Idaho Ramps up Efforts to Fill Vacancies for Special Education Teachers
“Special-education teachers are like the firefighters or the special forces or the Marines of the education task force.” –Michael Humphrey, Boise State University early childhood and special education department chairman, quoted by the Idaho Statesman in 2015.
Although Idaho has the second-lowest percentage of students enrolled in special education programs at 9.5%, the state has a robust network of programs and teachers that help serve students with learning disabilities, behavioral issues, neurological disorders, and other disorders that affect learning.
According to the Idaho Department of Education, in 2013-2014, Idaho had 1,100 instructors teaching in special education. In the same year, there were 24,000 special education students enrolled in public schools throughout the state. Because of the disproportionate number of students to teachers, there is a real demand for special education teachers in Idaho’s public school systems.
Improving Idaho’s Special Education Programs
Much to the relief of Idaho’s special needs students and teachers, there are several organizations working to improve the shortage of qualified teachers as well as to improve conditions for special needs students. Idaho’s DOE is also on track to improve programs and raise the graduation rate and test scores of special needs students in the state.
Idaho received $57.4 million in 2013 for its public special ed programs. In 2014, Idaho’s DOE developed a plan to help improve the special education programs throughout the state, especially to help improve student participation rates on the Idaho Standards Achievement Tests and scores on the NAEP. Through the plan, Idaho schools also plan to track special education students for a year after graduation.
The private sector is also pushing to improve special education programs. Lee Pesky Learning Center, a nonprofit located in Boise, is dedicated to helping enrich education for special needs students and reduce the shortage of special education teachers in Idaho.
Through the Pesky center, students who are diagnosed with learning abilities usually attend general education classes at their schools, and then come to the Pesky center to receive one-on-one tutoring and instruction in their schoolwork to help them stay on track. The Pesky Center partners with Boise State University so that students earning their master’s degree in special education can spend a year working at the Pesky Center to gain valuable experience working with special needs students through the Special Education Collaborative.
Two other organizations, Idaho Parents Unlimited and the Idaho Council for Exceptional Children, are dedicated to advocating for special needs students and their parents. These organizations help place children in the right schools and connect them with proper resources to bolster their education.
Exceptional Teachers Are the Backbone of Quality Special Ed Programs
None of Idaho’s special education programs would run smoothly without the vital work of qualified special ed teachers. Because the state is currently facing a shortage of teachers, special ed teachers are often hired right out of their college programs.
For instance, Murray Dalgleish, superintendent of Idaho’s Council School District, hired a student in her senior year at Lewis-Clark State College, saying that he was confident her training would allow her to be an excellent teacher for the district.
Some of Idaho’s most dedicated special ed teachers have drawn from what they’ve learned studying special education at the master’s level to make a difference:
- Toni Harbaugh works as a special education teacher in Jerome, Idaho. In 2016, she received an award from the Idaho Council for Exceptional Children for her exemplary service to special needs students. Harbaugh’s work with elementary students has been recognized as above-and-beyond for her student’s documented success in the Jerome school district’s special ed program, including high scores on standardized tests.
- Lisa Peterson works as a para with middle school students in the Jerome school district and won the 2016 Idaho Exceptional Children’s Para Educator Excellence Award. Peterson was recognized by her co-workers as an excellent para for her attention to student’s needs.