Exceptional Education Department History

Teacher education was the centerpiece program at Milwaukee State Teachers College, UWM’s predecessor institution. The college prepared teachers for educational programs in Milwaukee County, primarily serving Milwaukee Public Schools. The original programs were extensions of the high school programs. Qualified high school graduates with the addition of one year of schooling became elementary school teachers. Secondary teachers were generally expected to have a four-year degree. As the needs of the Milwaukee Public Schools grew, so did the need for specialized teaching staff.

Classes for the preparation of teachers for students with cognitive disabilities began as early as the turn of the 20th century and programs for training teachers of deaf and hard of hearing students began in 1908 when MPS took over a private school program, the Binner School, and began offering educational programs for children who were deaf and hard of hearing.

The Milwaukee State Teachers College program for training professionals in deaf education began in 1917, and the program for mental retardation began in 1919 as an outgrowth of special courses in the elementary education program. These two programs were the first college-level special education training programs in Wisconsin.

By the early 1920s, Milwaukee Public Schools developed a three-track system for the delivery of educational programs. Track A served regular education students, Track B served slow learners, and Track C served students with special needs.

This pattern continued through the early 1960s. Special education teachers were often called “Special C” teachers. UWM continued to provide the vast majority of teachers for the MPS special needs programs from the 1920s to the late 1950s.

In 1959 the Milwaukee Junior League sponsored a special project with the UWM Lab School for an experimental program in learning disabilities. A master’s-level teacher training program in learning disabilities was developed in 1960 and was soon followed by a master’s degree-level program in the area of emotional disturbance.

These two new programs brought the total of special education programs at UWM to four and led to the formation of the Department of Exceptional Education in 1963. The learning disabilities and emotional disturbance programs were the first of their kind in Wisconsin.

The Special Education Administration Certification was added in 1974, and the Early Childhood Certification was approved in 1982. Early leadership in special education at the local and state levels emerged from the UWM programs, and this trend continues to this day with most of the special education administrators in the greater Milwaukee metropolitan area tracing their educational roots to UWM.

– Brief History of the Department of Exceptional Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee by Professor Paul Haubrich.