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Shortage of Special Education Teachers Includes Their Teachers

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School districts often find themselves short of special education teachers, even as they lay off other educators.

The Special Education Faculty Needs Assessment project found that part of the shortage is because of an ongoing dearth of special education faculty that may grow worse in the near future. Concern over the shortage of faculty in the special education field led to creation of SEFNA with grant money from the U.S. Department of Education's office of special education programs. The work builds on a 2001 report that also found a shortage of special education faculty.

The group's new study released this month involved researchers at Claremont Graduate University, Vanderbilt, and Western Carolina Universities.

Four years of study by the organization found that job prospects and job security for special education doctorates remain high and stable. But despite the economy and the outlook for jobs in other fields, the demand for special education faculty continues to outstrip the supply.

Aside from training new special education teachers, special education faculty conduct the kind of research that informs instruction, so the lack of faculty is a double whammy, the study found. in addition, the training of special education teachers is becoming more complex. Some programs now include instruction about multitiered interventions, such as response to intervention; differentiated instruction; and universal design for learning.

During the next five years, institutes of higher education that grant doctoral degrees in special education will lose one-half to two-thirds of their faculty to retirement alone, the study found. That adds up to between 388 and 582 doctoral faculty.

To improve the supply of special education faculty, the researchers recommend, among other suggestions:

• An increase in federal support in the form of tuition, stipends, and the number of doctoral student projects that are funded. All of this will allow students to study full-time, reducing the time it takes them to graduate and become university faculty members.
• Universities and the federal government should support creating more blended teacher preparation programs, ones in which teacher candidates earn their degrees and teacher credentials at the same time.
• Universities should work to recruit culturally and linguistically diverse doctoral
students interested in becoming faculty.

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