual Impairment.

“This is the only undergraduate degree program for teachers of the visually impaired west of the Mississippi,” says Kathleen Puckett, associate professor at MLFTC. “There’s a huge need for it.”

MLFTC partnered with the Foundation for Blind Children to offer this program. It delivers more tools for diagnostic assessment, orientation and mobility skills, and specific teaching methodologies. After graduation, the degree also sets up graduates to get their licenses to teach the visually impaired.

New doctoral program cohort in special ed

The MLFTC Doctor of Education (EdD) in Leadership and Innovation will be starting a special cohort with an emphasis in special education leadership in spring 2020, taking a cohort of up to eight professionals whose education will be funded by a $1.65 million grant from the United States Department of Education. Application opens June 2019.

“Special education professionals need support, more specialized education and coaching,” says Puckett. “Our new doctoral cohort in special education provides that and allows an individual to continue within the professional program they hold. In fact, we require it. This keeps these working professionals in their jobs and advancing in their profession while undergoing further education. During the program, students will complete dissertations that address specific problems of practice they face in their communities.”

BAE in Elementary Education and Special Education in Yuma and the Gila Valley

MLFTC has offered a Bachelor of Education in Elementary Education and Special Education at ASU’s Tempe campus. It is now expanding the program to Yuma and the Gila Valley by delivering classes at Arizona Western College and Eastern Arizona College.

“This dual-certification Elementary Ed/Special Ed program fills a need by directly addressing the unmet demand for more trained, experienced and functional teachers in the elementary and special education arenas,” explains Kurt Palmer, MLFTC’s director of rural partnerships.

“Second, it helps create versatility for teachers in K–8 by creating a pathway for them to become great teachers while also qualifying them to work with students requiring additional teaching services. This increases the resources district administrators can tap into.”

Palmer adds: “Third, this program creates the opportunity for individuals currently working in the classroom, but not as certified teachers, to become  teachers where they work, while they work.”

The MLFTC education programs in Yuma and in the Gila Valley are face-to-face in a cohort model, meaning that students start and finish with the same people. These rural programs are tailored to the needs of the communities; students start their first two years at the community college and then transfer into the program to earn their BAE.

“ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College is working very hard to create programs that have the flexibility and adaptability to fit the specific needs of each of our rural partners, while at the same time maintaining a commitment to the highest ethical standards of instruction and delivery,” Palmer says.

Master’s degree changes

This year, MLFTC is moving from an MEd in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in Autism Spectrum Disorders to an MA in Special Education with a concentration in Autism Spectrum Disorders. The program change will deepen students’ understanding of autism and how to recognize behaviors that are specifically related to autism.

“We are increasing the number of assessment tools and interventions professionals can use to diagnose and help educate children with autism spectrum disorders,” explains Associate Professor Erin Rotheram-Fuller.

MLFTC also introduced a new online program: the Master of Arts in Special Education: Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). This program supersedes and extends the former Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction ABA concentration, providing students with additional areas of specialization and experience.

The MLFTC graduate programs in ABA enroll nearly 2,000 students, the largest online graduate program at ASU. The new ABA MA includes coursework verified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board as meeting the new Fifth Edition Task List academic requirements for students who aspire to sit for the BACB exam. Also new this fall is the opportunity for students preparing for the exam to remotely receive concentrated supervised fieldwork — gaining the BACB required 1,500 hours of field experience under the direction of an ASU BACB supervisor.  

“We have a wide range of students in our program: students preparing for careers supporting persons with a variety of learning and behavior needs across professions and settings. This includes teachers, parents, clinicians and school leaders, as well as those who seek to incorporate principles of applied behavior analysis in business and organizational contexts,” says Associate Professor Sam DiGangi.

Through accessible learning, MLFTC is enabling professionals around the world to gain high-quality education.

“This means that more children and adults will benefit from access to scientifically proven and evidence-based services and treatment,” DiGangi says, “addressing a growing area of need throughout the education workforce.”

Teacher Educators for Children with Behavior Disorders conference

Every fall, MLFTC hosts the TECBD conference, an educational research conference for educators working with children and youth with severe behavioral disorders. It features over 150 sessions with proven strategies for improving relationships and problem behavior, along with new research findings.

“MLFTC was one of the first colleges to focus on training teachers and other professionals to work specifically with kids with behavior issues,” says Heather Griller Clark, principal research specialist. “We’ve long been a pioneer in the special ed field. Our faculty members invested a lot of time, research and professional development in that area, and continue to.”

The TECBD conference is one of the most highly regarded in the field, serving as the annual conference for the Council for Children with Behavior Disorders.

“Attendees benefit from a small enough setting to engage with researchers and other professionals, and can form professional relationships and get mentorship and professional support,” Griller Clark says. “Anyone interested in special ed will benefit by attending this conference.”

Advancing personalized learning

Taken together, notes Dean Basile, these additions, refinements and expansions of MLFTC programs represent a comprehensive and ongoing commitment to meet the needs of all learners.

“This is essential to what we do and who we are,” says Dean Basile. “We talk about ‘principled innovation’ as the core value that drives our college. There are three pillars to that. There’s an economic imperative: we need to prepare learners for the next economy. There’s a democratic imperative: we need to prepare learners for the responsibilities of citizenship. But the first imperative is equity: we need to educate all learners. Full stop. No exceptions.”