New Data Report: How Special Education Teachers Spend Their Work Day
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.
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.
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:
- Preparing IEP documents
- Focusing on compliance
- Identifying students with special needs and determining eligibility
- Monitoring or reporting student progress
- Documenting behavioral problems
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.
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.
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.
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.