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CWU online Master’s of Education program now offers special education endorsement

by CONTRIBUTED REPORT/RUNE TORGERSEN/CWU
| May 20, 2024 1:45 AM

ELLENSBURG — Ever since the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – also known as IDEA – became law, K-12 schools have been required to offer special education services to students with unique needs, to ensure equitable access to education for all.

However, teachers certified to provide these services are in short supply, partially due to a lack of flexible options for getting those certifications.

Central Washington University’s online Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction Program has taken a step toward achieving this kind of flexibility through our recently implemented special education specialization for that degree.

CWU M.Ed. in C&I Program Coordinator Eric Hougan explained that this addition to the program will benefit teachers and students alike.

“It’s a win for both teachers and students to have something like this available,” he said. “Teachers win because they get to broaden and diversify the areas in which they can teach, making themselves more marketable in the process. Students win because they’re getting teachers who have the knowledge and skillset to better meet their individual needs. It’s equity and it’s access.”

Special Education Program Coordinator Dr. Wendie Castillo designed the Special Education endorsement for the M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction. This effort stemmed from her involvement in project/thesis committees for the M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction program. After serving on committees for students like Rebekah Post, Castillo researched and initiated the addition of the special education endorsement to the M.Ed. program through discussions with Hougan, Teacher Certification, and the CSEL Department.

Post discovered her passion for special education through her work in the M. Ed. Program, which she enrolled in after obtaining a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education with a minor in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) from CWU in 2020.

“Originally, I was in the M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction program but hadn’t chosen an area of emphasis yet, until I subbed in a special education classroom for several days, and something just clicked,” Post said. “That weekend, I was emailing Dr. Hougan and asked if there was a way I could add special education to my certification. We realized that the online classes already existed to make it happen, and we just had to put the pieces together.”

Hougan collaborated with Castillo to incorporate the necessary classes into the existing online M.Ed. curriculum, giving students the option to fold the certification into their existing program. Castillo said that for the work to be properly incorporated into the curriculum, it would require the kind of strong interdepartmental cooperation that CWU is known for.

“Eric (Hougan) and I work really well together, and this kind of program needs that strong cross-departmental collaboration to succeed,” she said. “This need is happening all over the country, so being able to marry our two disciplines and get qualified teachers where they need to go is something I’m extremely grateful for.”

With over 143,000 special education students in Washington state, and 77% of schools reporting issues in filling special education positions, this endorsement offers teachers a way to expand their skillsets without needing to step away from their careers.

“What made this work for me was that I didn’t have to quit my job for a year to get all the classes in,” Post said. “I was able to keep working and used what I was learning in my classes into my work right away. Starting the courses meant I was even able to obtain emergency certification, too, and start working as a special education teacher while I’m still in school for it.”

Classes for the M.Ed. C&I program, as well as the special education endorsement, are held either asynchronously or in the evenings, aligning well with most teacher’s schedules. Because of the ever-present shortages of certified special education teachers, those who are able to add the certification to their degree have significantly increased job mobility, according to Castillo.

“Special education will always be an area of need, and it will always need teachers,” said Castillo, who has worked in the field since 1997. “My majors that graduate are able to choose exactly where they want to teach, so having this endorsement really gives anyone a leg up in the field.”