An Examination of Preservice Teachers' Intentions to Pursue Careers in Special Education

By Zhang, Dake; Wang, Qiu et al. | Journal of Teacher Education, March-April 2014 | Go to article overview

An Examination of Preservice Teachers' Intentions to Pursue Careers in Special Education


Zhang, Dake, Wang, Qiu, Losinski, Mickey, Katsiyannis, Antonis, Journal of Teacher Education


The shortage of special education personnel has been a persistent concern over the years (Boe, 2006; McLeskey, Tyler, & Flippin, 2004; Strunk & Robinson, 2006; Thornton, Peltier, & Medina, 2007; U.S. Department of Education, 2009). According to the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education (2011), 44 states, in particular, low-income districts, reported teacher shortages in the area of special education in 2011-2012. Indeed, more than 50,000 teachers are needed to resolve the special education teacher shortage, with 98% of the nation's largest school districts reporting shortages (McLeskey et al., 2004). At the same time, the demand for special educators is expected to increase by 17% through 2018, a rate greater than what is predicted for all other occupations (Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2009). The special education teacher shortage seriously affects the success of special education services provided to children with disabilities due to inadequately trained teachers capable of effectively designing and implementing Individualized Education Programs (IEPs; D. D. Smith, Robb, West, & Tyler, 2010).

An urgent aspect of the special education personnel shortage is the insufficient supply of special education teacher candidates. While many researchers argued that the apparent shortage of special education teachers is due to an excessive rate of turnover (Ingersoll, 1997; Podgursky, 2006; as cited by Boe, Cook, & Sunderland, 2008), empirical evidence from a national teacher survey suggested that the inadequate supply of special education teacher candidates even more seriously exacerbates the shortage (Boe et al., 2008). According to Katsiyannis, Zhang, and Conroy (2003), each year colleges and universities graduate nearly 22,000 special education teachers, roughly half the number required to fill vacant positions. Furthermore, statistics reported by the American Association for Employment in Education (AAEE) show that in the decade from 2000 to 2010, there was "considerable" or "some" shortage in all types of special education categories (AAEE, 2010). Finally, a recent report revealed that while more than 800 special education teachers resigned last school year in Minnesota, only 417 new special educator teaching licenses were issued (Mcguire & Meitrodt, 2013).

Special education teachers leave the profession at a high rate. Retaining novice teachers is considered critical to special education (Cochran-Smith, 2004; Darling-Hammond, 2003; Merrow, 1999). Statistics show that more than one quarter of novice teachers in the United States leave the profession within three years of employment (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2004). High special education teacher attrition has widespread implications for school districts financially and academically, because districts are forced to bear the cost of recruiting and training new teachers (Darling-Hammond, 2003). American schools are estimated to spend over two billion dollars annually on replacing special education teachers who quit the profession (McKinney, Berry, Dickerson, & Campbell-Whately, 2007).

The supply of qualified general education teachers with expertise in special education represents another serious problem (D. D. Smith et al., 2010; U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2009). Currently, 57% of students with disabilities are instructed in general education classrooms for 80% or more of the time (31st Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of Individuals With Disabilities Education Act [IDEA] by U.S. Department of Education, 2009); however, many general education teachers reported that they were not sufficiently prepared to teach children with disabilities in inclusive classrooms (Abt Associates Inc., 2006). The majority of teacher preparation programs for general educators require minimal preparation in instructing students with disabilities (U. …

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