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Abstract

In this study, using Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) personnel data from 2006 to 2014, we identified seven states with consistently low shortages of highly qualified special education teachers and seven states with persistently high shortages. We employed Guarino et al.’s framework to guide our assumptions and selection of demographic, supply, and demand variables and compared two groups in this descriptive analysis. We found significant differences across supply and demand variables. Low shortage states make greater investments in per pupil expenditures; have higher teacher salaries, generally; have greater preparation capacity; and produce more special education graduates. Taken together, our findings suggest that special education teaching is a relatively better job in low shortage states than in high shortage states. We situate the discussion of our findings within policy recommendations that states may use to address shortages. Limitations of our analysis are addressed, and implications for future research are proposed.
https://doi.org/10.1177/0888406419880352
Teacher Education and Special Education
2020, Vol. 43(1) 45 –62
© 2019 Teacher Education Division of the
Council for Exceptional Children
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DOI: 10.1177/0888406419880352
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Article
Special education has never enjoyed a fully
qualified teaching workforce, and, in this
sense, has never fully delivered on the prom-
ise of a free appropriate public education
(FAPE) for all students with disabilities
(SWDs). The purpose of this article was to
explore how special education teacher (SET)
shortages compromise our ability to meet the
goal of equal educational opportunity for all
students, including SWDs. To that end, we
describe the complexity of the problem and
consider its economic impact on schools. We
then focus on specific aspects of the problem
and the strategies that stakeholders, including
the federal government, have used to address
880352TESXXX10.1177/0888406419880352Teacher Education and Special EducationMason-Williams et al.
research-article2019
1Binghamton University, NY, USA
2Boston University, MA, USA
3Appalachian State University, Boone, NC, USA
4University of Florida, Gainesville, USA
5SUNY New Paltz, USA
Corresponding Author:
Paul T. Sindelar, University of Florida, 1423D Norman
Hall, Gainesville, FL 32611-7050, USA.
Email: pts@coe.ufl.edu
Rethinking Shortages in Special
Education: Making Good on the
Promise of an Equal Opportunity
for Students With Disabilities
Loretta Mason-Williams1, Elizabeth Bettini2,
David Peyton3, Alexandria Harvey4, Michael Rosenberg5,
and Paul T. Sindelar4
Abstract
In this article, the authors describe the complexity of special education teacher (SET) shortage,
how shortage undermines equal educational opportunity, and strategies that school districts and
state and federal governments have used to combat them. The authors consider the economic
consequences of shortage and describe how school budgets are burdened by turnover and,
in some cases, litigation. The authors consider specific aspects of SET shortages, including the
problems of staffing high-poverty urban and rural schools, recruiting and retaining teachers of
color, and staffing alternative educational placements. The authors then consider more general
factors related to shortage, including the valence of teaching as a profession, attrition, working
conditions, and compensation. The authors describe how broad policy-based interventions, such
as federal spending on personnel preparation and alternative route entrées to teaching, have
largely failed to remedy SET shortage. Finally, the authors posit that SET shortage cannot be
addressed successfully without improving working conditions and differentiating compensation
for shortage area teachers and teachers working with struggling students. Although special
education cannot achieve such sweeping change alone, the time seems ripe for moving forward
on this important agenda.
Keywords
teacher preparation practices and outcomes, special education teacher shortages, teacher
preparation policy/service delivery
46 Teacher Education and Special Education 43(1)
them. We close by offering more disruptive—
and, we believe, more powerful—ideas for
dealing with shortage writ large and by urging
all stakeholders to advocate for long-term
solutions to the problem. First, however, we
return to the issue of equal educational oppor-
tunity.
Providing an Equal
Educational Opportunity
Federal involvement in ensuring that all stu-
dents experience equal educational opportu-
nity, including access to teachers prepared to
meet the needs of students who require spe-
cialized instruction, began with enactment of
the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
of 1965 (ESEA). The ESEA made available
categorical aid for improving educational pro-
grams “meeting the special educational needs
of educationally deprived children” (P.L.
89-10, §201). Although physical or intellec-
tual disabilities were not specifically defined
within the ESEA, funding allocated to states
through basic grants led to the establishment
of Title I classrooms for supplementary edu-
cational services (§303). Later reauthoriza-
tions of the act led to additional categorical
aid programs for migrant children, children
for whom English was a second language,
delinquent and neglected children, and chil-
dren with mental and physical handicaps
(McLaughlin, 2010). The policy emphasized
the role that fully prepared teachers played in
providing an equal educational opportunity to
all students.
Despite ESEAs clear emphasis on provid-
ing equal educational opportunity, many
school officials believed that educating chil-
dren and adolescents with disabilities was not
the responsibility of public schools. Conse-
quently, only one in five SWDs was educated
in public schools, and approximately one mil-
lion children were kept out of public educa-
tion (Abeson, Bolick, & Hass, 1976). A
decade later, the Education of All Handi-
capped Children Act (EAHCA; 1975), the
precursor to IDEA 2004, emphasized the
inclusion of those with disabilities. EAHCA
stipulated that SWDs were entitled access to
FAPE, aimed at meeting their unique needs as
defined by Individual Education Programs
and funded through the provision of federal
categorical aid.
Unfortunately, much of the hope inspired
by ESEA and EAHCA was quickly moderated
by the immense challenge of instructional
capacity: Who would deliver on this policy
mandate? To serve students with special needs
who had not previously been part of their
responsibilities, states and local school dis-
tricts needed to find educators and related ser-
vice personnel quickly. The inadequate supply
of individuals willing and prepared to serve
and the limited infrastructure for developing
an adequate number of teachers within a rea-
sonable timeframe complicated matters
(Kleinhammer-Tramill, Mickelson, & Barton,
2014). This challenge has gone unresolved for
the last 40 years, despite continued invest-
ments in personnel preparation grants through
EAHCA and later IDEA, as well as other fed-
eral investments in recruiting individuals into
special education (e.g., TEACH grants and
Teacher Quality Partnerships).
The Complexity of SET
Shortages: Measuring Supply
and Demand
For decades, following Boe (2006) and Boe
and Cook (2006), researchers defined SET
shortage with reference to Office of Special
Education Programs (OSEP) counts of SET
employment. Before 2006, shortage was
defined as the proportion of SETs who were
less than fully certified. In 2006, the metric
changed, and beginning that year and continu-
ing to the present, shortage has been defined as
the proportion of SETs who were not highly
qualified. Because OSEP is obliged to report
annually to Congress, we have decades of
information on SET shortage. We know it hov-
ered at roughly 10% for over a decade (Boe,
2006) and began to worsen at the end of the
century, reaching 12% by 2002 to 2003 (Boe,
2006). The following year, shortage declined
for the first time (Dewey et al., 2017), and it
Mason-Williams et al. 47
has continued to decline for over a decade.
Fueled by the great recession and decline in
teacher employment, SET shortage fell below
5% in 2011 and 2012 before increasing again.
OSEP’s most current data point, 2016 to 2017,
has SET shortage at 8%.
