VCU awarded $1.25 million grant to address special education teacher shortage

Share this story

The United States Department of Education has awarded Virginia Commonwealth University a $1.25 million grant to address a critical shortage of high-quality educators for infants, toddlers and preschool-age children with disabilities from high-need communities.

The five-year grant will allow the VCU School of Education to prepare 40 fully credentialed, highly qualified teachers to implement evidence-based practices in naturalistic learning environments and inclusive community settings, and to improve outcomes and academic success for infants and young children with disabilities, particularly those in communities such as the Greater Richmond Metropolitan Area. Stipends and tuition support will be provided to candidates enrolled in the program.

“Our overarching purpose is to increase the quantity, quality and capacity of early intervention and early childhood special education professionals in order to improve the learning and developmental outcomes of young children,” said Yaoying Xu, Ph.D., principal investigator of “Project KSR” (Preparing Knowledgeable, Skilled, and Responsive Early intervention/Early Childhood Special Education Personnel for High-Need Communities), and an associate professor in the School of Education’s Department of Special Education and Disability Policy.

National statistics show persistent and growing needs for qualified personnel in early intervention, special education and related services. Special education ranks in the top 15 shortage areas, with 98 percent of the nation’s school districts reporting shortages, and a critical shortage of special education personnel who are qualified to teach children with disabilities. The trend is similar in Virginia, where special education teachers are ranked as the number one shortage. Compared to Virginia overall, the Richmond area has significant risks in the health, educational and diversity factors that challenge developmental progress and academic success of children. In Richmond Public Schools, the majority of students are from diverse ethnic, racial and linguistic backgrounds, and 71 percent receive free or reduced lunch.

“The complex needs of young children and families with multiple needs require highly qualified early intervention and special education personnel who are committed to providing research-based and well-integrated services that result in children’s long-term academic success and positive adjustment,” said Dr. Xu.

Since 2007, VCU’s Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) program has prepared 46 ECSE/Early Intervention personnel, with 100 percent obtaining state licensure and employment. VCU’s ECSE program works closely with metropolitan schools, agencies and early childhood centers through innovative collaborations in service learning, community-based classes, professional development and community-based research.