Answering the Call to Prepare Special Education Teachers at Institutions of Catholic Higher Education

Article excerpt

Concerns for social justice have called Catholics and others to be compassionate and supportive to children with disabilities by establishing schools and other learning opportunities to nurture this population. Special education as a field has developed over the past 40 years. This study examines the incidence, context, and nature of special education personnel preparation programs in institutions of Catholic higher education (ICHE). Through literature searches and web-based searches on the National Catholic College Admission Association website, a survey, and individual college websites, the study has identified 89 ICHE that offer special education degrees out of a total of 260 Catholic colleges and universities. Within the context of the demographics of ICHE, the results of this exploratory study show regional variation in special education degree programs; patterns of other education degree offerings that often occur with special education degrees, including undergraduate and graduate level degrees and dual certification; along with information about faculty, financial aid, accreditation, practicum sites, and relationships to Catholic schools. Recommendations are offered to strengthen special education personnel preparation in areas of need, including rural areas, and special education teachers who work with culturally and linguistically diverse populations.

The Christian spirit of service to others for the promotion of social justice is of particular importance for every Catholic university, to be shared by its teachers and developed in its students. The Church is firmly committed to the integral growth of all men and women. The gospel, interpreted in the social teachings of the Church, is an urgent call to promote the development of those peoples who are striving to escape from hunger, misery, endemic diseases and ignorance; of those who are looking for a wider share in the benefits of civilization and a more active improvement of their human qualities; of those who are aiming purposefully at their complete fulfillment. (John Paul II, 1990, [section]34)


The essence of special education personnel preparation is to teach future teachers to learn to respond on an individual basis to children who have limitations in their learning capacity or significant variations in the manner in which they process information and retain knowledge and/or act upon the world. Children with disabilities often suffer as much from the misunderstandings of those in their community and schools as from their own physical conditions and so, being an advocate for these children is often a part of the role of a special educator. Given the belief in the dignity of all life and the social justice mission shared by Catholic colleges and universities, special education is a field that calls institutions of Catholic higher education (ICHE) and others to be compassionate and supportive and to establish schools and other learning opportunities to nurture this population.

Special education is a field that has evolved over the past 40 years, yet the roots of involvement in services to persons with disabilities are much deeper and involve different groups within the Catholic Church. Table 1 depicts the evolution of special education over this period and the changing nature of issues in Catholic higher education over that same period. In terms of public policy, special education has a legal definition that "means specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents or guardians, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, including classroom instruction, home instruction, and instruction in other settings such as hospitals and institutions" (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA], 1997). The percentage of children who are identified as having special educational needs has grown over this time, from 1975 when IDEA (formerly called the Education for all Handicapped Children Act) was first implemented to the present (Office of Special Education Programs [OSEP], 2005b). …