Beyond investigations of overall supply and
demand, researchers also have illustrated the
substantial shortage of SETs of color. Scholars
have argued that the pluralistic nature of U.S.
society is poorly served when public school stu-
dents experience a predominantly White teach-
ing workforce (Grissom, Kern, & Rodriguez,
2015). Indeed, a robust body of research (pri-
marily focused on general educators, not special
educators) indicates that teachers of color do
promote stronger outcomes for students of color
(Grissom et al., 2015; Villegas & Irvine, 2010).
Special education is not immune to this prob-
lem. According to Kozleski, Artiles, McCray,
and Lacy (2014), SPeNSE researchers reported
that 80% of the SETs they surveyed were
White—a marked contrast to the population of
school-aged students, of whom only 50% were
White. More recently, in an analysis of 2011-
2012 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) data,
Billingsley, Bettini, and Williams (2019) found
that 82% of the SETs but only 53% of the SWDs
were White. There is some evidence that the
proportion of teachers of color is increasing,
however; the overall number of teachers of
color almost doubled between 1987 and 2007
(Villegas, Strom, & Lucas, 2012), fueled by
rapid growth of Latinx teachers. Yet, the growth
in number of teachers of color has been dwarfed
by the growth in the number of students of color
(Villegas et al., 2012). Furthermore, increases in
the number of teachers of color, overall, may
not be evident in the SET workforce. Billings-
ley et al. found that the proportion of early
career SETs of color is the same (18%) as the
overall proportion of SETs of color, indicating
that the racial/ethnic composition of the SET
workforce may not be changing; by contrast,
the proportion of early career GETs of color
(23%) is greater than the overall proportion of
general education teachers (GETs) of color
(18%), suggesting the GET workforce may be
becoming more racially/ethnically representa-
tive of the student population. Furthermore,
although efforts to recruit teachers of color have
proven fruitful, schools have experienced less
success in retaining them (Achinstein, Ogawa,
Sexton, & Freitas, 2010; Carver-Thomas,
2018).
Thus, shortage is a complex, multi-faceted
problem with various aspects that require
unique solutions. One such aspect is low
enrollments in teacher preparation programs,
which recently have diminished the supply of
newly minted and fully credentialed SETs.
Even in states with increasing enrollments
(and hence supply) and no overall SET short-
age, schools cannot attract fully prepared and
credentialed teachers to certain regions or cer-
tain schools within states. For example,
schools in remote rural areas are unlikely to
benefit from oversupply in suburban districts
(Sindelar et al., 2018), and the difficulties that
high poverty, highly diverse, and low achiev-
ing schools experience in recruiting and
retaining fully qualified SETs also are well-
known (Goldhaber, Quince, & Theobald,
2018). These problems are distributional in
nature, and the distribution problem may not
reside only within-states: Peyton et al. (2019)
recently demonstrated that SET shortage is
clearly worse in some states than others.
Economic Consequences of
SET Shortages
SET shortages have severe economic conse-
quences. The amount of money spent annu-
ally by school districts and governmental
agencies addressing emergency staffing con-
cerns, as well as compensating for unmet
mandated services for SWDs, is enormous.
Arguably, these funds could be reallocated to
address shortage. In this section, we focus on
two areas of cost: teacher turnover and litiga-
tion related to FAPE (i.e., the failure to deliver
of mandated educational services).
Teacher Turnover
Annually, 17% to 29% of SET teaching posi-
tions are vacated (Sullivan et al., 2017), due
largely to attrition. Attrition has several com-
ponents, including SETs leaving the profession
48 Teacher Education and Special Education 43(1)
and teaching area transfers (defined as SETs
migrating to general education; Billingsley &
Bettini, 2019). Hiring personnel is a labor-
intensive process and, unfortunately, many
school leaders find themselves in the unenvi-
able position of settling for individuals who
lack adequate professional preparation and
credentials. These SETs, many of whom
entered the field through streamlined alterna-
tive routes (ARs) and conditional/provisional
waivers, leave the profession in greater pro-
portion than teachers who complete traditional
preparation (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Ham-
mond, 2017). Although some teacher turnover
is beneficial (e.g., poorly performing teachers
should leave the profession), the ad nauseam
cycle of hiring, losing, and once again rebuild-
ing a faculty may have lasting negative conse-
quences on teacher quality (Sorensen & Ladd,
2018) and student outcomes. In terms of dol-
lars spent, attrition is extremely costly, and
these costs are disproportionately borne by
schools serving large number of low income
and minority students and SWDs. In fact,
teacher turnover is 50% greater in high pov-
erty schools (Alliance for Excellent Education,
2014; Barnes, Crowe, & Schaefer, 2007).
Nationally, the cost of teacher turnover
approaches $2.2 billion annually (Alliance for
Excellent Education, 2014). Studies calculat-
ing the turnover costs to districts (e.g., Barnes
et al., 2007; Milanowski & Odden, 2007)
have reported per-teacher costs ranging from
roughly $4,500 in small rural districts to
$17,000 in large suburban and urban districts.
Moreover, districts that invest heavily in new
teacher induction and professional develop-
ment have even higher turnover costs (Wat-
lington, Shockley, Guglielmino, & Felsher,
2010). With Barnes et al.’s (2007) data, we
estimate that annual replacement costs in a
large district (i.e., Milwaukee) may be as high
as $14.1 million, for SETs alone.
Litigation
Special education litigation typically begins
with a local due process hearing which, if
unresolved, can progress to a federal district
court, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), and
even the U.S. Supreme Court (Yell & Katsi-
yannis, 2019). Although most disputes do not
involve judicial review, those that do tend to
be protracted and costly, in terms of legal fees,
personnel, and resources (Sack-Min, 2007).
For example, in 2015, there were 384 judicial
rulings involving SWDs (Katsiyannis, Counts,
Popham, Ryan, & Butzer, 2016), many center-
ing on failure to provide FAPE and its conse-
quence, reimbursement for private school
tuition.
At the same time, legislation precludes
bringing suit simply because students are
being taught by underqualified teachers
(Jameson & Huefner, 2006), unless teacher
qualifications can be linked directly to the
denial of FAPE. For example, Vaughn G.,
et al. v. Baltimore, et al. (known as Vaughn G)
was filed by the Maryland Disability Law
Center (MDLC) in 1984 and not settled until
2012. The plaintiffs alleged that the Baltimore
City Public School System (BCPSS) did not
conduct assessments for thousands of students
referred for evaluation and did not implement
Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)
within timelines prescribed by IDEA (MDLC,
2008). The reliance in BCPSS on emergency-
certified SETs likely contributed to the failure
to comply with numerous elements of FAPE.
Between 2000 and 2004, the percentage of all
new teachers hired by BCPSS with condi-
tional certifications and enrolled in ARs
ranged from 76.4% to 91.9%, and 8.5% to
12% of new teachers—a sizable portion of
whom were hired to fill chronic special educa-
tion shortages—left before the end of the aca-
demic year (Mac Iver, Vaughn, & Katz, 2005).
A first consent decree in 1988 and subsequent
failure to meet those requirements opened a
“Pandora’s Box” (Ramanathan, 2004, p. 1) of
BCPSS’s failures to comply with numerous
elements of FAPE.
