- Amid a broader shortage of special education teachers, efforts are under way to increase the number of teachers of color in these classrooms, where about 82% of educators are white but student populations often skew nonwhite, Education Week reports.
- Jacqueline Rodriguez, assistant vice president for programs and professional learning at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), is working to lead a networked improvement community that includes representatives of 10 teacher prep programs exploring strategies to recruit more students to become special ed teachers by fall 2022. One of the biggest goals of the network is recruiting more people of color and people with disabilities to fill these roles.
- One of the challenges is that about 84% of professors teaching education courses at four-year institutions are white, but they are also working with AACTE on strategies to attract and retain special ed teachers of color. One AACTE official, for instance, is exploring strategies including tuition assistance, flexible licensing pathways and mentoring programs.
The number of special education teachers has dropped steadily over the past 10 years — roughly 20%, according to an analysis of federal data in 2018. And many school districts are struggling to fill these slots.
But special education faces a variety of challenges. Many schools try to be as inclusive as possible, but most general education teachers don’t feel prepared to address these students' needs in their classrooms. And special education teachers themselves face unique challenges that general education teachers don’t face, including excessive paperwork and additional time dealing with concerned parents.
Another challenge is identifying where racial disparities exist among students' assignments to special education programs. Some researchers find that students of color are overrepresented in these classrooms, while others find evidence of underrepresentation.
The situation likely varies in different settings, but having more teachers of color involved in these decisions could make a difference in the numbers and perception of bias in making these critical decisions. Teachers of color now represent less than 25% of the teaching workforce.
Research has shown an increased number of educators of color not only benefits minority students but can also benefit all students by offering diverse role models and broader racial discussions. Additionally, Education Week noted that research indicates students often learn better under the instruction of teachers of the same race, and that black teachers often have higher expectations of black students.