URI adds secondary certification to its special education master’s degree

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KINGSTON, R.I. – April 7, 2011 – Less than two years after the University of Rhode Island announced a new master of arts degree in special education for the elementary and middle school grades, it has added a certification program in secondary special education.

Starting in the fall, the University’s School of Education will offer the master’s degree in special education for those who wish to teach in grades 7 through 12. Like the existing program in elementary special education, the secondary special education master’s program will focus on teaching students with mild to moderate disabilities.

The goal of both programs is to prepare special educators to offer support in the general classroom for the regular teacher and the students with special needs. The new secondary master’s degree program is full-time, taking three-semesters to complete.

In December of 2010, the first four students enrolled in the elementary-middle school program graduated. Another 12 students began the program in September of 2010. Joanne Eichinger, coordinator of both programs, said she hopes to have 12 students enrolled in the elementary program in the fall and another 12 enrolled in the secondary program. Those students who intend to teach in a school serving learners from low income families in a high need area like special education may be eligible for grants of up to $4,000 a year from the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant program. For more information, please visit


All practicum and intern placements are with highly effective special educators who support students with special needs in general education classes for at least 75 percent of their caseload. During the first two semesters, the master’s candidates will spend three hours a week in a classroom with their cooperating teacher and then complete a full-time internship in the final semester. Courses are scheduled to give students two full days free per week, so they can pursue substitute teaching opportunities or work another job.

The University has hired two new faculty members for the new special education program: Bethany Hamilton-Jones, assistant professor of education, and Adam Moore, lecturer.

“The advantage of a full-time program is that the 12 students move through the program in a single cohort, taking all courses together and graduating together,” Eichinger said. “This develops a sense of collegiality and collaboration that not only helps the students while they are in the program, but also helps them when they enter the classroom. They will be collaborating with the regular classroom teacher constantly.”

“This program combines coursework with extensive field experience,” said David Byrd, professor and director of the School of Education.

The special education model has changed from one that employed separate, self-contained classrooms with their own special education teachers, to one that focuses on inclusion. The inclusion model places students with special needs in the regular classroom for most, or all of the day, with the special educator in the classroom providing educational support. “Such a structure can initially be a challenge for the regular classroom teacher and the special educator, but it is best for the students”, Eichinger said. “This is a social justice model that puts the needs of the children first and gives them the opportunity to experience school life to the fullest.”

Plus, the program addresses a serious shortage. “There is a shortage of secondary special education teachers in Rhode Island, and it’s even more pronounced in the nation’s South and West,” Byrd said. “Many districts also now like to hire individuals with multiple areas of expertise. The School of Education wants its graduates to get hired and we also want to help the state and nation address shortages with strong programming.”

Byrd pointed out that special education is now considered one of the best careers. In December of 2010, U.S. News and World Report said that between 2008 and 2018, the need for special educators will increase by 20 percent among elementary and pre-school educators, 18 percent among middle school special educators, and 13 percent for secondary special educators.

Applications will be accepted until each cohort of 12 is filled. To apply, please go to www.uri.edu/hss/education/grad_programs/special_ed/app_info.html. Prospective students may also call Eichinger at 401-874-7420 or email her at jeichinger@mail.uri.edu.