Although the lawsuit costs the district
$14 million annually (Hettleman, 2002), we
can only speculate about the contribution of
SET shortages to the cost of BCPSS’s repeated
failures to deliver FAPE. Furthermore, litiga-
tion costs are distinct from the human costs of
teacher turnover—the investment necessary
to train and then replace underprepared teach-
Mason-Williams et al. 49
ers. Because special education had been a per-
sistent critical shortage area for BCPSS, the
district had hired large percentages of condi-
tionally and alternatively certified teachers
annually during the Vaughn G era (e.g., Mac
Iver et al., 2005; Maryland State Department
of Education, 2010). At the same time, a large
number of SWDs were found to have received
inadequate instruction on IEP goals (MDLC,
2008), and, for them, no fiscal metric can
assess the costs of lost instructional opportu-
nities.
Specific Aspects of the SET
Shortage Problem
In this section, we review research related to
five facets of the shortage problem: staffing
high poverty schools, staffing schools in
remote and rural areas, recruiting and retain-
ing teachers of color, staffing alternative edu-
cational placements, and combating attrition.
Staffing High Poverty Schools
High poverty schools commonly serve socio-
economically, racially, and ethnically diverse
populations of students. Compared with
wealthier schools, high poverty schools tend
to employ fewer SETs and have fewer certi-
fied SETs (Fall & Billingsley, 2011). In addi-
tion, high poverty schools often rely more
heavily on SETs who are emergency certified
(Fall & Billingsley). SETs in high poverty
schools enter via a variety of routes and most
lack advanced preparation (Mason-Williams,
2015). They are less likely to have completed
pre-service teacher preparation programs than
teachers in low poverty schools (Mason-
Williams), decreasing their chances of receiv-
ing training specific to their work. Instead,
they are more likely to complete ARs than
SETs in low poverty schools. SETs in high
poverty schools also are more likely to have
certification in fields other than special educa-
tion (Mason-Williams). Given their limited
preparation to teach SWDs, it seems plausible
that SETs in high poverty settings who are not
well-prepared for their work are serious attri-
tion risks. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that
high-poverty schools are staffed by larger pro-
portions of SETs of color (Billingsley, Bettini,
Mathews, & McLeskey, in press) and teachers
of color may have higher retention rates in
these schools than White teachers in high-
poverty schools, and higher retention rates
than teachers of color in low-poverty schools
(Carver-Thomas, 2018).
Staffing Remote and Rural Schools
Other school characteristics, such as geo-
graphic location and enrollment factors, may
also contribute to SET shortage. The majority
of youth attend schools in either rural settings
(53%) or in urban settings (6%; U.S. Depart-
ment of Education, National Center for Edu-
cation Statistics, Common Core of Data,
2013). Although rural and urban settings vary
geographically, both have racially and ethni-
cally diverse students, students living in pov-
erty, and struggling learners. In both settings,
administrators more often are forced to rely
on SETs who lack certification or a degree in
special education than administrators in sub-
urban schools (Mason-Williams, Sindelar, &
Fisher, 2017). Yet, the factors shaping short-
ages in these settings are quite different, and it
is important to differentiate them.
With the passage of No Child Left Behind
(NCLB) in 2001 and its definition of highly
qualified, staffing of rural schools became
increasingly challenging (Sindelar et al.,
2018). Rural settings continue to face critical
shortages due to geographic isolation (John-
son, Humphrey, & Allred, 2009), low enroll-
ment in and lack of access to teacher
preparation programs, teacher attrition, retire-
ment, and a general lack of interest in the
teaching profession (Rude & Miller, 2018).
Limited access to teacher preparation pro-
grams in rural settings likely contributes to
SETs being less likely to hold a Master’s
degree than their colleagues in urban and sub-
urban schools. In comparison, SETs in urban
schools complete ARs more often than SETs
in rural and suburban schools. This variation
may relate to the availability of local options;
however, distance and online education, satel-
lite campuses, and partnerships may eventually
50 Teacher Education and Special Education 43(1)
moderate those differences by making pro-
gram completion more accessible, regardless
of location (Sindelar et al., 2018).
High-poverty urban and rural schools send
proportionately fewer high school graduates to
college than wealthier districts (Roderick, Coca,
& Nagaoka, 2011), thereby limiting the number
of college graduates who return home to teach
locally. The draw of home (Boyd, Lankford,
Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2005b) is a well-established
phenomenon in teacher education wherein
teachers often return to the communities where
they grew up, seeking teaching positions in
those home communities. More recently,
though, student teaching placement has been
shown to predict where novice teachers begin
teaching even more strongly than their home-
towns (Krieg, Theobald, & Goldhaber, 2016).
This finding suggests a recruitment strategy for
high-poverty districts: to partner with prepara-
tion programs to provide student teaching
placements (Krieg et al., 2016). Doing so holds
potential to increase the number of student
teachers in the district and increase the possibil-
ity that some would remain to work there.
Nonetheless, SET shortages are pervasive in
both settings, driven by difficulties attracting
and retaining individuals in such schools. Fur-
thermore, urban SET teachers exit at almost
twice the rate of those in rural SET positions
(Prater, Harris, & Fisher, 2007). Although there
is little research to explain this phenomenon, it
seems plausible that working conditions such
as lack of resources and administrative support
(Johnson, Kraft, & Papay, 2012) contribute.
Also, not only do urban SET teachers leave the
field at higher rates than their suburban coun-
terparts, but teachers of color also leave at
higher rates than their White peers (Kohli,
2018; although this effect varies from school-
to-school with the demographics of the stu-
dents served). To understand this occurrence, a
closer look at SET shortages for teachers of
color is warranted.
Recruiting and Retaining Teachers
of Color
Despite long-standing concerns about the dis-
parity between a predominantly White teach-
ing workforce and a student population that is
increasingly racially/ethnically, culturally,
and linguistically diverse (Billingsley et al.,
2019), literature on shortages of SETs of color
is scarce. Extant research suggests that many
factors contribute, including (a) race-based
barriers to college attendance, which contrib-
ute to low enrollments of people of color in
teacher preparation programs (Scott, 2018),
and (b) conditions in teacher preparation and
in schools that disproportionately push teach-
ers of color out of teaching (Achinstein et al.,
2010; Irizarry, 2011).
Similarly, there is limited research examin-
ing the experiences of SETs of color, although
there is some evidence that lack of diversity in
teacher preparation contributes to the prob-
lem. For example, Scott (2018) reported that
only about 10% of the candidates in SET
preparation programs are Black. Furthermore,
Black college students who major in educa-
tion have lower graduation rates than White
education majors (Scott), and they report
experiencing a number of barriers (e.g., finan-
cial pressures) to pursuing licensure (Scott &
Alexander, 2017).
In addition, extant research with general
educators suggest that working conditions are
especially problematic for teachers of color,
leading to higher attrition rates (Achinstein
et al., 2010). Those conditions include expec-
tations that, to be perceived as professional,
teacher candidates adhere to White cultural
and linguistic norms (Gist, 2017); frequent
racial microaggressions (Amos, 2016); and
discrimination (Bednar & Gicheva, 2019).
Bednar and Gicheva’s analysis of SASS data
found that teachers of color received less sup-
plementary monetary compensation than their
White colleagues (controlling for experience
and qualifications) in schools led by a White
principal, whereas such disparities did not
occur in schools led by principals of color.
