Shortage of Special Education Teachers Essay

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Chronic Shortage of Special Education Teachers

"If teachers are well-prepared in both content and pedagogy, 'it makes an enormous difference not only to their effectiveness in the classroom but also whether they're likely to enter and stay in teaching'… [and] it is 'more expensive to under-prepare people, and let them spin out again, than it is to prepare people more effectively and keep them in the profession…'"

(Billingsley, 2004, p. 39)

The shortage of special education teachers has been a problem for schools and administrators for many years. The literature available indicates that the shortage is not only severe, it is threatening to reduce schools' effectiveness in bringing a quality education to those students with special needs. This paper provides current research into the shortage of special education teachers, the reasons why there is a shortage and potential solutions to the problem. Without highly qualified, well-trained, and motivated special education teachers, schools have a difficult time meeting their obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to provide a good education for children with serious disabilities.

The Literature

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Factors that contribute to special education teacher shortages. An article published in 2004 reports that "Ninety-eight percent of the nation's school districts" in the U.S. report "special education teacher shortages" (McLeskey, et al., 2004, p. 7). The greatest shortages within the overall special education field are teachers who work within five specific fields, including: emotional/behavioral disorders; multicategorical, severe/profound disabilities; learning disabilities; and mild/moderate disabilities (McLeskey, p. 7). (Those categories are used by the American Association for Employment in Education [AAEE]).

TOPIC: Essay on Shortage of Special Education Teachers Assignment

Of great concern to administrators, parents and qualified teachers is the data presented in this article that indicates many special education students are not receiving the kind of quality education that the federal law mandates through IDEA. To wit, data from the U.S. Department of Education's "Annual Reports to Congress" in 2003 shows that 11.4% of all special education teachers "lacked appropriate special education certification" (McLeskey, p. 7). That percentage in real numbers works out to 47,532 individuals who were teaching special education without a full certificate at the time of that survey (2001) -- in other words, those teachers were either substitutes or general education teachers shifted over to special education because of the acute shortage of special education teachers.

Doing the math an alert reader can quick see that since the average class size in special education programs is 17 students the number of special education students that did not receive instruction from a certified teachers was approximately 808,000 (McLeskey, p. 7). When the issue of cultural / ethnic teachers in special education is reviewed, there are some problems in that aspect of the field as well. McLeskey (p. 8) explains that while approximately 38% of special education students in the U.S. are "culturally and linguistically diverse" only 14% of special education teachers are from culturally divers -- and historically underrepresented -- ethnic groups (McLeskey, p. 7).

Another trend in the special education field that is a cause for concern is that the number of students (between the ages of 3 and 21) with disabilities is increasing faster than the number of students in general education. "The number of students with disabilities grew at a rate almost three times greater than the overall student population," McLeskey writes on page 9. In fact in the years 1992-1993 there were an estimated 5.08 million students with disabilities in the U.S.; but six years later the number of disabled students increased to 6.11 million, a jump of 20.3%, McLeskey explains (p. 9). This trend continued into the 2000s (McLeskey) albeit up-to-date information is not available for this report. Still, the disproportionate growth rate of students with disabilities is a pivotal factor in the nationwide shortage of special education teachers.

Ten-year-old data from the AAEE also shows that for every general education elementary school teaching position available, teacher preparation programs in U.S. colleges and universities were turning out 1.68 trained graduates. However, for every entry-level teaching position in the field of special education, teacher preparation programs were graduating .86 teachers (less than one). This trend continues today and hence, there continues to be a glut of elementary teachers and a dearth of special education teachers.

