For all the headlines proclaiming and debunking reports of a national teacher shortage, few have picked up on the issue’s third rail: Educators qualified to teach students with disabilities have been in short supply for half a century — since, essentially, the creation of special education.

There are numerous reasons why special educators are in perennially short supply, as well as evidence that strategies to increase their ranks are within reach. But those efforts will remain scattershot so long as special education’s second-class status persists, say disability advocates.

“It’s a part of a continuum of special education being treated as secondary,” says Lauren Morando Rhim, executive director of the Center for Learner Equity, which advocates for children with disabilities. “All teachers work hard, but absent a sense of being part of a community, or considered central to the community, the paperwork burden and the challenges of their job just make it unfulfilling and unsustainable” to teach special ed.

The problems, she and other advocates say, affect virtually every aspect of special education staffing. There are few policies prodding colleges of education to graduate more candidates, a dearth of incentives for those newly minted teachers to go to work instructing children with disabilities and too little support to keep them in those positions.

Depending on the rules in their state, special educators must do more — earn more college credits, take on more student debt, perform more work — than general education teachers, while getting the same or fewer resources. While some districts have begun offering higher pay, only a handful have increased financial incentives enough to begin filling special ed vacancies.

While quantifying teacher shortages was a tricky business even before the pandemic, the nationwide lack of special ed teachers has long been clear. On average, between 1998 and 2018, 80% of states reported special education shortages, while overall education vacancies skew heavily in just nine states.

Read the full article about special education teachers by Beth Hawkins at The 74.