Spec.-Ed. Teacher Shortage Analyzed

By Susan G. Foster — March 07, 1984 3 min read

A new national study has found that many states are contending with the documented shortage of special-education teachers through lax certification policies that allow school districts to assign unqualified personnel to programs for the handicapped.

The study also found that the regulations of nearly half of the states and territories surveyed did not mention inservice training, professional development, or the preparation and continued training of personnel for special education.

The study, “Personnel to Educate the Handicapped in America: Supply and Demand From a Programmatic Viewpoint,” was conducted by Judy Smith-Davis, Philip J. Burke, and Margaret Noel, all of the University of Maryland’s Institute for the Study of Exceptional Children and Youth. Their research was underwritten in part by the U.S. Education Department.

‘Scientific Inquiry’

Described by the researchers as a departure from traditional “scientific inquiry,” the study examines the existing shortage of teachers in special education and attempts to identify state and local personnel policies that affect the quality of services for the handicapped.

The study’s findings are based on responses recorded during telephone interviews with officials in state departments of education in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico, and with officials of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Respondents were asked a series of open-ended questions on a variety of issues such as state-certification policies, student-teacher ratios, staff development, and financing.

The initial interviews were conducted in the spring of 1982; one year later, draft reports of the interviews were sent to each survey participant for comment before the report was written in its final form.

Citing data from the federal office of special-education programs, the final report says that 22,000 new special-education teachers are expected to graduate this year from the nation’s colleges and universities. At the same time, the report notes, about 25,000 special-education teachers will leave the profession.

The Education Department’s report last year to the Congress on the federal program for the handicapped concluded that the number of special-education teachers would have to increase by 43,000, or 20 percent, and the number of support personnel by more than 47,500, or 28 percent in order to meet the staffing needs of the schools during the 1982-83 school year. (See Education Week, Dec. 22, 1982.)

In the study conducted by the Maryland researchers, 22 of the 54 officials surveyed said that some of their schools experienced personnel shortages several months into the school year, and 33 of them reported “consistent” shortages of personnel to educate emotionally and behaviorally disturbed students.

The study’s findings underscore the importance of efforts to both increase the number of qualified teacher candidates and improve the proficiency of teachers who are already on the job, the researchers write. But they also argue that manpower needs should be redefined to more closely reflect “the level and quality of services that a school district should maintain in order to provide full educational opportunities for all children.”

Of the 54 jurisdictions surveyed, 22 had no state regulations pertaining to inservice training or staff development, according to the report.

In some jurisdictions, the researchers added, up to 30 percent of teachers assigned to work with handicapped children had only minimal experience or preparation because of broad certification policies.

“In special education,” the report explains, “the most widespread solution to problems of personnel shortages and recruitment is the issuance of certificates to persons who do not demonstrate the preparation, experience, qualifications, and other criteria ordinarily used for certification.”

“Certification polices in many ju-risdictions and administrative policies in many locations,” the report says, “make it possible for districts that cannot find teachers at the salary levels offered to decrease the demand for personnel by reorganizing programs, regrouping pupils, exceeding ratios, and placing more children in regular education without the instructional expertise and support necessary for their educational achievement.”

As the shortage of qualified personnel worsens, the researchers argue in the report, schools will rely more heavily on these practices.

Copies of the study are available at a cost of $6 from the Institute for the Study of Exceptional Children and Youth.

The institute’s address is 1220 Benjamin Building, College of Education, University of Maryland, College Park, Md. 20742.

A version of this article appeared in the March 07, 1984 edition of Education Week as Spec.-Ed. Teacher Shortage Analyzed