Teach For America Launches Special Education and Ability Initiative to Strengthen Corps of Special Education Teachers

Initiative Will Expand Community Partnerships, Increase National Teacher Training to Broaden Culture of High Expectations and Tailored Learning for Students with Learning Differences


WEBWIRE – Saturday, March 22, 2014

New York, NY  – Teach For America announced the launch of its Special Education and Ability Initiative, aimed at creating a culture of  high expectations and tailored learning for students with learning differences. In addition to expanding upon regional alliances which support special education corps members in ways critical to local communities, the initiative will strengthen corps member and alumni training around ability-based mindsets and inclusive practices. Currently, more than 10 percent of Teach for America’s 11,100 corps members work in special education contexts, primarily through inclusive and resource settings.

According to the Department of Education, students with disabilities comprise 25 percent of students who’ve received multiple out-of-school suspensions, and 23 percent of those arrested in-school – despite constituting just 12 percent of the overall student population. Department of Education data reveals significant four-year graduation rates between students classified with learning disabilities and those in general education – a gap approaching 40 percent in several states. As a result, The National Center for Learning Disabilities reports nearly half of adults with learning disabilities report being unemployed. 

 “Too often, we see students fall short of their full potential when teachers aren’t grounded in learning differences, and are unable provide a tailored instructional approach,” said Matt Kramer, co-CEO of Teach For America. “Especially in low-income communities, which across the country suffer from a lack of special educators, we need teachers focused on students’ individual differences and holding them to high expectations. All students can succeed when we leverage their assets instead of focusing on their deficits.”

Multiple regions are developing special education advisory partnerships to help both special and general educators have a greater impact on students. Already in Atlanta, Teach For America educators have worked to develop individualized goals aligned to students’ and families’ personal visions. In pursuit of these individualized visions, they have partnered with their Georgia Parent Mentor Program to help leverage parents in “Unleashing the Unique Potential of Students.” In Philadelphia, 23 corps members and alumni joined parents and community organizations to form the Special Education Advisory Partnership (SEAP) – a group dedicated to informing and improving special education outcomes.

Currently being formed, a national Special Education and Ability Initiative advisory board consisting of alumni and partners will help inform teacher training and support around ability-based mindsets and inclusive practices. Both of Teach For America’s new 2014 initiatives – which will provide an extra year of pre-service training for select admitted undergraduate seniors, and ongoing support for teachers in their third, fourth, and fifth years across 12 regions – will feature support around strengths-based mindsets and inclusive practices, both valuable concepts for special educators.

The Special Education and Ability Initiative will be led by Rachel Brody (Metro DC ‘07), who taught in special education contexts for six years before designing training sessions focused on differentiation for Teach For Lebanon and Noored Kooli (Teach For Estonia).  Rachel holds an M.Ed in special education from George Mason University and currently serves on the board of the Council for Exceptional Children’s Division of International Special Education.

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About Teach For America

Teach For America works in partnership with communities to expand educational opportunity for children facing the challenges of poverty. Founded in 1990, Teach For America recruits and develops a diverse corps of outstanding individuals of all academic disciplines to commit two years to teach in high-need schools and become lifelong leaders in the movement to end educational inequity. Today, more than 11,000 corps members are teaching in 48 urban and rural regions across the country while over 32,000 alumni work from across sectors to ensure that all children have access to an excellent education. For more information, visit www.teachforamerica.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.



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