- Over the past 10-years, the number of special education teachers has dropped by nearly 20% nationally, according to a new analysis of federal data by the Education Week Research Center.
- But while the number of special education teachers has seen such a steep decrease, the same analysis found that the number of students with disabilities, ages 6 through 21, has declined by only 1% over the same time period.
- Among those surveyed in public schools with teaching vacancies, over 30% said they were not able to fill their special education spots or found it very difficult to do so. This is juxtaposed with the 9% who struggled to fill spots for general elementary education teachers.
According to Education Week’s survey, physical science and foreign language are the only subjects more difficult to fill then special education — a true struggle for many school districts. In 2015, NPR conducted an investigation into what is behind the growing number of vacancies in the field. In short it came down to “long hours and crushing paperwork.”
The shortage can also have dire consequences for school districts that are mandated to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which requires that students with disabilities have an individualized education program (IEP). Most require that a student be taught by a teacher who is certified to teach special education.
Other factors that contribute to the shortage, according to ReThink include a lack of access to technology that makes it easier for special education teachers to document and plan IEPs, challenging behaviors and isolation, which can manifest especially in rural communities where one special education teacher is expected to shoulder massive caseloads.
What makes the shortage particularly problematic for districts is if a school does not comply with an IEP. Even because of a shortage issue, they can be out of compliance and at risk of a lawsuit. In fact, in October a lawsuit was filed against Flint Community Schools in Michigan, alleging that the district lacks a quarter of its special education teaching force and is therefore failing to effectively educate the district’s students with special needs.