Similarly, a number of studies have docu-
mented how teachers of color often feel iso-
lated and marginalized within schools staffed
primarily by White educators, often reporting
that colleagues do not value the cultural assets
they bring to teaching (e.g., Amos, 2016). Fur-
thermore, some studies indicate that, when
schools engage in racist practices or discourses
(e.g., blaming students of color and their
Mason-Williams et al. 51
families for disproportionate discipline),
teachers of color are put into an especially
untenable position, a “double bind” (Gist,
2017, p. 927), in which their personal commit-
ments to serving students of color conflict with
the professional norms to which they are
expected to adhere (Achinstein & Ogawa,
2011; Gist, 2017). Collectively, these issues
lead to high rates of attrition among teachers
of color, though this is somewhat ameliorated
in schools where more students, teachers, and
administrators are also people of color (Achin-
stein et al., 2010). Note that most of this
research has been conducted with general edu-
cators, and limited research has explored these
issues with regard to SETs.
Staffing in Alternative Education
Settings
Difficulties with staffing special education
positions extend beyond neighborhood
schools and appear to impact differently
schools with a mission to educate students
with the most substantial learning and behav-
ioral needs. In an investigation comparing
teacher qualifications across school settings,
Mason-Williams, Bettini, and Gagnon (2017)
found that SETs in public and private alterna-
tive elementary schools for SWDs were less
experienced, less likely to have special educa-
tion degrees, and less likely to hold certifica-
tion in elementary or special education than
their colleagues in neighborhood schools.
Other studies have obtained similar findings,
indicating that personnel within alternative
educational settings for students with signifi-
cant learning and behavior needs are less
likely to hold appropriate qualifications
(Mason-Williams & Gagnon, 2016). Because
students are placed in alternative educational
settings due to substantial learning and/or
behavioral needs that necessitate more inten-
sive and effective services (Rozalski, Stewart,
& Miller, 2010), the fact that they are less
likely to be served by experienced, well-qual-
ified staff is especially disconcerting.
In a related investigation, Mason-Williams
et al. (2017) found that, across all school
types, only 60% of the secondary SETs held
both a degree and certification in special edu-
cation. These authors also found that, across
all school types, 25% to 35% of the secondary
SETs lacked degrees in special education.
Such findings suggest substantial difficulties
with hiring fully qualified individuals to hold
special education positions, regardless of set-
ting. Although troubling in all settings, for
students placed in exclusionary settings with
the promise of teachers better prepared to
meet their unique needs, these findings are
especially problematic.
General Factors
Contributing to Shortage
As a means of recruitment, the teaching pro-
fession has appealed to young people’s altru-
istic motivations and sense of calling (Fish &
Stephens, 2010). Declining enrollments in
teacher preparation programs suggest that
young people today may be looking to other
professions to fulfill such altruistic aspirations
(Dewey et al., 2017). When wages were com-
petitive, intrinsic motivations might well have
been enough for some; however, it has become
increasingly clear that more is needed to stem
SET shortage. Evidence continues to mount
that current compensation levels are inade-
quate to attract the best and brightest (Park &
Byun, 2015), less favorable working condi-
tions drive competent individuals away from
and out of the profession (Ganimian, Alfonso,
& Santiago, 2013), and interested and aca-
demically gifted individuals do not view
teaching as an intellectually stimulating occu-
pation (Elfers, Plecki, John, & Wedel, 2008;
Ganimian et al., 2013). Moreover, investiga-
tion at the international level has found that
the degree to which teaching retains a high
social status is linked to both young people’s
aspirations of becoming a teacher and a reduc-
tion in the gender gap in the teaching profes-
sion. In the following sections, we consider
current research on each of these facets to
underscore the urgent need for the kind of
bold disruptive change we believe necessary
to turn the tide on SET shortages.
52 Teacher Education and Special Education 43(1)
Professional Attractiveness
As a profession, teaching has seen a decline in
social standing (Han, Borgonovi, & Guerri-
ero, 2018). Elfers et al. (2008) surveyed over
600 math, science, and engineering college
majors about their view of K-12 teaching as a
career. Although these undergraduates were
supportive of the role teaching serves in soci-
ety, respondents preferred jobs that provided
intellectual challenge and high earnings, and
ones that commanded respect. Most respon-
dents did not believe teaching offered them
such opportunities. In a randomized experi-
ment of top college graduates enrolling in a
highly selective alternative path to teaching,
Ganimian et al. (2013) tested the impact of
information on teachers’ working condition
on the likelihood of opting out of the program.
Provided with information about pay and
working conditions, students were more likely
to express a desire to drop out, and those with
the highest academic marks were most likely
to follow through.
In two recent analyses of surveys conducted
by the Organization for Economic Co-opera-
tion and Development (OECD), researchers
examined the relationships between societal
evaluations and professionalization of teach-
ing, with intentions to enter into and stay in
teaching. In 2018, Han et al., examined the
degree to which salaries, working conditions,
and societal evaluations of teaching influenced
the career intentions of 15-year-old students of
all ability levels across developing countries.
Although salary was found to be an important
factor for students’ intention to enter into
teaching, equally important was the finding
that interest in teaching varied with societal
respect for the profession (p. 32). Thus, the
degree to which teaching as a profession is
elevated in the eyes of society appears to be
important for addressing the shortage of SETs.
In part, the shortage of qualified special
education candidates is a function of the over-
all attractiveness of the profession. The teach-
ing profession writ large is widely viewed as
an undesirable profession by aspiring youth
(Han et al., 2018). Moreover, persistent short-
ages and high rates of annual attrition suggest
that the role of special education teaching is far
less desirable than most other teaching posts,
all else being equal. This view of teaching is
informed by the conditions in which teachers
work and compensation they receive. Labor
market research has established that the attrac-
tiveness of a given job is either enhanced or
diminished by these critical aspects of a given
profession. Research suggests that states that
have a history of low shortages of certified
SETs make greater investment in these key
aspects of attractiveness than do states with
persistent shortages (Peyton et al., 2019), as
we shall see.
Stemming Attrition
Attrition contributes to the shortage by reduc-
ing the number of qualified personnel who
choose to stay in teaching (Billingsley & Bet-
tini, 2019). Some attrition is inevitable (e.g.,
retirements, care for young children; Boe,
Cook, & Sunderland, 2008), and some is even
desirable (e.g., teachers who are persistently
ineffective; Adnot, Dee, Katz, & Wyckoff,
2017). Nevertheless, these types of attrition
account for only a small proportion of all attri-
tion (18% and 14%), whereas two-thirds is
voluntary (Carver-Thomas & Darling-
Hammond, 2017).
Voluntary attrition appears to have serious
consequences for students and for districts
(Milanowski & Odden, 2007; Ronfeldt, Loeb,
& Wyckoff, 2013). For example, Ronfeldt
et al. found that grades within a school that
experienced more teacher turnover had sig-
nificantly lower student achievement than
grades in the same school with lower turn-
over—and lower achievement than the same
grade in the same school from a different year
with lower turnover. The turnover appeared to
impact the distribution of teacher effective-
ness, as effective teachers were often replaced
by less effective teachers, and to disrupt the
effectiveness of teachers who stayed.
