University joins effort to improve special education

SF State is joining a national effort to help students with disabilities succeed in the classroom by improving schools' abilities to serve them.

Assistant Professor of Equity, Leadership Studies and Instructional Technologies Davide Celoria

Assistant Professor of Equity, Leadership Studies and Instructional Technologies Davide Celoria

Associate Professor of Special Education Susan Courey and Assistant Professor of Equity, Leadership Studies and Instructional Technologies Davide Celoria are members of a statewide team of education professionals and experts that will develop a blueprint for reforming teacher and leadership training programs so that educators are better able to prepare students with disabilities to be college- and career-ready.

The California team is one of five in the United States working with the University of Florida-based Center on Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability, and Reform (CEEDAR Center), which is funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs. In addition to funding, the Center will provide technical assistance such as research and access to scholars to the state leadership teams.

"What CEEDAR will do is bring their expertise to the state level and help the states and universities involved improve their programs," Courey said.

Because the state leadership team includes representatives from all levels of education in California -- local school districts, colleges and universities with special education programs, the state Department of Education and the California Center for Teacher Credentialing -- the group will be able to pool its resources and areas of expertise to find the best ways to address areas of need in teacher preparation, she added.

The need for reform is great. According to the CEEDAR Center, students with disabilities drop out of school at more than twice the rate of students without disabilities and perform poorly on national reading and math assessments. In addition, school districts are increasingly trying to help these students earlier in the year, and in general education classrooms rather than special education classrooms.

Associate Professor of Special Education Susan Courey

Associate Professor of Special Education Susan Courey

Including special education students into the general classroom benefits them, but also means that developing training that provides all teachers and school leaders the tools and skills to support such students is crucial, said Celoria, who has worked as a special and general education teacher as well as a site and district administrator.

"General educators are one of the major providers of service to special education students in our school systems, and administrators impact how both general and special educators are able to do their work," he said. "But they may not have had the added preparation that would give them confidence in delivering more inclusive practices or allow them to know which supports are appropriate."

Providing that strong teacher and leadership preparation is a crucial step in altering the perception that students with disabilities cannot succeed at the same level as general education students, Courey said.

"I feel like there had been this idea that had really infiltrated the educational system that special education kids can't compete or achieve as well as their typically developing peers, and that's just false," Courey said. "We're part of the education system."

To learn more about SF State's Department of Special Education, visit

-- Jonathan Morales