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Professors win grant to prepare
special education teachers

David Westling and Karena Cooper-Duffy, professors of human services at Western Carolina University, recently received an $800,000 grant from the Department of Education to increase the quantity and quality of special education teachers of students with severe disabilities in Western North Carolina.

For the purpose of the project, students with severe disabilities include those who are likely to require ongoing support throughout their lives and have significant intellectual disabilities, multiple disabilities and autism spectrum disorders.

David WestlingDavid Westling

Westling, the Adelaide Worth Daniels Distinguished Professor of Special Education, and Cooper-Duffy hope to address multiple needs in the field with the funding, including the need for additional highly qualified teachers for students with severe disabilities and for teachers to use evidence-based practices to teach students with severe disabilities. “According to the U.S. Department of Education data in 2007, within the 50 states and the District of Columbia, 12.4 percent of the special education teachers are not fully certified,” said Cooper-Duffy. “In North Carolina, according to the same data source, 19.3 percent of all special education teachers are not fully certified.”

The project also will focus on increasing the retention of special education teachers and increasing collaboration between special education teachers, general education teachers, paraprofessionals and families to improve educational services, including classroom integration, for students with severe disabilities.

“WCU students, who are future special education teachers, will acquire and demonstrate evidence-based practices for teaching students with severe disabilities through a variety of courses offered in the undergraduate and graduate degree programs,” said Cooper-Duffy. The areas targeted to help WCU students include facilitating the integration of students with severe disabilities, increasing access to the general curriculum, promoting self-determination by students with severe disabilities and increasing students’ abilities to participate in the home and community, using evidence-based practices to put research into practice in the classroom.

The project will produce 30 new teachers over a four-year period with bachelor’s of science in education and master of arts in teaching degrees in special education, as well as upgrade the skills of an additional 16 teachers who will earn master of arts in education degrees, said Cooper-Duffy. “As we increase the quantity and quality of professional personnel, we will focus especially on three additional goals: improving participants’ ability to base instruction on the general curriculum, improving skills to address challenging behavior and preparing participants to be more effective teachers of students with autism spectrum disorders,” she said.

The project will use components of the long-established Teacher Support Program in order to help maintain teachers in their positions beyond graduation to address the issue of retention, said Cooper-Duffy.

For more information about the project, contact Westling at or Cooper-Duffy at


By Bessie Dietrich Goggins

Categories | The Reporter

Photos | WCU News Services

Commencement 2017
Commencement 2017


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