Master’s-Prepared Special Education Teachers Needed to Fill Shortage in Minnesota
Minnesota faces a shortage of educators in a number of key specialties, including special education.
According to the Minnesota Education Department, there are about 58,000 teachers in the state. Each year, about 10 percent of the workforce leaves, mainly due to retirement.
As of 2012, the areas with the largest teacher shortages were:
- Emotional Behavioral Disorders – Shortage of 294 educators
- Learning Disabilities – Shortage of 265 educators
- Developmental Disabilities – Shortage of 145 educators
- Early Childhood Special Education – Shortage of 91 educators
According to Gary Amoroso, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Directors, these numbers put the state in the early stages of a teacher shortage. Some of the hardest teaching jobs to fill are the ones that call for educators experienced in working with students with learning or developmental disabilities.
The Minnesota Board of Teaching has recently implemented a number of reforms designed to increase the number of licensed educators.
Increasing the Number of Special Education Teachers to Accommodate a Growing Number of Students with Special Needs
Minnesota is home to more than 2,000 public schools that serve more than 850,000 students. Of those, 130,633 students—15 percent—receive special education services.
There are 55,277 teachers in Minnesota, 9,625 of whom are in special education.
The number of special education students in Minnesota rose from 11.9 percent in the 1999-00 school year to 13.6 percent by the time the 2010-11 school year rolled around. During the same period, the number of K-12 students in public school decreased 3 percent.
Students in Minnesota must qualify for at least one of 13 disabilities to be eligible for special education services. The largest proportion of Minnesota students in special education (27 percent) have specific learning disabilities—disorders affecting the use of spoken or written language.
One of the main goals of differentiating instruction to accommodate the unique needs of students with learning disabilities and other issues is to ensure they are educated in the least-restrictive environment possible. This means every effort is made to keep them in the classroom with other students as opposed to separating them out into dedicated special ed classes. The Minnesota school system has been successful in this regard, and continues striving for more integration. During the 2010-11 school year, more than 60 percent of special education students were in general education classrooms for most of the day.
In Minnesota, master’s-educated special education teachers are also needed in settings beyond the public school classroom:
- Alternative Learning Centers: Alternative learning centers help meet individual student learning styles, as well as social and emotional needs. Teachers in these settings focus on vocational and career skills.
- Charter Schools: Minnesota has a strong network of charter schools within its public education system. The state’s award-winning Special Education Primer for Charter Schools helps these schools deliver high-quality special education services.
- Online Learning: Minnesota students may receive special education services through the state’s approved online learning programs.
- Nonpublic Schools: Students attending nonpublic schools can receive special education services through “share time” arrangements with public school districts.
Building the Capacity of Special Education Teachers Through the Minnesota Centers of Excellence
The Minnesota Centers of Excellence is the statewide professional development program for early childhood special education. Professional Development Facilitators (PDF), who themselves hold undergraduate and graduate degrees in special education, work to build the capacity of special education teachers and other practitioners in Minnesota’s eight economic development regions. Thanks to the Minnesota Centers of Excellence, young children and their families in Minnesota benefit from high-quality programs and services.
The efforts of the Minnesota Centers of Excellence have brought about specific innovations that include family-guided routine-based interventions and better classroom engagement. The innovations were chosen in response to statewide needs for special education teachers and coordinators.
The Classroom Engagement Model is a framework for improving engagement, social relationships, and independence for children with and without disabilities and to promote full participation of every child in the classroom setting. The Classroom Engagement Model can be implemented in inclusion programs, typical education and care settings, and, of course, in special education classrooms.