Teacher Preparation:

Multiple Federal Education Offices Support Teacher Preparation for Instructing Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners, but Systematic Departmentwide Coordination Could Enhance This Assistance

GAO-09-573: Published: Jul 20, 2009. Publicly Released: Aug 19, 2009.

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In 2005-2006, students with disabilities comprised 9 percent of the student population in the United States, and English language learners comprised about 10 percent. Many of these students spend a majority of their time in the general classroom setting in elementary and secondary schools. Most teachers are initially trained through teacher preparation programs at institutions of higher education. GAO was asked to examine (1) the extent to which teacher preparation programs require preparation for general classroom teachers to instruct these student subgroups; (2) the role selected states play in preparing general classroom teachers to instruct these student subgroups; and (3) funding and other assistance provided by the U.S. Department of Education (Education) to help general classroom teachers instruct these student subgroups. To address these issues, GAO conducted a nationally representative survey of teacher preparation programs and interviewed officials from state and local educational agencies in four states and Education.

According to GAO's survey results, most traditional teacher preparation programs at institutions of higher education nationwide required at least some training for prospective general classroom teachers on instructing students with disabilities and English language learners. While the majority of programs required at least one course entirely focused on students with disabilities, no more than 20 percent of programs required at least one course entirely focused on English language learners. Additionally, more than half the programs required field experiences with students with disabilities, while less than a third did so for English language learners. Despite recent steps by the majority of programs to better prepare teachers for instructing both of these student subgroups, many programs faced challenges in providing this training. The four states GAO visited--California, Georgia, Nebraska, and Texas--set varying requirements for teacher preparation programs. However, all of the states and school districts visited provided assistance to general classroom teachers to help them instruct these student subgroups. Nevertheless, these states and school districts cited challenges providing this training, such as time constraints and identifying appropriate instructional strategies. Six Education offices provide funding and other assistance that can help general classroom teachers instruct students with disabilities and English language learners, but no departmentwide mechanism exists to coordinate among the offices. Ten grant programs allow grantees to use funds to help general classroom teachers instruct these students; Education offices also support research and technical assistance providers that serve policymakers and educators. However, Education lacks a mechanism to facilitate information sharing among the offices on a regular basis that could assist offices that have less experience with these subgroups to better understand student needs or integrate research findings into ongoing programming.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2009, the Department reported that it had taken steps to coordinate various activities across offices, including the development of a Human Capital Team which will provide a mechanism to create a consistent policy relating to the effectiveness and equitable distribution of teachers and principals. The Department states that this team will also provide a structure to enable more effective collaboration across the Department. As the work of the Human Capital Team evolves, the Department states that it will examine issues related to the teaching of students with disabilities and English language learners and strategies to help ensure that teachers have the knowledge and skills to instruct these students in the regular classroom. In FY12, Education reported that its Academic Improvement and Teacher Quality office and Policy and Program Study Services are conducting inter-office monthly meetings among teacher quality programs. Teacher quality program offices are meeting regularly to share information and devise ways to compile the information and disseminate internally and externally. The meetings provide an opportunity for representatives from each of the program offices to report on their specific programs, share resources and coordinate with other program offices. Technical working groups have been organized to accomplish tasks that are generated by the meeting discussions. Topical meetings will be conducted to further inform the group on current research, policy and other events.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should develop and implement a departmentwide mechanism to ensure more systematic coordination among Education's offices that oversee grant programs, research, and technical assistance that can help prospective and practicing teachers to instruct students with disabilities and English language learners in the general classroom.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education


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