For two decades the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) identified the chronic and severe special education teacher shortage in the foundation publication entitled What Ever Special Educator Must Know: Professional Ethics and Standards (Redbook) (Full disclosure: I was the primary editor of editions 2 through 6 while at CEC. The special education teacher shortage existed well before this and continues to this day. As any special education administrator can tell you, having to hire and place unprepared and qualified personnel in schools is likely to cause harm to the special education students these personnel serve. Moreover, other special educators who must carry the unqualified personnel while simultaneously addressing their own caseloads and professional responsibilities. Worst of all, the number of individuals who are practicing special education without appropriate preparation is not diminishing. According to United States Department of Education data in Teacher Shortage Areas Nationwide Listing 1990–1991 through 2016–2017, during the 2015 16 school year there was a national shortage of about 60,000 teachers. The shortage was most pronounced in special education with 48 states and the District of Columbia reporting a significant shortage. In fact, the Department of Education data finds that special education has more significant and severe shortages than any other education people including map and science.
Just last week the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) at Stanford University published a series of reports, including A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the U.S., that analyzes the supply and demand data and the coming shortages in the near future. Nationally, special education has the widest and most severe shortages and 90% of high poverty schools have experienced teacher shortages. The report concludes that shortages are due to: A decline in teacher preparation enrollments, district efforts to return to pre-recession pupil-teacher ratios, increasing student enrollment, and high teacher attrition. In addition, current shortages will persist will grow. While shortages in many professions are not new what is new are shallow quick-fix credentialing. Such approaches hurt student learning and threaten the public’s trust of education professionals.
Over 15 years ago another CEC publication, Bright Futures for Exceptional Children: An Agenda to Achieve Quality Conditions for Teaching & Learning, identified the reasons special education teachers are leaving the profession and while there are shortages of special of prospective special educators entering preparation programs. Perhaps the most stressful is the lack of administrative support and the lack of professional role definition. The report added unmanageable caseloads and class sizes, overly burdensome and duplicative paperwork, along with several other conditions that exacerbate special education teacher shortages. Unfortunately, these conditions appear as valid today as they were over fifteen years ago.
With the reports from the Department of Education and the LPI at Stanford University we see what is old is new. Professions cannot grow and retain the trust of the public with chronic and severe shortages and finger in the dike solutions.
Informed by the current research the authors of the learning Institute reports make a series of 15 recommendations for state federal and local policymakers:
- Increase teacher salaries in schools and communities where salaries are not competitive or able to support a middle-class lifestyle.
- Use federal levers in the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to provide low-income schools and districts with additional resources to attract and retain high-quality
- Increase teachers’ overall compensation by offering housing
- Offer career advancement opportunities that provide increased compensation, responsibility, and
- Provide service scholarships and loan forgiveness programs to attract prospective teachers to the fields and locations where they are needed most.
- Develop teacher
- Create local pathways into the profession, such as high school career pathways and “Grow Your Own” teacher preparation
- Strengthen hiring practices to ensure decisions are made as early as possible with the best candidate pool and based on the best information possible.
- Revise timelines for voluntary transfers or resignations so that hiring processes can take place as early as possible, ideally in the spring of the prior school
- Build training and hiring pipelines for new and veteran teachers, while monitoring and reducing teacher turnover and reducing unnecessary barriers to entry for mobile
- Create cross-state pension portability for
- Invest in high-quality induction
- Invest in the development of high-quality principals who work to include teachers in decision-making and foster positive school
- Survey teachers to assess the quality of the teaching and learning environment, and to guide
- Incentivize professional development strategies and the redesign of schools to provide for greater
These are recommendations are on target, sound, and practical. Policymakers should take them to heart and educational professionals should fight for each and every one of them.
Council for Exceptional Children. (2000). Bright Futures for Exceptional Learners: An Agenda to Achieve Quality Conditions for Teaching and Learning. Retrieved September, 15, 2016 at http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED451668.pdf
Sutcher, L., Darling-Hammond, L., Carver-Thomas, D. (2016). A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the U.S. Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved September 24, 2016 at https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/coming-crisis-teaching .
Teacher Shortage Areas Nationwide Listing 1990–1991 through 2016–2017 August 2016 U.S. Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ope/pol/tsa.pdf