Educator Shortages in Special Education: A Toolkit for Developing Local Strategies

Every Student Deserves an Equitable Opportunity to Achieve.

Educator Shortages

About the Toolkit

Special education teacher shortages have existed for decades. Unfortunately, the urgent need for short-term solutions to fill vacancies often works in opposition to long-term, systemic efforts to create an effective teacher workforce.

The Educator Shortages in Special Education Toolkit is organized around the guiding principle that short-term strategies to meet immediate demand must be intentionally paired with long-term, systemic strategies to attract, prepare, and retain effective special education teachers to create comprehensive shortage solutions.

The Toolkit is organized around a Facilitator’s Guide and three supporting sets of tools. If this is your first visit, we recommend starting with the Facilitator’s Guide.

Facilitation Guide

About the Guide

The Facilitator’s Guide to the Educator Shortages in Special Education: Toolkit for Developing Local Strategies is designed to lead state teams through a collaborative process to develop a comprehensive approach for addressing special education teacher shortages. This guide helps teams identify and implement a combination of short- and long-term educator talent management strategies to create comprehensive shortage solutions that address local context and needs.

Aligned with current efforts from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs, this process intentionally examines shortages across the entire career continuum—from attracting to preparing to retaining teachers—so that all students with disabilities have access to effective teachers.

The Facilitator’s Guide is written for the leaders and facilitators of state teams charged with developing a comprehensive approach for addressing local special education teacher shortages. State teams should promote shared ownership, collective action, and joint accountability across the following partners:

  • State education agency (SEA) personnel responsible for statewide educator talent management systems, data and monitoring systems, and educator preparation and accountability systems
  • Regional education agency personnel responsible for building capacity across districts and regions within states
  • Local education agency (LEA) or district personnel responsible for attracting, developing, and retaining effective special education teachers, including instructional leaders and human resources personnel
  • Educator preparation program (EPP) personnel, including both traditional and alternative routes, responsible for preparing new special education teachers

The Facilitator’s Guide leads teams through a multi-stage process to consider both short and long-term strategies that contribute to a comprehensive approach to addressing special education teacher shortages. Each stage is anchored by an essential question and big ideas to help teams frame their thinking about special education teacher shortages.

Each stage is further divided into suggested action steps accompanied by recommended tools and resources and reflection questions for state teams. The recommended tools and resources provide state team leads and facilitators with in-depth facilitation guidance, implementation resources, and continuous improvement tools to help state teams carry out the suggested action steps.

Teams may need additional support from an experienced technical assistance facilitator to carry out the activities in this guide. States interested in support around this guide should contact the CEEDAR Center.


Policy Brief: Preparing and Retaining Effective Special Education Teachers: Short-Term Strategies for Long-Term Solutions

This brief for policymakers, preparation providers, and state and district administrators offers a high-level overview of evidence-based short-term strategies that complement longer-term, systemic solutions to special education teacher shortages. It includes an overview of research, talking points, and recommendations.

Brief: Short-Term Strategies for Dealing with Shortages of Special Education Teachers

Schools and districts facing teacher shortages often have few options for filling vacant special education teacher positions. This brief outlines short-term strategies that, when paired with long-term comprehensive strategies, can be employed to hire, prepare, and support teachers in schools and districts facing special education teacher shortage crises.

Teacher Shortage Solutions Toolkit from Learning Policy Institute

A one-stop shop for research, talking points, strategies, interactive maps, and costing tools for exploring and addressing ongoing teacher shortages in the U.S., the Toolkit also includes a specialized section on special education teacher shortages. This section, developed with the GTL Center and CEEDAR Center, is a great starting point for developing a full understanding of special education teacher shortages.

Selection Tool

This interactive online tool will help teams identify, select, implement, and continuously improve educator talent management strategies to address special education teacher shortages. The tool will feature a resource locator and partner role guide to help teams implement their selected strategies.

Data Tool for practitioners

Data Tool

The Analyzing Special Education Teacher Shortages: Data Tool for Practitioners supports states, regions, districts, and educator preparation programs (EPPs) in identifying and visualizing the development of special education teacher shortages across the entire educator career continuum, from entry into EPPs to entering the classroom to becoming an experienced educator.

State education agencies, regional education agencies, districts, and educator preparation programs can use the data tool to do the following:

  • Analyze patterns in the development of special education teacher shortages at the state, district, school, and EPP levels.
  • Identify crucial points along the educator career continuum where implementing carefully selected strategies can help mitigate special education teacher shortages.
  • Promote collaborative, cross-partner conversations about special education teacher shortages that will lead to identifying data sources, examining root causes, and selecting comprehensive educator talent management strategies to address the root causes of shortages.

The Data Tool is composed of an Excel-based workbook with an accompanying User Guide.

Users enter their own data directly into the Excel workbook, which automatically generates easy-to-understand graphs and charts that visualize shortages across the educator career continuum. The GTL Center expressly designed the workbook to be fast, responsive, and easy to understand, regardless of a user’s skill level in working with data or spreadsheets. The accompanying User Guide provides examples and helpful tips for working with the Excel workbook.

The Data Tool should be a first step for users in a longer, data-rich conversation about shortages and ways to address them. For example, if the Data Tool reveals that special education teacher retention drops markedly between the third and fifth years of teaching, teams should identify other sources of data such as surveys, exit interviews, etc. to discover the circumstances and reasoning for that data point.

Developed in Partnership

The Toolkit is the result of a collaborative effort between the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders (GTL Center) and the CEEDAR Center, and was funded in part by the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education.

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