Special Educator Professional Preparation

From its earliest days, CEC recognized the significance of professional standards for the preparation quality of educators, and CEC accepted responsibility for developing and disseminating professional standards for the field of special education. At CEC's first meeting in 1922, the establishment of professional standards for teachers in the field of special education was identified as one of its primary aims (Council for Exceptional Children, 2009).

More recently, the significance of the well-prepared teacher as the within-school variable having the greatest influence on a student’s learning has been widely documented and recognized. The current emphasis on teacher accountability and high expectations for individuals with exceptionalities continues to make imperative that all special educators are well-prepared, career-oriented professionals with the conditions that allow them to provide individuals with exceptional needs the most effective interventions and that encourage entering special educators to become career-oriented special education professionals (Gersten, Keating, Yovanoff, & Harniss,  2001; Darling-Hammond and Loewenberg Ball, 1997).

In 2002, CEC made it policy that preparation programs, whether traditional or alternative, should demonstrate their alignment with CEC preparation standards through submission to a CEC performance-based review.

In 2012, CEC revised its initial and advanced standards for the preparation of special educators to ensure that entry-level special educators and special education specialists have the skill and knowledge to practice safely, ethically, and effectively and that practicing special educators have effective mentoring.

Preparation of Special Educators

For entry to initial practice as a professional special educator, CEC expects that every candidate possess appropriate pedagogical skills, demonstrate mastery of the liberal arts through a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, master appropriate core academic general and specialized curricula , and undertake a systematic and structured discipline-specific period of induction (Council for Exceptional Children, 2010).


Historically, pedagogy or teaching skill has been at the heart of special education. From its roots, special educators have placed individualized learning needs at the center of special education instruction. Whether helping individuals with exceptional learning needs master addition, cooking, independent living, or philosophy, special educators have focused on altering instructional variables to optimize learning.

Liberal Arts

While pedagogy is central to special education, special educators must have a solid grounding in the liberal arts -- ensuring proficiency in reading, written and oral communications, calculating, problem solving, and thinking --demonstrated by holding at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution.

Core Academic Subject Matter Content

As well, special educators must possess a solid base of understanding of the content areas of the general curricula (i.e., math, reading, English/language arts, science, social studies, and the arts). This knowledge base must be sufficient for collaborating with general educators, teaching or co-teaching academic subject matter content of the general curriculum to individuals with exceptional learning needs across a wide range of performance levels, and designing appropriate learning and performance accommodations and modifications for individuals with exceptionalities in academic subject matter content of the general curriculum.

Induction and Mentoring

In addition to the three critical elements mentioned above, professionals entering initial practice in special education should receive a minimum of a one-year mentorship during the first year of professional special education practice (Council for Exceptional Children, 2010). The mentor should be an experienced special education professional in the same or a similar role as the individual being mentored who can provide expertise and guided support on a continuing basis. Even with quality preparation, the beginning special education professional faces challenges in applying and generalizing newly acquired skills. Like other professionals, special educators who have the support of more senior colleagues become proficient more quickly and are more likely to remain in the profession (Billingsley, 2006). The goals of the mentorship program must include:

  • Facilitating the application of knowledge and skills learned.
  • Conveying advanced knowledge and skills.
  • Acculturating into the school’s learning community.
  • Reducing job stress and enhancing job satisfaction.
  • Supporting professional induction.

For more information please e-mail prostandards@cec.sped.org or call (703) 620-3660.