Texas teacher issues. A good example of the negative things that happen to special education teachers in some school districts is presented in an article published in the Journal of Instructional Psychology. One of the main problems in teacher attrition is a high burnout rate, according to the authors, and the "key variables causing burnout and attrition" (according to a nationwide survey of 4,500 teachers referenced by the authors) include: "job stress, weak support by administrators, unreasonable caseloads," class sizes that are unwieldy and "ineffective in-service programs" (Kaufhold, et al., 2006). Moreover the authors mention other factors that lead to special education teacher burnout and attrition as "increased expectations for inclusive instruction," changes in recently mandated behavioral intervention strategies and "the ever-increasing paperwork load" on special education teachers (Kaufhold, 2006).

Meanwhile, pointing to the specific problems that special education teachers face in South Texas, the authors refer to a lack of school resources -- basic school supplies and materials. Why would a shortage like this exist in a school with a special education program? The authors refer to "a constant 'tug-of-war' with regular education personnel" for the same resources (Kaufhold, 2006). The authors provide quotes from a special education teacher in Texas:

"I did not have an adequate supply of textbooks, teachers' manuals or basic consumable materials. The computer in my classroom was better suited for a museum than for instruction. I spent a lot of my personal time soliciting donations from retail business that carried school supplies" (Kaufhold, 2006).

In another survey referenced by the authors for this article, "A reported source of teacher stress" included financial shortages and a "lack of educational supplies" (Kaufhold, 2006). In addition, this second survey alluded to by the authors asserts that many special education teachers had not choice but to support their own classroom by buying supplies, materials and equipment out of their own pockets (Kaufhold, 2006). Some of the supplies special education teachers bought on their own included computer software, audiovisual aids and basic school materials. These are issues that should be resolved by school administrators -- providing those administrators have the funds available and also have the interest in providing special education teachers with all the resources they need.

Is the federal funding that is supposed to flow to the schools (through IDEA) not sufficient? Is that funding simply not reaching the teachers who so desperately need it to fulfill their obligations to children with special needs? The authors believe that the answer to both questions may be a qualified "yes" -- and as a way to make their point, the authors surveyed 228 special education teachers from 48 South Texas school districts.

The questionnaires were sent to 750 special education teachers and 228 teachers participated. Fifty percent of those 228 special education teachers responded with "strongly agree" that they lack "sufficient school supplies, materials and resources" in order to fully complete their duties to special needs students. Forty percent of the 228 teachers "agreed" that they also lacked sufficient supplies, materials and resources; six percent were "neutral" on the question and four percent had no reply to the question. None of the 228 indicated they had plentiful supplies and materials (Kaufhold, 2006).

Why are there shortages of teachers (more specifics)? A 2007 article in The Clearing House journal updates the number of teachers freshly trained for the special education field; to wit, annually colleges and universities graduate "…nearly 22,000 special education teachers," which amounts to "about half number required to fill vacant positions" (Thornton, et al., 2007, p. 233). Among the reasons for the high number of vacancies in the special education field is that "Up to 9.3% of special education teachers" quit the field after their first year of teaching. Additionally, 7.4% switch to general education instruction (Thornton, p. 233).

Thornton and colleagues present six general areas that cover reasons why so many special education teachers quit after one year, and why others wriggle loose from this instructional field. Number one, employment issues (better salaries elsewhere; hard to make ends meet on teacher pay); two, working conditions (job stress, lack of support from administration, class loads, "lack of empowerment," and paperwork loads); three, personal issues (family needs, lifestyle, relocations); four, support ("lack of collegial, principal, and district support; lack of appropriate staff development"); five, students (discipline and behavior issues; low student motivation; lack of student progress); and six, other (better jobs and retirement).

The article also mentions what other research has offered, and that is the growth rate of children with special needs has outpaced the growth rate of individuals who wish to enter the field of special education. And moreover, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation requires that all students, to include disabled students, perform at "proficient" levels (according to standards set up by… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Shortage of Special Education Teachers.  (2010, April 11).  Retrieved September 21, 2021, from

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"Shortage of Special Education Teachers."  11 April 2010.  Web.  21 September 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Shortage of Special Education Teachers."  April 11, 2010.  Accessed September 21, 2021.