UW–Madison School of Education to boost special education teacher workforce in Milwaukee with new initiative

March 14, 2024   |   By Laurel White

A new partnership between the UW–Madison School of Education and Milwaukee Public Schools aims to combat a shortage of special education teachers in one of the state’s most high-needs school districts by training and placing 36 master’s-level special education teachers in Milwaukee schools over the next five years.

The program is the second iteration of the UW–Madison Special Education Teacher Residency Program, which first launched in 2018. The 14-month initiative incorporates on-the-job training through a 10-month teaching residency, paired with a master’s-level teacher preparation program at UW–Madison. At the end of the program, the residents will be eligible for a master’s degree and Wisconsin licensure as a K-12 special education teacher.

“We are thrilled to begin a new chapter for this program, which will help address the special education teacher shortage in Wisconsin and promote improved academic achievement and engagement of Wisconsin students with disabilities,” says Kimber Wilkerson, professor in the School of Education’s Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education.

According to a 2023 report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum, a statewide nonprofit research organization, emergency licenses for special education teachers in Wisconsin more than tripled between 2013 and 2022. Emergency licenses are issued when school districts cannot find a licensed teacher to fill a position.

Wilkerson secured U.S. Department of Education grant funding for the new residency program with Beverly Trezek, an associate professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education and the Tashia F. Morgridge Distinguished Chair in Reading.

Wilkerson says she’s looking forward to partnering with Wisconsin’s largest school district to address crucial workforce and classroom needs. The first UW–Madison Special Education Teacher Residency Program focused on training and placing special education teachers in rural schools throughout Wisconsin.

“It seemed like a natural extension to partner with Milwaukee,” Wilkerson says. “Milwaukee has historically been a district with workforce challenges — just like any large, urban district that serves a high proportion of students with financial needs.”

Wilkerson says the Milwaukee Public School system brings some exciting strengths to the partnership, including robust infrastructure and access to highly-trained, specialized personnel.

Michael Harris, senior director of talent management for Milwaukee Public Schools, says the district sees the partnership as a promising way to increase the teacher pipeline.

“Partnering with UW–Madison is another way for us to ensure we are developing and supporting new educators entering the field,” Harris says. “Our goal is to develop these teachers in residency in MPS to start, stay, and succeed in our school district to support our students, families, and communities to improve student outcomes.”

Harris says the district also appreciates the opportunity to recognize and celebrate the skills of its veteran special education teachers as they serve as mentors to residents.

“We have so many amazing educators in our school district. This is one way to showcase them while developing others to do this very important work — teach,” he says.

Trezek says a residency program that runs for an entire academic year provides rich opportunities for the residents, the schools they teach in, and the UW–Madison educators who are building the residents’ skill sets.

“When I’ve worked with residents in classes, it’s always been very exciting to see how what I’m teaching is immediately impacting teachers and students in schools,” Trezek says. “I’m excited about the opportunities to collaborate with the mentors and residents around the reading content that I teach, and to see how we’re preparing students to work in a variety of settings.”

In addition to training and mentorship, residents in the program are provided a one-year living stipend of $46,500. In return, they agree to teach in a Milwaukee Public Schools school for three years following completion of the program. Upon graduation, they will receive support from School of Education faculty and staff in the form of professional development opportunities, participation in an online community of practice, and site visits, if needed.

Residents are also eligible for the UW–Madison School of Education Wisconsin Teacher Pledge Program. Under that program, which was just extended through the 2026-27 academic year, the School of Education pledges to pay the equivalent of in-state tuition and fees, testing, and licensing costs for teacher education students who pledge to work at a Wisconsin PK-12 school for three to four years after graduation.

The residency program will launch its recruitment efforts this fall. The first round of 12 residents is expected to enter Milwaukee classrooms in the fall of 2024. Additional cohorts of 12 will begin teaching residencies in the fall of 2025 and 2026.

For more information about the residency program, please contact Kimber Wilkerson at klwilkerson@wisc.edu.