New program aims to fill special education teacher shortage in Maine

Published: Aug. 21, 2023 at 8:53 PM EDT
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PORTLAND, Maine - The University of Southern Maine is adding a new bachelor’s degree in special education.

The school says the program is geared toward people already working in schools, especially those as ed techs, with a goal of helping fill a need for special education teachers in Maine schools.

“Because we don’t have enough special educators in Maine, we really want to find a way to build capacity from within the ranks of folks already interested in this type of work,” said Rachel Brown-Chidsey, Associate Professor of Special Education.

The program is fully online, accepts prior learning credits and course transfers, and allows students to complete their student-teaching internship while working their current job as an ed tech.

The program starts this fall and is open to applicants from any background, including those with prior college credits and those not already working in schools.

The program also includes an apprenticeship option, a new initiative co-sponsored by the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor. Teacher apprentices work for a sponsoring school district to complete specific degree requirements as part of their jobs.

USM has agreements with several southern Maine school districts, including Gorham, Scarborough, and SAD 6, to hire apprentices who will complete their associate’s degrees through Southern Maine Community College and then complete their bachelor’s degrees in special education at USM.

Maine has been dealing with a shortage of educators for years, especially when it comes to special education teachers. Hundreds of education jobs remain vacant in Maine as the new school year approaches.

Earlier this month, Maine Education Association President Grace Leavitt called the current staffing situation “alarming.”

“IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) are not getting fulfilled, we know that,” Brown-Chidsey said. “Without trained personnel, it’s not possible to implement the IEPs. It means students are not getting the education they were promised, they’re falling farther behind. It puts them at risk for not completing school.”

USM already offers a master’s degree in special education. The school said this will be the first time it has offered a special education bachelor’s degree in at least 30 years.