Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Does Teacher Education Produce Better Special Education Teachers?

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Does Teacher Education Produce Better Special Education Teachers?

Article excerpt

The shortage of special education teachers, always an issue of concern, has become a major problem affecting the integrity of the field. Boe, Cook, Bobbitt, and Terhanian (1998) investigated the licensure or certification status of almost 50,000 special and general education teachers and documented a chronic annual shortage of fully licensed teachers in special education, a level that was almost twice the number in general education. The fact that record numbers of licensed special education teachers are leaving the field exacerbates the problem (Brownell & Smith, 1992). The causes of this attrition are varied (Boe, Barkanic, & Leow, 1999). However, teachers and administrators have stated that excessive paper work, difficulty keeping up with changing laws, and emotional and behavioral problems of students are "driving thousands of special education teachers to transfer into regular education or leave the profession altogether" (Sack, 1999, p. 14). According to Sack, the pressures of the job of a special education teacher can sometimes drain even the most dedicated teachers:

   Reportedly, grappling with complicated federal
   mandates, conflicts with parents, overcrowded
   classrooms, and paper work take away time
   needed for instruction and lesson planning, contribute
   to teacher burnout, and are becoming
   major disincentives for those considering the
   special education field as a career. (Sack, 1999,
   p. 14; see also Carter & Scruggs, 2001; Ingersoll
   & Smith, 2003)

Because of the extreme shortages of licensed special education teachers, many school districts have been implementing emergency licensure at ever increasing rates (Crutchfield, 1997; Virginia Division of Teacher Education and Licensure, 2000). Rosenberg and Sindelar (2003) stated:

   At the same time that traditional teacher preparation
   programs are subject to rigorous standards-based
   program reviews, local education
   agencies (LEAs) are permitted to hire less than
   fully qualified personnel and do so in large numbers.
   By one estimate, well over one quarter of
   all newly hired teachers have either no license or
   a substandard license in areas they are hired to
   teach. (p. 3)

In such cases, teachers typically are hired with little or no formal teacher education, with the understanding that they will undertake necessary coursework and complete full licensure within 3 years. By using such procedures, schools have been able to fill the gaps and continue delivering special education services.

However, the large-scale hiring of unlicensed special education teachers raises the question of the effectiveness of these teachers. That effectiveness, of course, relies on traditional special education teacher education programs to develop important pedagogical skills. To the extent that traditional teacher education is valuable, licensed special education teachers should demonstrate more effective teaching skills than untrained teachers.

Rosenberg and Sindelar (2003) suggested, "there is a general recognition that valid and explicit professional standards are necessary for teacher preparation" (p. 3; see also Geiger, Crutchfield, & Mainzer, 2003). However, in a recent report, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) reviewed relevant literature and concluded the following:

* Teachers' general cognitive ability is the variable most strongly associated with teacher effectiveness.

* Teacher experience and content knowledge are also linked to teacher effectiveness.

* Training in pedagogy, doing practice teaching, and earning master's degrees have not been seen to be associated with student achievement.

* There is little evidence that traditional teacher certification requirements are associated with teacher effectiveness. (ED, 2003; see also Paige, 2002)

According to this view, because pedagogical knowledge and skills of the type conveyed in traditional teacher education programs are of little or no value, teachers on emergency provisional licensure (i. …

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