For the teachers working with the 6.6 million students in special education classes this is a nearly impossible task. As the pressure increased for schools to meet "Adequate Yearly Progress" (AYP), and administrators see that their special education classes are dragging their schools down, that will cause administrators to put more pressure on special education teachers and the result will likely be more special education teachers changing fields or quitting their positions (Thornton, p. 234).
Factors that could help reduce the special education shortages. Meantime, Thornton offers suggestions for improving the situation in schools across the U.S. with regard to special education teacher shortages. For example, politicians, education leaders and policy makers "can take measure to alleviate, or at least minimize, the crisis" by increasing the pool of candidates for teaching certification. In other words, meet the demands of the existing special education teachers and offer incentives for teaching candidates to focus on special education instruction (Thornton, p. 234).
Also, the Department of Education (DOE) and the Department of Defense (DOD) have a program called "Troops-to-Teachers" (TTT) that offers special incentives to returning war veterans -- including a "stipend" that helps military personnel to go to school and be trained for teaching careers. Thornton explains that "ninety percent" of the TTT enlistees are men, 29% are minorities, and many of those enrolled are pursuing credentials in special education (Thornton, p. 234). In addition, the DOD has a program that assists the spouses of both active duty and reserve military personnel achieve their certification at teachers.
Districts could take further positive steps to train and enroll special education teachers, Thornton's article asserts. Some of these steps include: a) Wichita's school district locates high quality high school students who wish to go into teaching; those students are offered scholarships and other incentives (paying their tuition, books, paying for their distance learning expenses -- online education); b) districts should hire a coordinator to locate and support local talent that wish to become teachers, and encourage paraprofessional now working part time in special education classes to go to school and become certified; c) special education department heads and district administrators should "become highly skilled headhunters" and engage in serious marketing efforts (job fairs, developing relationships with placement offices in universities); districts should have quality, updated, user-friendly interactive Web sites that address "pay schedules, application forms, student body demographics" and more, since a majority of teachers looking for work find their jobs on the Internet (Thornton, p. 234).
More ideas for reducing the shortfall of special education teachers. Thornton continues the list of factors that could lead to more special education teachers: d) Under the NCLB law, special education teachers have previously been required to obtain "certification in multiple special education areas" above and beyond core academic areas; that dual certification regulation must be eliminated in states where it is currently applied; e) those teachers who have been fast-tracked -- allowed to take alternative routes to being credentialed (because of the acute shortage) -- tend to be less than fully prepared; hence, teachers who are not certified through the full process of training "appear to be a greater risk of attrition than their certified counterparts" (Billingsley, 2004, quoted by Thornton, p. 234) and so the professional training must be consistent for all teachers with few if any shortcuts.
Special ed teachers need separate induction process and mentoring. In the Thornton article the author points to a survey in which 1,153 special education teachers participated. All had been teaching in their field for fewer that five years, and the general consensus among those teachers was that school districts "need to provide systematic and responsive teacher induction programs" for all new special education teachers (p. 235). In other words, rather than just placing the newly trained special education teacher in a classroom, a "meaningful induction experience" can have "lasting effects on teacher quality and retention" (p. 235).
In addition, mentoring and professional development programs should be mandatory, Thornton continues. Using an existing teacher to mentor new special education teachers is cost effective, capitalizes on an available resource, and administrators should be required by boards of education to implement mentoring programs (p. 235). And all district administrators should create professional development programs to improve the skills, abilities, and morale of teachers. In conclusion, Thornton insists that administrators need to help create a school culture in which special education teachers feel welcomed, empowered, and are given the necessary resources.
Reducing demand for new special education teachers. Erling E. Boe has published an article referencing "Long-Term Trends in the National Demand, Supply, and Shortage of Special Education Teachers" (Boe, 2006, p. 147). The author presents multiple data sets exploring the trends in teacher demand and supply. Boe also states that the national "quantity demand" for special education teachers is "not known precisely" because current databases record the number of teachers that are employed, "not the somewhat larger number of positions that have been established and funded" (Boe, p. 138). And so, the author explains, the difference between the number of positions that have been filled, and the number of special education teaching positions that have been funded "is the number of positions that are vacant" (Boe, p. 138).
Meanwhile, germane to this paper is his offering of four possible strategies that may reduce the demand for more special education teachers: a) improve the strategies for retaining special education teachers (SETs) through revamped programs that encourage teachers not to exit and not to transfer to general education; b) "redesign the education process" by using more technology in special education classes and by employing teacher aids more extensively, thus creating a situation where fewer SETs are needed; c) reduce the number of students who are technically classified as "disabled"; and d) increase the "proportion of instruction provided" by general education teachers for students with disabilities, hence reducing the size of existing special education classes (Boe, p. 147).
Billingsley, Bonnie S. (2004). Special Education Teacher Retention and Attrition: A Critical
Analysis of the Research Literature. The Journal of Special Education, 38(1), 39-55.
Boe, Erling E. (2006). Long-Term Trends in the National Demand, Supply, and Shortage of Special Education Teachers. The Journal of Special Education, 40(3), 138-150.
Kaufhold, John A., Alverez, Velma G., and Arnold, Mitylene. (2006). Lack of School Supplies,
Materials and Resources as an Elementary Cause of Frustration and Burnout in South…