Academic journal article Exceptional Children

The Chronic and Increasing Shortage of Fully Certified Teachers in Special and General Education

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

The Chronic and Increasing Shortage of Fully Certified Teachers in Special and General Education

Article excerpt

The shortage of qualified teachers in special education has been widely recognized in the field (McLeskey, Tyler, & Flippin, 2004). The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education (2001) concluded that "The shortage of qualified special education teachers is critical" (p. 2). The most basic indicator of teacher qualification is certification (or licensure) status. While there are other important indicators, such as teaching experience and teacher professionalism (Carlson, Lee, Schroll, Klein, & Willing, 2002), only teacher certification is required by both federal and state policy. Federal policy is embodied in the definition of a highly qualified teacher (HQT) contained in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB, 2002). It requires that all teachers hold full state certification, not part certification (i.e., having had certification waived on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis; NCLB). In addition, all states have established detailed requirements for the certification of teachers, and expect all teachers to be fully certified (National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, NASDTEC, 2003). In view of the full certification requirement in public policy, it is important to understand the extent to which teachers earn this qualification.

To qualify for full certification, teachers need to meet high standards of preparation specified by each state (NASDTEC, 2003). The Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has reported the numbers of special education teachers (SETs) who are fully certified and are not fully certified in a series of Annual Reports to Congress for over 20 years (most recently OSEP, 2004). In fact, certification is the only indicator of teacher qualification reported by OSEP.

Certification is not only embedded in public policy; it impacts the practice of teaching, as demonstrated by research on first-time teachers. Based on classroom observations by one trained observer who was unaware of the certification status of teacher participants, fully certified SETs were substantially more effective than partly certified SETs in planning and delivering instruction, and in establishing a positive classroom environment (Nougaret, Scruggs, & Mastropieri, 2005). In other research based on a large national sample, fully certified teachers were much more likely than partly certified teachers to report being better prepared to teach subject matter and better prepared in pedagogical skills (Boe, Shin, & Cook, 2005).

Furthermore, fully certified teachers may produce higher levels of student academic achievement than partly certified teachers. Two reviews (Darling-Hammond, 2001; Wayne & Youngs, 2003) have cited evidence demonstrating such an association, while another (Walsh, 2001) did not find such an association. The Secretary of Education concluded that scientifically rigorous evidence is lacking about the value of teacher certification for enhancing student learning, and recognized the need for continued research on teacher quality (U.S. Department of Education, 2003).

Shortage of fully certified teachers is defined by the extent to which teaching positions are not filled by such teachers. Shortage is almost entirely accounted for by employed teachers who have not earned full certification (i.e., positions are filled by teachers who are only partly certified), and to a minor extent by positions that are not filled (i.e., left vacant). Both partly certified SETs and vacant positions are included in counts of "not fully certified" by OSEP in its Annual Reports to Congress. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), only 0.2% of teaching positions in public schools nationwide were unfilled in 1993-1994, the most recent NCES data (Henke et al., 1997). In special education, however, national data for the same year (1993-1994) show that 1. …

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