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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

UW-Madison and MPS partner to train more special education teachers

Students at MPS's Maryland Avenue Montessori.
Emily Files
Students at MPS's Maryland Avenue Montessori.

People looking to become special education teachers in Milwaukee have a new paid opportunity to do so.

UW-Madison is partnering with Milwaukee Public Schools on a Special Education Teacher Residency program.

Students in the 14-month program will earn a master’s degree while completing a 10-month teaching residency in MPS. They’ll be paid a $46,500 living stipend, and will be eligible for free tuition through UW-Madison’s Teacher Pledge.

In return, students must commit to teaching in MPS for three years after graduation.

The goal is to bolster MPS’s special education workforce. The district had more than 200 teaching vacancies at the beginning of this school year, and special education positions are some of the hardest to fill.

UW-Madison special education professor Kimber Wilkerson.
UW-Madison special education professor Kimber Wilkerson.

Like many districts, MPS has turned to emergency-licensed teachers to staff classrooms. In the 2021-22 school year, the district had 90 teachers with emergency special education licenses.

UW-Madison special education professor Kimber Wilkerson is one of the directors of the residency program.

“Special education has been an area that’s harder to staff for decades,” says Wilkerson. “I would argue those positions are the most critical to be filled with people who are well-prepared and strong in their jobs, in order to do right by kids with disabilities.”

Each of the three cohorts of the residency program will have 12 students. That means in five years, MPS should have 36 additional master’s-level special education teachers working in the district.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, this is the second iteration of UW-Madison’s teacher residency program. The first phase launched in 2018 and was aimed at boosting special education teachers in rural school districts.

Wilkerson says UW-Madison is recruiting teachers candidates in collaboration with MPS.

“We believe there may be some people who are MPS employees ... who might be interested in continuing their career with MPS in this kind of role,” Wilkerson says. “We are also looking at career-changers, people who have an interest in disability — they have a family member or their own child with a disability who are interested in being part of the support system for kids with disabilities.”

The application for the program can be found here.


Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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