Urgent Need for Master’s Prepared Special Education Teachers in Arkansas
Currently there is a strong demand for special education teachers in Arkansas. This was highlighted in an August 2016 story from ABC 7’s KATV, “Shortage of Special Education Teachers Reported, Districts Desperate to Fill the Gap.”
The key to understanding this strong demand is to understand Arkansas’ special ed teaching license requirements. Candidates must already hold an Arkansas teaching license and then complete additional coursework and testing to become qualified for special education. A recent challenge to this procedure in 2015 would have allowed teachers to “test into” a special ed license, removing the requirement to complete extra university coursework. However this challenge was defeated. As it stands, earning a master’s degree in special education remains the standard approved route for teachers interested in entering the field.
The Arkansas Department of Education reports that nearly 15 percent of the state’s special education teachers do not have adequate education to work in this role. However because these professionals are so vital and scarce, these 15 percent – over 400 teachers – have special waivers from the state that allows them to work in special ed as long as they earn the necessary advanced education within a certain time frame. This situation has convinced many teachers to complete a master’s education to qualify for a full special education license.
A 15 percent shortage of special education teachers is far more than just a number; it has a real impact on students. At the end of 2015 the Arkansas Department of Education reported that 65 full-time special education positions across the state were being filled by permanent substitute teachers. At the beginning of the 2016 school year there were 6.5 vacant special education teacher slots in Pulaski County alone. The state’s students with special needs depend on qualified college graduates filling these positions – and soon.
Out of a total student population of 430,354 in Arkansas, 12 percent – 51,515 students – have special needs. The US Department of Education shows how this breaks down:
- 18,376 students with a specific learning disability
- 12,695 students with a speech or language impediment
- 5,681 students with an intellectual disability
- 2,926 students on the autism spectrum
- 732 students with emotional disturbances
- 516 students with hearing impairment
- 215 students with visual impairments
- 172 students with traumatic brain injuries
Special Education Funding in Arkansas Goes to Teacher Salaries and More
Arkansas is committed to providing every opportunity for students with disabilities to enjoy the same educational experience as the general population of students. That means funding special education programs throughout the state. As the number of special needs students has increased in the state, so has the percentage of the education budget that is devoted to funding special education teacher salaries and programs for these students. Funding for the state’s Department of Education has more than doubled over the last decade, going from $1.77 billion in 2007 to $3.92 billion in 2017.
This funding supports many outstanding special education programs. Students on the autism spectrum – who account for around 5.7 percent of special needs students – can find special education resources in programs like:
- The Community School in Batesville
- Pathfinder in Jacksonville
- Access Group in Little Rock
- Benton County Sunshine School in Rogers
- On Your Mark Academy in Fayetteville
- Compass Academy in Conway
- Francis Allen School for Exceptional Children in Little Rock
- Fort Smith Public School Special Education Program in Fort Smith
The Community School in Batesville is a great example of how special education teachers make a difference in their students’ lives. “Our mission is to enhance the quality of life of children and adults with developmental disabilities.” This is the school’s stated goal, and it relies on dedicated master’s-prepared educators to work one-on-one with students to help them achieve success academically, become capable citizens, and acclimate to society.
Students can begin as preschoolers and prepare for kindergarten early – one of this program’s goals for young students is to prepare them for a successful transition to a public school kindergarten. Primary and secondary students are taught and coached by teachers with advanced training in special education. Classrooms are optimized with individualized attention, technology, adapted equipment, and management of students’ medical needs. These students also have the opportunity to learn about community interaction in real-life situations outside the classroom.
Outstanding Teachers with Master’s Degrees in Special Education are Making All the Difference
To find examples of Arkansas outstanding special education teachers all one needs to do is check the classrooms of the schools in their area. Emma Mateo, a sixth grade special ed teacher at Pinnacle View Middle School in Little Rock, is one such person. She worked as a K-5 special ed teacher for 14 years before moving on to her current position in 2016. Besides serving as a mentor for new teachers she also inspires her students to achieve their learning potentials and go on to greater success in their community, spurred on by an annual student recognition ceremony she started. Mateo decided to earn a master’s degree in special education after witnessing her own disabled sister’s struggles as she went through school.
Out of recognition of her important impact in the school and community, Mateo has been nominated for the 2017 Teacher of the Year award, where she currently stands as one of the quarter finalists.