Special Education

summer_camp_1311228000_articleOffice for Teacher Candidate Preparation (OTCP)
Special Education

Marlene Salas-Provance
Department Head
Special Education/Communication Disorders
New Mexico State University
Box 30001 / MSC 3 SPE
Las Cruces, NM 88003
Telephone: 575 646-5973
Fax: 575 646-7712

Vision and Mission of the Department

The Vision for the Department of Special Education/Communication Disorders at New Mexico State is dedication to excellence and best practices for serving children and adults with diverse needs.

The Mission of the Department of Special Education/Communication Disorders is to provide leadership to positively impact the lives of children and adults with diverse needs. This mission is accomplished through the preparation of individuals who will provide optimal services in a variety of settings. The mission is actualized through best practices in teaching, supervision, research/creative activities, and service. The focus is on quality, responsiveness to cultural and linguistic diversity, individual needs, and the integration of specializations.

Special Education

Consistent with the Departmental mission, the Special Education program is grounded in research that addresses the provision of services to children, youth or adolescents with disabilities. The primary purpose of the program is the preparation of educators who will either provide direct services to persons with disabilities, or who will train practitioners in university or school settings.

The theory base for the special education program stems from

  • The early history of special education services
  • Pragmatic and eclectic philosophies derived from specific researchers and practitioners
  • Litigation and legislation related to civil rights and to the provision of services to children and youth with disabilities, and
  • The recommendations of the field’s professional organization.

The history of special education services traces discrimination against persons with disabilities from the Middle Ages to present-day practice. The story of Jean-Marc-Gaspard’s nineteenth century work with a feral child provides an early basis for the notion that children with significant needs can benefit from instruction. Edouard Seguin’s early work with children who had sensory, emotional and intellectual impairments similarly demonstrated the effectiveness of the use of positive supports and the importance of organization and consistency – concepts that are integral to special education programming today.

In the mid-twentieth century, Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka declared the educational practice of “separate but equal” unconstitutional. As a result, professionals began to question whether students with disabilities should be served in separate classrooms and facilities. Researchers including Lloyd Dunn (“Special Education for the Mildly Retarded: Is Much of it Justifiable?”) and Jane Mercer (“the six-hour retarded child”) raised questions related to the accurate diagnosis of disabilities as well as to the provision of appropriate services. These issues continue to be relevant to current practice.

Litigation and legislation associated with the education of students with disabilities play a major role in laying the foundation for special education programming. A number of significant class action suits filed by parents in the 1970s resulted in legislation that ordered districts to ensure a free, appropriate public education to all students, including those with disabilities. Laws including the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1974 (now The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, 2004) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 influence all aspects of the provision of educational services to students with disabilities. Federal laws impact state standards and regulations, and both provide a basis for special education coursework and field experiences in NMSU’s program.

The field of special education is derived from its historic roots and is grounded in federal and state law. It is also driven by the belief that programs for students with disabilities should be based on individual needs. Because of this principle, the philosophical and theoretical bases for both the provision of direct services and the preparation of special education teachers are both eclectic and pragmatic. In other words, NMSU prepares special educators using no one body of knowledge or single system of instruction, and supports the belief that best practice evolves from testing a variety of ideas and methods in order to discover what is most effective. Marc Gold, a former special education teacher and university faculty member at the University of Illinois/Champaign-Urbana, captured NMSUs theoretical orientation best in the approach he labeled, “Try Another Way.” His framework of instruction proposed that persons with disabilities

  • Have more potential than is often realized
  • Should have the opportunity to live their lives like everyone else, and
  • Can learn if instructors try a variety of strategies, searching for the one that works best.

Finally, The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), the professional organization for special education, has developed performance-based standards for entry-level special educators. These guidelines incorporate the law, historical perspectives, theory and scientifically based practice. The standards are additionally considered as foundational for NMSUs special education program.