- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—In the average American classroom, there are three or four children who receive special education services, but it can be hard for schools to find enough people with the experience and training to handle the needs of those students.

Penn State is stepping in to help with a online Master of Education degree in special education aimed at practitioners working in the field.

“We are very excited to add a full master’s degree in special education to our online offerings. The World Campus now has eight master’s degrees and 11 certificates in its education portfolio. The master of education in special education will provide core foundational knowledge, while allowing flexibility for students to explore emphases that meet their professional goals. For several years we had special education certificate programs available to students at a distance, but now teachers and others interested in special education can pursue this advanced degree without leaving their jobs and moving to the resident campus,” said David Sylvia, director of academic affairs for graduate programs at the World Campus.

The new program does not just educate teachers about special needs.

“The unique thing is that they get to choose one of three areas of emphasis,” said program coordinator and assistant professor Katie Hoffman.

Applied behavior analysis gives students the skills to work in educational settings with children who have special needs or behavioral problems, or in outside settings, including with adults.

The autism emphasis helps teachers in special education, general education and inclusive settings meet the challenges of children on the autism spectrum.

The academic and behavior support focus targets effective or evidence-based practices.

“We teach students how to effectively design and deliver instruction, assessment practices, and effective behavior management techniques,” Hoffman said.

“The focus is a little different working with the special needs population,” said education professor David Lee. He said the research nature of Penn State allows the teaching of “strategies that work,” even via distance learning.

The World Campus has been ranked by U.S. News and World Report as having the No. 1 bachelor’s program in the country, and four of the top-ranked graduate programs. The online education master’s program is ranked fourth in the nation.

Lee and Hoffman said they have high hopes for the future of the special education program as well.

Lee said he thinks the Penn State programs stand out from other institutions because the classes are taught by Penn State educators who are doing research in their area and applying that toward their lessons.

“Students are getting to hear about the very latest, cutting-edge research, just like our resident students,” he said.

Likewise, they believe it is a good fit for working educators, who can take what they learn one day and apply it to students the next.

Lee said the World Campus has been offering certificate programs in special education for years, laying a good foundation for the master’s program before putting it into play.

“The World Campus portfolio is diverse. It benefits everyone. They know the delivery really well and we know the content really well,” he said.

Hoffman said the program already is admitting students for the fall semester.

Lori Falce can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @LoriFalce.

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