Search for special ed teachers goes national

Search for special ed teachers goes national

(Calif.) Recruitment efforts for special education positions – often the hardest jobs for schools to fill – have been forced to focus on out-of-state candidates as the shortage of teachers across California continues to loom.

Vicki Barber, co-executive director of the California Statewide Taskforce on Special Education, said expanding the scope of the search has helped ease intrastate competition to hire special education professionals.

“A number of school districts are starting to recruit by going out of state to the colleges to bring teachers to California,” Barber said in an interview. “It helps our issue statewide, but it leaves a national concern over special education shortage.”

Nearly every state reported a shortage of special education teachers in 2013-14, according to the National Coalition on Personnel Shortages in Special Education and Related Services. In addition, 82 percent of special educators reported a lack of professionals, so much so that it was difficult to meet the needs of students with disabilities.

New evidence on the scale of the shortage in California, especially in regards to the neediest specific fields and regions, will be presented Tuesday in Sacramento by Sen. Carol Liu, D-Pasadena, and Linda Darling-Hammond, chair of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

The shortage generally has been attributed to a number of challenges, including new teachers leaving the profession when faced with excessive paperwork, inadequate professional support and a sense of isolation from other educators. In other cases, potential teaching candidates are drawn to other, seemingly more stable professions.

States are looking to solve the shortage through different avenues. In Idaho, Boise State University has created a fast-track credentialing system to prepare more special education teachers quickly. The University of Nebraska's Kearney campus combined its kindergarten through sixth grade and seventh through 12th grade programs credentials into one. And the University of Hawaii at Manoa provides virtual training for special education teachers in rural areas.

In California, there was an 18.7 percent decrease in the number of new Education Specialist Instruction Credentials issued in 2013-14 from the prior year, making it the third consecutive year the numbers dropped, the state’s credentialing commission reported earlier this year.

Further, according to the commission’s most recent data, while the number of special education credentials issued through traditional preparation programs decreased almost 8 percent from 2012 and 2014, the number of credentials issued to teachers prepared out of state increased nearly 18 percent.

Individual school districts have begun experimenting with ways to recruit new teachers and retain them. In Sonoma County, the North Coast School of Education – the County Office of Education’s own school of education – will launch its first "Be a Teacher" intern program at the end of January with a focus on special education.

Despite the many efforts put forth by districts, some are concerned that it may not be enough to fill all of the positions needed to ensure students’ needs are being met.

“Historically, there has always been a shortage of education specialists, but the decline in production certainly isn’t helping,” Joshua Speaks, legislative representative for the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, said in an interview. “Numbers for 2015 aren’t available yet, but I think you will see that there has been an overall decline in education specialists.”

Topics of discussion at next week’s hearing will include new approaches to teacher recruitment, preparation and retention efforts, according to a press release for the event.

Figuring out how to best retain teachers, especially those newest to the profession, is one of the more crucial pieces of the puzzle, Barber said. And the solution centers on better, continual professional development efforts.

In that regard, the 2015-16 state budget includes $500 million in one-time funds dedicated to providing professional development, coaching and support services for teachers and administrators.

However, further changes should be made in how potential teachers are recruited, and how the programs they enroll in are structured, Barber said. Providing grants or subsidies for people to go back to school to get credentialed would be a positive step, as would coordinating exams throughout the process rather than holding them until after coursework is complete.

The credentialing commission is currently considering two potential changes, according to Charlene Cheng, California Department of Education spokesperson. One option would involve tweaking certain requirements while keeping the length of the credentialing program similar to the current status, or expanding the requirements somewhat.

“The question is always how to ensure that teachers are being appropriately prepared, and addressing teacher supply concerns,” Cheng said. “It’s not an easy balance.”