$2.3M grant will support training of future special education scholars at VCU, GMU

Oliver Hall, the home of Virginia Commonwealth University's School of Education. Listed on the wa...
The five-year, $2.33 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs will enable the launch of a VCU-led collaborative project with George Mason University.

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded a five-year, $2.33 million grant to the School of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University. The funding will be used to recruit and prepare doctoral-level students in special education who have expertise in teaching that improves the lives of children, youth and adults with disabilities.

The grant from the Office of Special Education Programs will enable the launch of a VCU-led collaborative project with George Mason University. It will provide funding for 13 full-time scholars — six at George Mason and seven at VCU — who will contribute to the policy and research that will influence teacher certification and the program accreditation and development process.

Training future faculty in the field of special education is an important goal, as there has been a persistent shortage of special educators both nationally and in Virginia, where it has been the top critical shortage area for more than 10 years, said Colleen Thoma, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Counseling and Special Education. Thoma is co-directing the project with LaRon A. Scott, Ed.D., associate professor in the Department of Counseling and Special Education.

“The federal government provides funding for leadership training to address the related shortage of special education faculty prepared to train the next generation of teachers and leaders in the field,” Thoma said. “More specifically, it is important to prepare future faculty with expertise in evidence-based practices that have been demonstrated to improve learning outcomes, particularly in closing the achievement gaps that exist for students of color with disabilities.”

The overarching goal of the project, called Policy and Research Intensive Special Educators, or PRISE, is to focus research on the multiple approaches being implemented to address the shortage of special educators in Virginia.

“Both VCU and GMU have been innovative leaders in creating multiple pathways toward licensure,” Scott said. “While we are doing a lot to address the shortage, there is still more research needed to understand the effectiveness of our efforts. This group of scholars will help identify the most effective of these strategies to inform state and national policymakers who are searching for solutions to these challenges.”

The project will focus on preparing doctoral students in six specific areas:

  • Improving the integration of evidence-based teaching and instruction in teacher preparation agencies that leads to improved services and results for children, youth and adults with disabilities.
  • Promoting policy development and advocacy by requiring intensive field-based internship experiences involving local, state and federal education agencies.
  • Developing competencies in accreditation and certification designed to foster and demonstrate leadership in special education teacher preparation and licensure standards.
  • Actively supporting and promoting cultural and linguistic needs of students (e.g., race, ethnicity, disability) in urban and high-needs schools.
  • Using data to evaluate effective special education programs and personnel.
  • Promoting the development of rigorous research methodology skills and the ability to disseminate those findings through research- and policy-focused publications and presentations.

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 217 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Thirty-eight of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 11 schools and three colleges. The VCU Health brand represents the VCU health sciences academic programs, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, MCV Physicians and Virginia Premier Health Plan. For more, please visit www.vcu.edu and vcuhealth.org.