Questions & Answers

Check out what your colleagues want to know about special education personnel issues—and what COPSSE researchers have to say about them. For further insights based on COPSSE research, answers contain links to COPSSE documents. Look for Questions and Answers in the following topic areas:

Alternative Certification

Q:How do we determine if a fast track alternative route is cost effective?

A:Cost effectiveness varies as a function of initial cost and attrition. Cost per capita and cost per capita three years out are important considerations. Low cost, fast track programs whose graduates leave teaching are not cost effective. Learn More

Q:The district is interviewing new teacher candidates, many of whom are mid-career changers. What can we do to enhance the probability that these individuals will remain in teaching?

A:From a cost effectiveness perspective, there are several considerations. Ascertain each mid-career changer's motivation for shifting careers and look for individuals who are members of the community in which shortages exist, who come from careers that have similarities with education, and who will not lose substantial income. Learn More

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Certification and Licensure

Q:I just learned that my child's teacher is not certified in special education. Is this something that is just happening in my school district or is it a larger issue?

A:During the 2002-2003 school year, approximately 53,860 special education positions were filled by uncertified personnel—a 23 percent increase from the previous year. The problem is equally challenging in low incidence areas (e.g., deaf and hard of hearing and visual impairments). Learn More

Q:I am thinking of pursuing licensure as a building principal. What are my responsibilities for special education?

A:Although specific duties associated with special education vary from district to district, research suggests that principals are responsible for communicating with families and teachers about special education services, promoting disability awareness, monitoring and evaluating special education decisions and services, and ensuring legal compliance. Learn More

Q:I am thinking of becoming a special education teacher. Are there special licensure requirements?

A:Specific requirements vary state from to state. However, research suggests that licensure typically requires completion of a state-approved teacher education program and some combination of the following: general education certification in addition to special education certification, college degree, and passage of examinations. Learn More

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Related Services

Q:What strategies can you recommend for supporting the retention of qualified related service personnel?

A:Various researchers and experts working in this area recommend that school districts consider making salaries competitive with the private sector and providing adequate work/office space, equipment, materials, and access to technology and clerical assistance. In addition, consider minimizing excessive travel time between schools, reducing paperwork burdens, and assigning manageable caseloads. Learn More

Q:As a parent of a child who benefits from related services, I have been hearing that the school district is experiencing shortages of qualified personnel. What are the implications for my child?

A:Shortages often result in larger ratios of students to service providers. Even with the expansion of consultative and team models for the delivery of services, therapist expertise often is spread thin, potentially compromising the benefit to students. Learn More

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Supply and Demand

Q:Help settle this debate: I say the shortage of special education personnel is a result of too much attrition, but my colleague says it is more a problem of inadequate supply. Who is correct?

A:Research suggests that both viewpoints are correct. More than 50,000 teachers are needed to solve the special education shortage, with 98 percent of the nation's largest school districts reporting shortages. However, some schools suffer more shortages than others. Attrition rates are highest in hard to staff schools (e.g., rural, urban, low socio-economic). Learn More

Q:Our district has an excellent outreach recruitment plan. However, we still experience a shortage of special education teachers. What else can we do?

A:Recruiting qualified teachers is a must, but retaining them is just as important. The annual attrition rate for special educators is estimated at 13.5 percent resulting in an annual loss of approximately 22,000 special education teachers.

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Teacher Preparation Quality

Q:We are committed to recruiting more candidates from diverse backgrounds into our preparation program. Any suggestions?

A:Nationwide, only 14 percent of candidates in special education teacher preparation programs are from diverse backgrounds. This may be due in part to the challenges faced by these candidates—for example, lack of financial assistance and test requirements. COPSSE researchers identified strategies that may support recruitment and retention, including initiating early opportunities to learn about teaching, providing financial assistance, making test preparation courses available, and ensuring role models. Learn More

Q:Does initial preparation make a difference in a special education teacher's classroom effectiveness?

A:COPSSE research suggests that preparation contributes to the quality of beginning special education teacher instruction. When asked about preparation practices that contributed to their success, effective beginning teachers noted preparation in generic special education, classroom management, and having opportunities to practice and apply information in the classroom as part of their preparation. Learn More

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Teacher Quality

Q:We will have four new beginning special education teachers in my building this year. In what areas will they need particular support?

A:COPSSE research has found that in general, the practices of qualified beginning special education teachers are good. However, beginning teachers may not be as sophisticated in their reading practices as they are in their general practices. They typically need help applying teaching knowledge to a particular content area. Learn More

Q:We will be conducting interviews for new special education teachers. In addition to their skills and knowledge, are there personal attributes that should be taken into consideration?

A:Accomplished beginning special education teachers tend to have a can-do attitude, are very clear about their role as a teacher, and seem able to solve problems and make things work. COPSSE research has found that struggling beginners typically lack the knowledge or resourcefulness to look beyond the problem. They often lack the commitment or energy to make things happen. Learn More