This fall, Graduate School of Education professor of curriculum and Teaching Chun Zhang, and Associate Professor of School Psychology Yi Ding, secured a five-year, $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). The OSEP provides leadership and support to assist states and local districts in providing a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment to children with disabilities.
New York State and New York City have made a commitment to providing high-quality early childhood education to all four-year-old children. As a result, private and public early childhood programs in diverse settings are serving a record number of young children, many with disabilities and/or high-intensity needs. This situation creates an urgent need for highly qualified early childhood special education (ECSE) teachers and school psychologists who have the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to effectively provide early identification and intervention for young children with high-intensity needs.
Zhang and Ding noted in their funding application that a chronic shortage of properly trained early childhood education personnel exists, which manifests in serious consequences for both school readiness gaps for young children with disabilities and lack of quality programs and services for young children with disabilities in inclusive settings. In response to this acute need, Zhang and Yi’s Improving Child Outcomes (ICO) project will provide an evidence-based approach to interdisciplinary training and mentoring for scholars to enhance their knowledge and skills as they become certified ECSE teachers and school psychologists, trainers, and leaders.
Central to the ICO project is promoting P-12 school readiness skills for young children with high-intensity needs in both public and private early childhood settings through building an ongoing intensive interdisciplinary mentoring program. Further, in partnership with NYS, the NYC Department of Education and several local schools, the project will offer carefully sequenced coursework, mentoring, practicums, and portfolio development with an emphasis on creating high-quality early childhood environments and addressing challenging behaviors. The program will develop professionals who are able to provide focused and individualized interventions for students while also honing candidates’ collaboration and leadership skills. An outcome-based performance assessment approach for scholars and their young students will be used to monitor the development of scholars’ knowledge and skills, and to document their success and impact on students.
GSE Dean Virginia Roach commented, “I believe in the innovative, collaborative work being done by Professor Zhang and Associate Professor Ding to address such critical needs, and it has now been recognized in a significant way. I congratulate them and look forward to seeing the excellent outcomes for young children and our professional candidates due to this initiative.”
Zhang and Ding expect to prepare a total of 58 scholars to become highly qualified ECSE teachers and school psychologists with specialization in preschool psychology during the five-year grant period. To maximize the success of the ICO project, each candidate-scholar will be selectively recruited through the recommendation of program directors or principals and become fully prepared to work with school administrators in how to improve outcomes for young children with high intensity needs. Scholarship support will account for as much as 70% of the total grant funding.
Upon graduation, scholars will obtain NYS teacher certification or school psychology certification and be qualified to work as Students with Disabilities in Early Childhood (birth to grade 2) professionals. An additional 75 graduate students from the traditional ECSE and school psychology programs will participate in project activities, as well. Thus, at least 133 individuals are expected to directly benefit from this project and be better prepared to serve the growing number of these young children in our schools.