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Special Education and the Teacher Shortage

Special Education

An online search for “teacher shortage” will quickly return 435,000 results. Each day yields more headlines about school districts who struggle to hire enough teachers — more than half of school districts we surveyed in 2016 said they were experiencing a teacher shortage.

Among those districts reporting shortages, special education was one of the most challenging areas to fill:

most common teacher shortages chart

Special education and the teacher shortage.

States that reported a shortage of special education teachers and specialized instructional support personnel in 2013-2014:



Special Education Teacher turnover rate:
At a rate of nearly twice that of general education teachers.

Percentage of special educators who say there aren’t enough teachers and support personnel to adequately serve students with disabilities:



Source: National Coalition on Personnel Shortages in Special Education and Related Services

A growing special education student-teacher ratio.

Since 2005, the ratio of special education students to teachers has risen. There is some good news: from 2014-2015, for example, the nationwide average special education student-teacher ratio dropped from 19:1 to 17:1. Yet across the country in 2015 there were still close to 40,000 fewer special education teachers than there had been 10 years earlier.

student vs teacher ratio chart
Here’s a look at the data at the state level.

Teachers: Total # of full-time special education teachers as reported by each state.
Students: Total # of students ages 6 through 21 served under IDEA, Part B (all disabilities), as reported by each state.
Sources: U.S. Department of Education, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

Missing Data:
Special Education student population in Vermont for years 2007 & 2008.
Number of Special Education teachers in the District of Columbia for 2006 and in Wisconsin for 2014 and 2015.
Although the data used in this report has been produced and processed from sources believed to be reliable, we cannot ensure the accuracy, adequacy, completeness, legality, reliability or usefulness of any information. It is possible that reporting errors or inconsistencies between states and years may be present in this dataset.

All of this asks the question: how does this impact your special education teachers and staff on a practical, day-to-day level? Are they equipped to efficiently tackle the administrative work that comes with special education? What about complying with state regulations? Do they have enough time to do all this and provide the instruction that students with special needs deserve?

As you think about how you’ll support your team, let us know: do you have a special education teacher shortage in your district? If so, what strategies are you employing to combat it? With what tools do you equip your team? Join the conversation on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.

Ryan Estes

Ryan is managing editor for the global award-winning creative team at Frontline Education. He spends his time writing, podcasting, and creating content for leaders in K-12 education.