Special Education

AACTE’s Commitment in Partnership With the CEEDAR Center

AACTE’s equity priorities include a commitment to serving students with disabilities through the preparation of special and inclusive educators. A partnership with the CEEDAR Center supports the infusion of disability-related programming and messaging into AACTE’s work. The Association focuses attention on these issues through the AACTE Annual Meeting and other convenings as well as the Research-to-Practice Spotlight Series, principal preparation initiatives, networked improvement communities, the Holmes Program, blogs, webinars, and more.

Six Guiding Considerations for AACTE's Work in Special and Inclusive Education


Students with disabilities experience marginalization, discrimination, low expectations, and inequity much like other subgroups of students such as English learners and ethnically and racially diverse students.


The intersection of disability status and race is complex and can compound students’ marginalization. For example, students of color have long been overrepresented in special education. Neither over- nor underidentification leads to students’ educational needs being met. The dialogue around this intersection must be elevated and addressed directly with input from both communities.


Like other marginalized populations of students, students with disabilities experience a disparate proportion of unprepared, underprepared, uncredentialed, undercredentialed, and inexperienced teachers, thus significantly limiting their access to learning.


AACTE members seek to prepare all new educators and school leaders – whether in general education, special education, or a related field – to have the skills and dispositions to work effectively and professionally with all students, including students with disabilities, as well as to work collaboratively with members of companion school-based professions, such as school social workers, counselors, psychologists, therapists, and other vital school support personnel, to meet the needs of all learners.


AACTE is committed to promoting effective practices that will diversify the teaching profession so that educators more closely reflect the diversity of the student population; recruiting and supporting educator candidates with disabilities is an important component of this work.


Educators need to experience each child as a distinct and unique learner so that every child can thrive.

Numerous evidence-based practices are available for teaching students with disabilities. The following resources may be helpful to educator preparation programs:

AACTE Initiatives Supporting Special Educator Preparation and Inclusive Education

The CEEDAR Center, whose mission is to support states and institutions of higher education to ensure that all educators are prepared to work with all students, particularly students with disabilities, provides supports to AACTE for the development of several initiatives aligned with AACTE’s commitment to equity. These include:

In January 2018, AACTE’s Clinical Practice Commission (CPC) issued a report, A Pivot Toward Clinical Practice, Its Lexicon, and the Renewal of Educator Preparation, which outlined the essential features of effective clinical practice, identified a recommended lexicon, and set forth a framework to operationalize effective clinical practice in educator preparation.

The report features 10 Essential Proclamations and Tenets for Highly Effective Clinical Educator Preparation, and is intended to serve as guidance for the development, growth, and renewal of clinical practice in educator preparation programs.

In collaboration with the CEEDAR Center, AACTE engaged higher education and PK-12 leaders in applying the AACTE CPC frameworks for clinical educator preparation to address problems of practice encountered when preparing teacher candidates to meet the needs of students who require specialized supports. AACTE convened a Special Education Task Force to identify critical areas and emergent issues in relation to the preparation of special education teachers, as inclusive practitioners and leaders, through the lens of clinical practice and the 10 AACTE CPC Proclamations.

The task force was composed of experts in the field of special education from across the nation. The report is available to all AACTE members.

AACTE is developing two video series which will highlight programs demonstrating exemplary inclusive clinical practice. These videos will feature interviews with key stakeholders, including higher education faculty and administrators, K-12 partners and principals who hire the program graduates, teacher candidates, and program graduates.

These videos will serve as companions to the current AACTE Research-to-Practice Spotlight Series on Clinical Practice and will build on the work of the CPC and the Special Education Task Force.

Through the support of the CEEDAR Center, AACTE has launched a Reducing the Shortage of Special Education Teachers Networked Improvement CommunityYou can learn more about NICs from the Carnegie Foundation’s web site.

This NIC aims to address the problem of the shortage and lack of diversity of fully prepared and credentialed special education teachers in public schools across the nation. Eleven preparation programs in higher education have been selected to participate in this NIC and implement a range of strategies which will positively impact the special education teacher shortage by the Fall of 2022.

AACTE is proud to be partnering with the following institutions in reducing the special education teacher shortage:

  • Boston University
  • Cleveland State University
  • Eastern Michigan University
  • Texas State University
  • University of Central Florida
  • University of Nebraska at Omaha
  • University of Northern Colorado
  • University of Oregon
  • University of Wisconsin at Madison
  • Virginia State University
  • Western Kentucky University

Learning Fellows

  • Appalachian State University

In January of 2020, AACTE added the role of learning fellows to the NIC. Learning fellows are 1-2 faculty representatives from an institution interested in pursuing the strategies being addressed by the NIC. Learning fellows are invited to participate in the NIC convenings to acquire knowledge about improvement science and strategies for recruiting more teacher candidates into their programs. Learning Fellows are expected to take their learning back to their institution and build the capacity of their colleagues to address their own problems of practice using the improvement science methodology. Additionally, the Learning Fellows will contribute to the community in an advisory role and will be asked to share their perspectives on the NIC problem to be solved and the strategies identified to address it.


The Need for Improvement

The most significant impact of the special education teaching shortage is the resulting curtailed access to learning for students with disabilities. Multiple research studies indicate that fully prepared teachers in special education are more effective than those who are not fully prepared and are more likely to remain in teaching than those prepared in fast-track routes.  Special education teachers with more extensive pedagogical preparation and practice teaching are better prepared to handle teaching duties such as managing the classroom environment and using a variety of instructional methods.

Phase I:  This phase will encompass two years and engage our 10 preparation programs drawn from the AACTE membership. The aim of phase one is to identify a range of best practices in place, or in conception, which are or will address the shortage of special education teachers and the lack of diversity in the field.  The participating programs represent a range of strategies, a range of types of institutions, and geographic diversity.

Phase II:  Phase II will encompass the second two years of the project. It will include the original 10 institutions as they engage in data collection, research and analysis to examine and document the impact of the strategies including the outcomes produced.

For more information about the Special Education NIC, explore the Charter and the Timeline in our resource library.