Teacher attrition also contributes to teacher
quality gaps between high- and low-poverty
schools (Boyd, Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff,
2005a; Goldhaber et al., 2018). For example,
Boyd et al. found that highly effective beginning
Mason-Williams et al. 53
teachers were more likely to leave high-pov-
erty schools to move to low-poverty schools.
No comparable research has examined the
effects of SET turnover on student achieve-
ment (Billingsley & Bettini, 2019), but schol-
ars have posited that the disruptive effects of
SET turnover (i.e., the effects on colleagues’
effectiveness) might be especially problematic,
given the number of collaborative relationships
that SETs must build with general education
colleagues, related service providers, and par-
ents (McLeskey & Billingsley, 2008). It is
encouraging to note that extant research sug-
gests that attrition is malleable, as SETs may be
more likely to stay (or to intend to stay) when
they experience stronger preparation (Connelly
& Graham, 2009), better quality in-service
induction and mentoring (Ingersoll & Strong,
2011), and more supportive working condi-
tions (e.g., Billingsley & Bettini). Less encour-
aging is the reality that large, complex systems
are often slow to change and often change in
unintended or unhelpful ways.
Working Conditions
Bettini, Wang, Cumming, Kimerling, and
Schutz (2019) defined working conditions as
the demands placed on teachers (e.g., instruc-
tional responsibilities, extra tasks, paper-
work), as well as the social (e.g., administrative
support, school culture) and logistical sup-
ports (e.g., planning time, curricular resources)
provided to fulfill those demands effectively.
Although there are many pathways by which
working conditions shape special educators’
instructional quality and effectiveness (e.g.,
by fostering their learning, supporting posi-
tive affective responses to work, facilitating
efforts to enact newly learned practices; Bill-
ingsley, Bettini, Mathews, & McLeskey, this
issue), most working conditions research has
examined how they are associated with spe-
cial educators’ intent to leave (Billingsley &
Bettini, 2019). This research has consistently
shown that working conditions are powerful
predictors of teachers’ intentions to leave their
schools and the profession overall (Billings-
ley & Bettini, 2019). Research on demands
has shown that paperwork; caseload size,
complexity, and diversity; and student behav-
ior challenges put teachers at greater risk for
attrition (Billingsley & Bettini, 2019). Social
resources that mitigate such risk are adminis-
trative support, school culture, and collegial
support (Billingsley & Bettini, 2019). The
availability of logistical resources has also
been shown to mitigate attrition risk; these
include the availability of curricular and
instructional materials and time for planning
(e.g., Bettini, Cumming et al., 2017). These
conditions may be especially important for
inexperienced and underprepared teachers,
who may require more support and who are at
higher risk of attrition (Billingsley & Bettini,
2019).
Nevertheless, addressing poor working
conditions successfully will require attention
to the ways in which the demands on special
educators differ from the demands on general
educators—necessitating different resources
to support them in meeting those demands.
One major difference is the degree to which
special versus general educators’ roles are
clearly defined. General educators’ responsi-
bilities are typically defined by clear schedules
specifying who, what, and when they will
teach. Although general educators do have lee-
way to interpret these structures in different
ways, the general parameters of their jobs are
fairly well defined (Youngs, Jones, & Low,
2011). Furthermore, they have grade level (at
elementary) or content-area (at secondary)
colleagues whose jobs are very similar to their
own; thus, for support, they can tap colleagues
who understand their roles. In contrast, special
educators are often assigned a caseload, then
required to determine—often in negotiation
with general education colleagues— when
they will teach whom and what curricula they
will use during that time. Such responsibilities
are especially challenging, given that SETs
experience difficulty negotiating these issues
with general education colleagues, who may
devalue their contributions to instruction
(Scruggs, Mastropieri, & McDuffie, 2007), be
reluctant to include their students or to release
their students for intervention time (e.g., Bettini,
Brunsting, Lillis, & Stark, 2019), or pressure
them to focus on homework help and credit
54 Teacher Education and Special Education 43(1)
recovery, thereby eliminating time for founda-
tional skill instruction (e.g., Bray & Russell,
2018). Furthermore, they seldom have special
education colleagues who share the same role,
so they cannot rely on colleagues to provide
the kinds of support and guidance that general
educators are often able to get from colleagues.
Collectively, these conditions burden spe-
cial educators with the responsibility of
determining key parameters of their work.
Such responsibility may be especially stress-
ful and unproductive for early career teach-
ers, who are still learning their craft
(Billingsley, Bettini, & Jones, in press). Fur-
thermore, schools tend to be oriented around
general educators’ roles, with social supports,
schedules, materials, and professional learn-
ing opportunities focused on general educa-
tion curricula (Bray & Russell, 2018), while
special educators’ ideal roles are often inade-
quately supported by social and logistical
resources. For example, SETs often report
lacking the curricular and instructional
resources needed to teach content (Bettini,
Cumming et al., in press), instructional
grouping that would permit them to focus
instruction tightly on students’ learning needs
(e.g., Bishop, Brownell, Klingner, Leko, &
Galman, 2010), and adequate planning time
(Bettini, Cumming et al., in press).
In spite of the fact that they are responsible
for coordinating the work of all teachers in the
school, administrators often express limited
understandings of special educators’ roles and
how to support them (Billingsley, McLeskey,
& Crockett, 2017). Case studies indicate that,
when administrators do understand special
educators’ roles and orient school structures
(e.g., schedules, curricular resources, and sup-
port systems) around those roles, schools do
experience more positive outcomes for SWDs
(e.g., McLeskey, Waldron, & Redd, 2014).
Furthermore, survey studies indicate that spe-
cial educators’ ratings of administrative sup-
port predict their ratings of other working
conditions (e.g., Gersten, Keating, Yovanoff,
& Harniss, 2001), indicating that changing
administrators’ knowledge and skill for sup-
porting special educators’ roles could be a
high leverage approach to improving working
conditions, thereby promoting stronger SET
retention.
In a comparison of high- versus low-short-
age states, Peyton et al. (2019) provided addi-
tional evidence of the importance of working
conditions. Drawing upon OSEP data, these
researchers identified seven states with persis-
tently high and seven states with consistently
low shortages of certified SETs between 2006
and 2015. Using per pupil expenditures as a
proxy for working conditions, Peyton et al.
found that states with consistently low short-
ages of certified SETs invested nearly
US$2,000 more per pupil than states with per-
sistently high shortages of SETs. Although the
discrepancy was not found to be statistically
significant, the difference was substantial,
equating to nearly US$39,000 per classroom
of 20 students.
Compensation
Time and again, compensation has been
found to be key to increasing workforce sup-
ply. In education, differential pay for teaching
in high-needs schools or shortage areas has
demonstrated effectiveness for reducing attri-
tion. Clotfelter, Glennie, Ladd, and Vigdor
(2008) reported that in North Carolina, mod-
est salary supplements for middle- and high-
school STEM teachers and SETs working in
high-poverty schools reduced attrition by
17%. The supplements represented roughly
4% to 5% of teachers’ salaries, or $2,600 in
current dollars. Of course, differential pay is
a challenging policy approach, given that col-
lective bargaining agreements and state-
defined salary schedules often require that all
teachers with comparable experience be paid
the same (Dee & Goldhaber, 2017). Never-
theless, there are other means of differentiat-
ing monetary incentives. For example, Feng
and Sass (2017) reported similar effects for a
loan forgiveness approach program. In part,
the Florida’s Critical Teacher Shortage Pro-
gram repaid up to $10,000 in student loan
debt for novice teachers in shortage fields.
