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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Special Ed in Milwaukee

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports (h/t Disability Scoop):
Special education has been a critical shortage area in MPS for years, exemplified by the fact that not one special-education teacher was included in the 482 layoff notices that went out in June. In fact, the district has hired 52 new fully certified special education teachers, said Karen Jackson, MPS director of human resources.

There aren't enough fully licensed special education teachers to go around, so the district leans on alternative-route teacher certification programs that allow teachers to work toward full licensure while teaching with "emergency" credentials.


All told, a quarter of Milwaukee's 1,100 special-education teachers last year held emergency licenses, reflecting a large national problem in finding, training and retaining such teachers.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, there's a national shortage of 45,000 highly qualified special-education teachers, although determining who counts as highly qualified isn't straightforward.

About 11% of special-education classrooms in the U.S. aren't led by a highly qualified teacher, the department noted in 2008.

Attrition in these positions is high, with one out of seven special-education teachers quitting each year. Nearly one in five Milwaukee students receives special-education services. Yet the city's special-education students lag behind their counterparts elsewhere in the state. In 2009, only 17% of Milwaukee's sixth-graders receiving special education were proficient or advanced in math, and only 15% achieved those levels in reading. Statewide, 37% of students with disabilities were proficient or advanced in math and 44% were at those levels in reading.

"There's no doubt that there's a challenge filling special-education positions," said Pat Yahle, director of special education for Milwaukee Public Schools. "The more challenged the students are, the more challenged the teacher is."

The same is true nationally. Massachusetts granted almost 1,000 teaching waivers last year to allow districts to hire teachers who weren't formally licensed to work with special-education students. At least 22 states have some sort of alternative-certification program for individuals with no previous teaching experience to enter special-education teaching, many of which require no more than a bachelor's degree and a background check.