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Special Education

New Data Report: How Special Education Teachers Spend Their Work Day

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It’s not breaking news that the administrative side of working in special education can be overwhelming. Thanks to recent research, we can now quantify the approximate value of “overwhelming” — it amounts to several hours of each teacher’s time lost to paperwork — every week. That adds up fast.[1] Up to 7 weeks per school year lost to paper work

Teacher Time is in Short Supply

Special education teachers (SETs) shoulder a large part of the paperwork burden because they work so closely with students. Despite efforts to emphasize instruction and one-on-one opportunities with special needs students, paperwork still presents a real challenge.[2]

Paperwork can account for up to 50% of SET time

Because this issue is so significant on a national level, the U.S. Department of Education attempted to alleviate the administrative burden of IDEA by developing pilot programs and creating model forms to help streamline the IEP preparation process.

In 2016, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a survey of special education teachers and administrators in 37 states to measure the effect of the DOE’s efforts. The review included a survey that identified tasks that teachers consistently flagged as being particularly burdensome, even after DOE support was implemented. Many of these tasks fall to special education teachers:[3]

Getting a Closer Look at the Data

A good bit of research has been conducted over the past several years, focusing on how teacher time is impacted by the high level of IDEA-related paperwork. When you look closely, it’s clear that the administrative side of K-12 special education does take up a huge amount of each academic year.[4]

And administrative tasks don’t only take up teacher time. Students are affected as well, in the form of general and special education paperwork that overflows into classroom time.[5]

SET Class Time Spent
With high school students spending only about a quarter of their day on educational activities — including class time — and teachers spending less than a quarter of class time on instruction, finding a way to more effectively support teachers in paperwork management would free up more class time to help struggling learners.

Student time in class vs. SET instruction time

How This Data Can Help Us Improve

There are good reasons for the complex administrative requirements related to special education data collection and compliance management, not the least of which is high-quality IEP creation. However, the data shows that more time spent on paperwork can mean less time spent on instruction — and less time spent on instruction increases the risk that students won’t receive all the benefits of those high-quality IEPs.

The good news is, technology is making a positive impact. Download the full data sheet to see how.



[1] Suter, Jesse C.; Giangreco, Michael F. (2009). Numbers that count: Exploring Special Education and Paraprofessional Service Delivery in Inclusion-Oriented Schools. The Journal of Special Education v43 N2. P 81-93
[2] Vannest, Kimberly J.; Hagan-Burke, Shanna (2009). Remedial and Special Education 31(2):126-142.
[3] GA 1.13:GAO-16-25 (2016). Special education, state and local-imposed requirements complicate federal efforts to reduce administrative burden: report to congressional requesters.
[4] Suter, Jesse C.; Giangreco, Michael F. (2009). Numbers that count: Exploring Special Education and Paraprofessional Service Delivery in Inclusion-Oriented Schools. The Journal of Special Education v43 N2. P 81-93.
[5] Vannest, Kimberly J.; Hagan-Burke, Shanna; Parker, Richard I.; Soares, Denise A. (2011). Special Education Teacher Time Use in Four Types of Programs. Journal of Educational Research, v104 n4 p219-230 2011