Participation reduced SET attrition by more
than 12%, an impact greater than that experi-
enced by middle- and high-school math
Mason-Williams et al. 55
(10%) and science teachers (9%). Moreover,
the impact on SET attrition was most pro-
nounced when benefits were relatively more
substantial (>$2,500/year).
Peyton et al. (2019) found substantial differ-
ences between high- and low-shortage states
on two measures of compensation: salary
(adjusted for cost of living) and a variable they
termed SET salary differential. With regard to
salary, teachers in states with historically low
shortages were paid nearly $7,000 more annu-
ally than teachers in states with high shortages.
This differential spread across a 30-year teach-
ing career represents a difference of nearly a
quarter of a million dollars in earnings. Peyton
et al. also computed SET salary differentials,
which adjusted SETs’ salaries not only for cost
of living but also for differences in states’ over-
all wage scales. For example, a state with
warm, sunny weather may pay less across the
board for all occupations than states with less
desirable climates. Taken together, these fac-
tors are called the compensating differential.
States with low SET shortages had salaries
1.09 times higher than would be expected
given the overall wage structure in these states;
high shortage states had salaries 0.91 of what
would be expected. Thus, in low-shortage
states, special education teaching was a better
than average job, whereas in high-shortage
states, special education teaching was a worse
than average job. Overall, these researchers
found consistent trends that differentiated these
samples, such that low-shortage states tended
to invest more in working conditions and com-
pensation than high shortage states. Clearly,
special education teaching appeared to be a
more attractive profession in the former.
Addressing the Larger
Problem of SET Shortage
In combating shortages, special education has
not sat idle. For one thing, federal investments
in personnel preparation have assisted with
building capacity and addressing shortages.
States hoping to expand supply by attracting
mid-career changers and other non-traditional
candidates into the field have established
alternative entrées to the profession, including
some that streamline preparation and allow
for immediate employment. Although, as we
argue in the paragraphs to follow, none of
these actions have had a discernible impact on
SET shortage, we wonder how much more
severe shortages might have been had these
actions not been taken.
Federal Investment in Personnel
Preparation
OSEP annually conducts personnel prepara-
tion grant competitions and makes numerous
substantial awards. Between 2000 and 2016,
OSEP’s annual appropriations for personnel
preparation averaged more than $87 million
(see https://www2.ed.gov/programs/oseppr
ep/funding.html). Despite comparable invest-
ments over more than 40 years, OSEP’s
expenditures in personnel preparation seem
unrelated to SET shortage. The apparent
independence of SET shortage and appropria-
tions belies the fact that from the inception,
the personnel preparation funds were intended
to increase quantity (as well as improve qual-
ity; Kleinhammer-Tramill & Fiore, 2003). Of
course, it can be argued that SET shortages
would be worse without the federal invest-
ment, and, indeed, personnel preparation
funds fueled growth in both the number of
institutions preparing special education per-
sonnel and the number of new SETs produced
(Kleinhammer-Tramill, Tramill, & Brace,
2010), even if their impact cannot be observed
in the shortage data.
ARs
Virtually every state has authorized ARs to
special education teaching certification
(Myers, Gilbert, & Sindelar, 2019). By defi-
nition, ARs by-pass traditional pre-service
preparation. Although they take many forms,
the most common involves hiring individuals
to teach who have college degrees but lack
certification and training. The logic of such
internship models, in which participants com-
plete training while teaching, derives from
other shortage fields, particularly the STEM
disciplines, for which subject matter mastery
56 Teacher Education and Special Education 43(1)
is considered as essential as—if not more
essential than—effective pedagogy. In some
states, internship models provide more new
teachers than traditional pre-service prepara-
tion, even in special education, where this
logic fits less comfortably.
In special education, ARs have not attracted
the caliber of participant envisioned for the
STEM disciplines (Sindelar et al., 2012).
Nonetheless, some ARs have been shown to
prepare competent teachers (Rosenberg &
Sindelar, 2005), provided programs are suffi-
ciently long and involve school/university
collaboration, including building-based men-
torships (Rosenberg & Sindelar). ARs also
have proven reasonably cost-effective (Sinde-
lar et al., 2012). Nevertheless, other studies
have shown that novice teachers (Boe et al.,
2008) and teachers who are not fully prepared
when they enter the classroom are vulnerable
to attrition. For example, with data from the
Teacher Follow-up Survey, Boe, Bobbitt,
Cook, Whitener, and Weber (1997) found that
in a nationally representative sample of teach-
ers, those who were fully certified were more
likely to stay in the same school than teachers
who were not. Miller, Brownell, and Smith
(1999) found the same relationship to hold
true for special educators in Florida. Yet, as
successful as ARs have been, they have not
provided the silver bullet for SET shortages.
Some Disruptive Ideas
In our conversations about this article, we
wondered whether there is an actual shortage
of fully qualified SETs or rather a shortage of
fully qualified SETs who are willing to work
for the wages we are able to pay and under the
conditions we currently are able to provide in
schools. Our bet is on the latter, and we can
point to several threads of evidence to sub-
stantiate our claim. For one thing, within-state
studies of teacher shortage (e.g., Goff, Carl, &
Yang, 2018; Lauritzen & Friedman, 1993)
have demonstrated that shortages are more
likely to be distributional rather than absolute.
Ingersoll and Smith (2003) have made a
similar argument as it relates to attrition, and
the power to mitigate shortage that reducing
attrition provides. As we have seen, urban and
rural areas are disadvantaged relative to sub-
urban districts, as are schools serving high
poverty, low-achieving, often diverse student
populations. Earlier, Boe and Cook (2006)
established the importance of what they called
the reserve pool—experienced teachers
returning to the workforce and education
graduates who postponed entry to the field,
from which nearly two-thirds of new hires are
made. No estimate of the size of the reserve
pool has ever been made.
Second, Cowan, Goldhaber, Hayes, and
Theobald (2016) have argued that despite cur-
rent low enrollments in teacher preparation
programs, the number of education degrees
has grown substantially for decades, and that
the number of education graduates far exceeds
the annual number of new teacher hires. The
circumstances are much the same for special
education: Degree production nationally has
grown steadily over the past 20 years and,
since 2009, has exceeded SET demand (as
defined by the number of SETs who are not
highly qualified).
We believe that special education suffers
from a shortage of teachers willing to work
for the wages we pay and under the working
conditions provided in schools. As we have
seen in this article, strategies exist that may
mitigate shortages and improve working con-
ditions in the short term, but our reliance on
them is akin to tarring potholes or patching
cracks in dikes. We have been patching the
road to FAPE for 40 years, and, in our judg-
ment, it is time to re-engineer and re-pave. We
believe we need to pay teachers more gener-
ally, pay teachers in shortage areas more than
other teachers, and improve working condi-
tions for teachers in all of our schools.
A major challenge is getting policymakers
and the general public to make this happen.
