Students with disabilities have the right to a qualified teacher – but there is one

The school would not confirm to NPR that Ashcroft’s daughter had no teachers, but a spokesman said the school had used the option to provide specialized education services in the absence of qualified educators.

The Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act guarantees students with disabilities access to fully licensed specialized educators. But as Ashcroft has learned, it can be difficult to find teachers. In 2019, 44 states reported a shortage of special education teachers to the federal government. This school year, that number jumped to 48.

When schools cannot find qualified teachers, federal law allows them to hire people who actively follow their special education credentials until fully qualified. Indiana, California, Virginia and Maryland are among the states that issue temporary licenses to assist workers in special education classrooms.

This is a practice that worries some specialized education experts. They are concerned that placing people who are not fully trained for the job in charge of the classroom could do some harm to the most at-risk students.

But due to a lack of qualified special education teachers, Ashcroft says she would not mind if her daughter’s teacher was not yet fully trained.

“Let them work that way [license]It’s wonderful, “she says.” But, you know, I guess right now, you know, we’re glad to have someone. “

Case against temporary special education license

Jacqueline Rodriguez, with the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, is concerned about the number of temporary licenses issued to unqualified special education teachers in recent years – even if those teachers are actively pursuing full licenses.

“There’s a band-aid, let’s put someone who’s breathing in front of the kids, and hopefully everyone survives,” he says. Her organization focuses on teacher preparation, and has partnered with higher education institutions to improve the recruitment of specialized educators.

He is concerned that keeping untrained people in a classroom and in charge of separate educational activities is detrimental to students.

“It’s like telling someone that there is a shortage of doctors in neurosurgery, so we’d love to change the field by giving people the opportunity to operate while taking coursework at night,” Rodriguez said.

He acknowledges that this is a provocative analogy, but says that teaching is a profession that requires intensive coursework, assessment and practice. “And if you can’t demonstrate skills, you have no business being a teacher.”

A district special education teacher is building the pipeline

Shaletta West had no teaching experience when she was hired as a special educator by Elkhart Community School, a district in North Indiana.

She says her first few weeks in the classroom were irresistible.

“It was scary because, you know, I know kids, yeah. But when you’re trying to teach kids it’s a whole different ball game. You can’t just play with them and talk to them and chat. You have to teach. . “

Indiana University near his district is helping to work towards his credentials in South Bend. Elkhart community schools pay West tuition and in return, West has agreed to work for the district for five years.

The district also provides a mentor to the West – an experienced specialized educator who answers questions, gives tips and looks at complex paperwork that is legally required for students with disabilities.

West says he would have been lost without mentorship and university classes.

“Honestly, I don’t know if I would have stayed,” he explains.

“I didn’t know anything. I came without knowing in advance what to do on a daily basis.”

Administrator Lindsay oversees the Elkhart school program, which supports Brander West. He says the program has produced about 30 fully qualified special educators in the last four years. This year, it is serving about 10 specialized educators on temporary licenses.

“We are able to recruit our own teachers and train them specifically for our students. So the system is working,” Brander explained. The challenge, he said, is that finding people to participate in the program has become increasingly difficult for the district.

And even in the place of a new teacher pipeline, the district still has 24 special education vacancies.

Branders would prefer if they were fully qualified as special education teachers from all districts on the first day they set foot in a classroom.

“But that’s not the reality. It won’t happen. Until we address some of our structural challenges in education, that’s how business is done now. That’s life in education,” he says.

How higher teacher turnover affects students

Structural problems that contribute to the lack of special education include heavy workloads and relatively low wages. At Elkhart School, for example, new special education teachers with bachelor’s degrees receive a minimum salary of $ 41,000, according to district officials.

Desire Carver-Thomas, a researcher at the Learning Policy Institute, says low pay and long working days can lead to higher turnover, especially in schools that serve children of color and children from low-income families. And the cycle continues when special education teachers quit their jobs.

“Because when the turnover rate is so high, in schools and districts they are only trying to fill the positions they can find, often teachers who are not fully prepared,” Carver-Thomas said.

According to Carver-Thomas research, hiring unprepared teachers could contribute to higher turnover rates. And it can affect student outcomes.

As NPR reports, black students and students with disabilities are disciplined and referred to law enforcement agencies at a higher rate than students with disabilities. Black students With Disabilities are particularly vulnerable; Federal data shows that students with disabilities have the highest risk of suspension.

“It can be more common when teachers do not have the tools and experience and training to respond appropriately,” said Carver-Thomas.

Must do school and family

The solution to the shortage of specialized educators is not easy. Carver-Thomas said it is important for schools, colleges and governments to work together to increase teachers’ pay and improve recruitment, preparation, working conditions and on-the-job support.

In the meantime, school and family will do.

In January, Becky Ashcroft learned that her Northwest Indiana school had found a teacher for her daughter’s classroom.

She says she is grateful to have a fully licensed teacher to finally tell her about her daughter’s school days. And she hopes that families like her, who depend on special educators, will be valued more.

“We have to be grateful to those who do this,” he said