This week, CEC sent a letter to all members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee highlighting the existing requirements for special educators to be highly qualified and asking Congress to ensure that any decision about requirements for special educators consider the many varied circumstances they work in and not just bluntly remove them from requirements.
CEC sent the letter in response to a somewhat confused debate that occurred during the mark-up of the Elementary and Secondary Education Amendments Act on October 20. During that mark-up, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) offered an amendment that would have excluded special education teachers from any requirement that they be highly qualified in a content areas, even if they provided direct instruction in that area. In response to the handwritten amendment, Senator Harkin described the importance of special education and the expertise needed to instruct students with disabilities. Ultimately, the amendment failed, but on party lines.
CEC's letter clarified the rules that currently apply to special educators in law as outlined in No Child Left Behind and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and it sets forth key concepts in CEC’s Definition of a Well Prepared Special Education Teacher. CEC asked the Senators to carefully examine how highly qualified standards are applied to special educators, and urged them to ensure that any discussion of this topic be thoughtful and complete. A blunt removal of all special educators from Highly Qualified content requirements does not acknowledge the full breadth and scope of the field of special education and would be disrespectful the profession as a whole.
One of the strengths of the Senate’s new bill is its emphasis on teaching diverse students, specifically students with disabilities. This emphasis will send a strong signal for needed integration and respect for all educators in every school. CEC’s letter urges the Senate to remain true to this intent.
It is unclear whether Senator Paul will reintroduce this Amendment on the floor. It is also unclear whether the Senate will even consider ESEA reauthorization on the floor this year. Stay tuned to the policy insider for updates!