Although many of us have conducted exten-
sive research on SET preparation and policy
and have had success lobbying for the funding
of specific initiatives, the shortage of SETs
remains an ongoing crisis that has, unfortu-
nately, not garnered substantial public or
legislative attention. Why have we not found
the appropriate leverage points to position
Mason-Williams et al. 57
SET salary and working conditions more vis-
ibly on political and legislative agendas? How
can we persuade policymakers of the impor-
tance of developing and funding bold disrup-
tive ideas to address complex, multi-faceted
educational issues?
First, we need to recognize that politicians
and the general public are overwhelmed with
requests for resources to address societal
needs. Advocates for public housing, veterans’
affairs, and climate change research, to name a
just a few, can and do make strong cases for
public attention and resources. The costs asso-
ciated with SET shortages, human and finan-
cial, need to be made explicit and infused into
public consciousness. Although social market-
ing may be an effective strategy (Henig, 2008),
our message must be direct and clear: We can
reduce shortages by paying SETs more and
improving working conditions and pay for
these changes with savings that result, in part,
from reducing the costs of turnover and litiga-
tion. We must be careful, however, about how
policies are designed. For example, although
we believe all teachers should be making more
money, across-the-board salary increases are
not likely to address field-specific shortages
(Peyton et al., 2019). In a recent New York
Times op-ed piece, Kraft (June 13, 2019) con-
curred: “if our ultimate goal—as parents, stu-
dents and voters—is to improve student
outcomes, then an across-the-board raise for
teachers is not the best approach.”
Second, we need to seize the moment. It
would appear that there is no time like the
present to advance bold disruptive ideas into
the consciousness of policy makers. A conflu-
ence of data points indicate that the public is
open and receptive to greater investment in
public education and that political candidates
are amenable to them as well. Recent polls
have found that public support for increasing
teacher salaries is at its highest point since
2008 (Cheng, Henderson, Peterson, & West,
2019), and a recent AP poll (cited by Kraft,
2019) found that 78% of the American public
believes that teachers are paid too little. Per-
haps most encouraging, public support was
found to be greatest in states that have recently
experienced teacher strikes. Successful strikes,
coupled with public support, affirm that poli-
cymakers are susceptible to constituent pres-
sure. Indeed, the forthcoming presidential
election offers an opportunity for stakeholders
to thrust these ideas onto the national stage and
pressure commitments from candidates.
Clearly, there are opportunities to advance a
set of bold and disruptive policy proposals that
gets at the heart of SET shortages—compensa-
tion and working conditions.
Finally, we must recognize that special
educators are not going to do it alone. We
need strong allies and advocates, such as
AERA, which sponsored a convening of
researchers and other stakeholders to advance
innovative and disruptive ideas (Dieker et al.,
2019). We also need more and better data on
the consequences of shortage for SWDs, and
more data that speak to the economic conse-
quences of our failure to provide an adequate
workforce. There is no task in this prescrip-
tion that lies beyond our abilities as teacher
educators and scholars, or that lies beyond our
responsibilities as special education profes-
sionals. Let’s do this.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of
interest with respect to the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.
Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the
research, authorship, and/or publication of this
article.
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Author Biographies
Loretta Mason-Williams, PhD is an associate
professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning,
and Leadership at Binghamton University.
Elizabeth Bettini PhD is an assistant professor of
Special Education at Boston University.
David Peyton PhD is an assistant professor of Spe-
cial Education at Apalachian State University.
Alexandria Harvey also is a doctoral candidate in
Special Education at the University of Florida.
Michael Rosenberg PhD is professor and dean of
the School of Education at SUNY New Paltz.
Paul T. Sindelar PhD is distinguished professor of
Special Education at the University of Florida.
... With this, the role of special education teachers as well as their perception of the effectiveness toward goals is very crucial because they are the key players in implementing IEP in the special education curriculum (Smith, 2013). However, the study of Peyton et al. (2020) found that there are some districts in the United States facing constraints to fill special education teacher positions since the burden of duties and responsibilities carried by a special education teacher is too heavy in this day and age. ...
... The results of Peyton et al. (2020) is in line with the research conducted by Hannah, Rosadah and Manisah (2019) as well as Ahmad (2014) which shows that Malaysia is also experiencing a shortage of certified special education teachers in special education schools or in PPKI. Hannah, Rosadah and Manisah (2019) reported that the lack of qualified teaching staff in special education complicates the implementation of any program related to special education. ...
... In addition, special education teachers who lack motivation to implement IEP is also due to the time allotted to prepare IEP reports or assessment instruments being insufficient. This phenomenon is due to the IEP implementation process involving the problem of a shortage of special education teachers serving in schools as well as various clerical work that is given directly can increase the workload of teachers (Akcin, 2021;Fu, et al., 2018;Peyton et al., 2020;Sacks & Halder, 2017;Shao, et al., 2022). Although special education teachers have experienced many challenges in terms of attitude, they still show a positive attitude towards the need to implement IEP for the benefit of SEN students. ...
... Providing high-quality, appropriate education for all students, including those with severe disabilities, faces major challenges like a shortage of certified special education teachers and an over-reliance on minimally trained paraprofessionals (Applequist, 2009;Carter et al., 2016;Peyton et al., 2020). As the services provided by paraprofessionals are consistently used as a stopgap for teacher shortages (Villegas & Davis, 2007), the procedures used in their training ought to be developed with best practices for adult learning. ...
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... For example, a recent analysis by Feng (2020) found approximately $7000 is necessary to attract and retain teachers in high-need schools (i.e., schools serving largely students of color and low-income families). In addition, work by (Peyton et al., 2021) analyzed differences between states with shortages of qualified special education teachers, finding that states with lower shortages tended to pay teachers approximately $7,700 more than states with higher shortages. Even with an ever-increasing average annual debt for college undergraduates (>$26,500; Hershbein and Hollenbeck 2014), the trade-off of selecting into a teaching major does not appear to be one US undergraduates are willing to make. ...
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Special education teachers for students with extensive support needs often and unwittingly make misinformed decisions. These decisions are situated within systems, which fail to support expertise development in teaching this population, resulting in decisions influenced by media, commercially available curricula, and outdated assumptions about possible student outcomes. We propose a framework for making and evaluating decisions about teaching students with extensive support needs to support teacher education in this area. Based on 45 years of research and theory, we propose that teacher educators should prepare teachers to (a) know what to teach; (b) know how to teach; and (c) identify who teaches students with extensive support needs. We further suggest that teacher education and teacher decision-making for students with extensive support needs should be evaluated based on the following basic questions: (a) Is it inclusive? (b) Is it dignifying? (c) Is it student centered? and (d) Is it evidence-based? A rationale and recommendations for practice are provided.
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Introduction Homelessness has a major impact on the educational and health trajectories of children. Youth with disabilities may be especially vulnerable to experiencing homelessness, but little epidemiological work has been done to characterize dual disparity. Our goal was to describe the relationship between homelessness and disability among students (age 3-21) receiving public education in Massachusetts in 2018-2019. We evaluated the proportion of students with and without disabilities experiencing homelessness by county and school district. Methods We used publicly available data from the U.S. and Massachusetts Departments of Education. These data used the McKinney Vento Homelessness Assistance Act definition of homelessness which is a lack of fixed, adequate, and regular housing and disability was determined by presence of an individualized education program or family service plan. We calculated percentages of students with and without disabilities experiencing homelessness at the state, county, and district level and calculated and mapped risk or homelessness comparing students and without disability. We also determined the occurrence of disability among those experiencing homelessness. Results In Massachusetts public schools, 3.5% of students with disabilities experienced homelessness compared to 2.4% of students without disabilities (relative risk 1.50, 95% CI: 1.47, 1.53). A greater proportion of students with disabilities experienced homelessness compared to students without disabilities in all counties. In sum, 24.8% of students experiencing homelessness had a reported disability. Conclusions In Massachusetts public schools, a greater proportion of students with disabilities experience homelessness compared to students without disabilities, and disability is common among students experiencing homelessness. We hypothesize potential mechanisms, such as the financial cost of disability, that may lead to this finding. Findings support the need for additional funding and interventions for school districts and communities to better serve vulnerable students with disabilities experiencing homelessness.
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High teacher turnover imposes numerous burdens on the schools and districts from which teachers depart. Some of these burdens are explicit and take the form of recruiting, hiring, and training costs. Others are more hidden and take the form of changes to the composition and quality of the teaching staff. This study focuses on the latter. We ask how schools respond to spells of high teacher turnover and assess organizational and human capital effects. Our analysis uses two decades of administrative data on math and English language arts middle school teachers in North Carolina to determine school responses to turnover across different policy environments and macroeconomic climates. Based on models controlling for school contexts and trends, we find that turnover has marked, and lasting, negative consequences for the quality of the instructional staff and student achievement. Our results highlight the need for heightened policy attention to school-specific issues of teacher retention.
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Research
Teacher strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Colorado have raised the profile of deteriorating teacher pay as a critical public policy issue. Teachers and parents are protesting cutbacks in education spending and a squeeze on teacher pay that persist well into the economic recovery from the Great Recession. These spending cuts are not the result of weak state economies. Rather, state legislatures have enacted them to finance tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. This paper underscores the crisis in teacher pay by updating our data series on the teacher pay penalty—the percent by which public school teachers are paid less than comparable workers.
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In 2015, the National Goals Conference for and with people with intellectual disability encouraged the field of special education to recruit and retain more Black teachers. In this grounded theory study, 18 Black men were interviewed to learn more about experiences surrounding recruitment and retention in special education teacher-preparation programs (SETPPs) and for teaching careers in special education. Findings led to the development of a theory based on three constructs: (a) motivations for becoming a special education teacher, (b) attractions to SETPPs, and (c) focused strategies for recruitment and retention that indicated several strategies that SETPPs and school divisions should consider (e.g., funding, distance education program, mentorship) when attempting to recruit and retain Black males into training programs and for special education careers. The implication for the special education teacher workforce and potential for future research are discussed.
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Persistent teacher shortages have led states to promulgate policies to support alternative pathways into teaching and hence supplement supply. Such alternatives may differ from traditional preparation in many ways, but each tends to tap non-traditional participants. Currently, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that special education teachers (SET) be fully certified and, if not, that they be enrolled in high-quality alternative preparation. The purpose of this study was to identify state policies supporting alternative route programs and to organize them into mutually exclusive conceptual models. We also determined whether and under what circumstances these models satisfy IDEA Part B assurances concerning SETs who are not fully certified. We identified 174 policies across 48 states and grouped them into eight models, two of which offer good potential for addressing the IDEA assurances. We discuss the implications of these findings for states and, with regard to design, alternative route providers.
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Special education teachers (SETs) are expected to use effective practices to improve outcomes for students with disabilities, yet even those who are well-prepared may not be effective in teaching these students, as problematic working conditions may limit their opportunities to teach effectively and their longevity in the profession. To complicate matters, the context of SETs’ work has changed, calling into question the nature of their roles in supporting student learning. The purpose of this article is to provide a broad overview of what is known about working conditions and to articulate how we might improve them. The authors identify key themes from the research literature about the relationship of SETs’ working conditions to their early experiences in schools and their burnout, attrition, and effectiveness. The authors then outline an action agenda focused on researching and leveraging the roles of varied stakeholders, teacher educators, educational leaders, and professional organizations to improve these conditions.
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High rates of attrition make it challenging for schools to provide qualified special education teachers for students with disabilities, especially given chronic teacher shortages. We synthesize 30 studies from 2002 to 2017, examining factors associated with special educator attrition and retention, including (a) teacher preparation and qualifications, (b) school characteristics, (c) working conditions, and (d) teacher demographic and nonwork factors. Most studies examined working conditions (e.g., demands, administrative and collegial supports, resources, compensation) among special educators who left teaching, moved to other positions, transferred to general education teaching, or indicated that they intended to stay or leave. The majority of researchers used quantitative methods to analyze national, state, or other survey data, while eight used qualitative methods. Our critique identifies both strengths and weaknesses of this literature, suggests research priorities, and outlines specific implications for policy makers and leaders.
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Special education has been the subject of many rulings in federal courts. These rulings have greatly affected the practice of special education. The most important of these cases have come from the U.S. Supreme Court, which thus far has heard 12 cases directly affecting special education. This article examines the most important of these special education rulings from the High Court and addresses the meaning of these decisions for special education administrators, teachers, related service providers, students in special education, and their parents.
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Efforts to recruit and retain effective teachers of color have spread into the field of special education. However, scant research examining the experiences of teachers of color enrolled in special education teacher preparation inclusion programs exists. In the current study, a phenomenological investigation of 10 preservice Black students at predominately White higher education institutes in special education teacher programs designed to train teachers for inclusive classrooms was conducted to understand their experiences and identify effective recruitment and retention strategies. Based on the findings, students reported five themes: (a) feeling alienated in their programs, (b) feeling that they need effective mentoring from faculty of color, (c) better relationships with other peers of color, (d) deliberate mission of the institute and program, and (e) better need for financial support. The implications for recruiting and retaining Black teachers in special education and directions for future research were discussed.
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With vetted data from state department of education websites, the authors undertook to update previous studies of special education licensure. They organized state licensure structures by the presence or absence of (a) grade bands and (b) differentiations (by category or severity). They assessed the impact of structure on student outcomes and special education teacher (SET) shortage, and sought commonalities in structures of effective states. They found that almost all states differentiate licensure for preschool teachers and teachers of students with visual or hearing impairments. Most states also offer a generic license. Currently, fewer states use other disability categories than was true in the past, and more states now use grade and severity distinctions. Structure was unrelated to student outcomes and SET shortage, and the authors found only two commonalities among effective states. As a unit of analysis, state may be too coarse, and the authors argue for within-state time series analysis as an alternative.
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In this qualitative comparative case study, we drew from institutional theory and cultural historical activity theory to explore how educators wrote, used, and conceptualized the role of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for students with specific learning disabilities within secondary inclusive settings. We found that students’ IEPs were responding to institutional pressures to educate students within inclusive settings. However, the content of the students’ IEPs offered limited guidance on the activity of providing students with special education supports and services. With this being said, the IEPs still played distinctive roles in each school’s unique activity system for educating students within inclusive classrooms. Our findings illuminate a dynamic interaction between institutional pressures and the activity of providing students with a special education.