The Need for More Diverse Educators

October 2, 2018 | Danielle Drazen, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part D helps to fund teacher preparation and retention. It serves to ensure professionals serving students with disabilities are fully qualified to work, possessing the requisite skills and knowledge to work with these students. IDEA Part D awards funding through grants that provide training activities and preparation programs for both special educators and educational leadership. However, this is still not enough. According to the Council for Exceptional Children, 48 states and the District of Columbia report shortages of special education teachers. Furthermore, the burnout rate for professionals leaving the field of special education is five years. Thus, more is necessary than just the provisions outlined in IDEA Part D. We need to create a pipeline for attracting, training, and retaining qualified, quality special educators.

About one in five people in the United States has a disability. However, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 69% of students served by IDEA exit high school and graduate with a diploma. This leads to dismal post-secondary outcomes. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015 only 17.5% of people with disabilities were employed, while 69% of their non-disabled counterparts were employed. An investment on the front end, during K-12 education, helps to improve these startling statistics and outcomes for students with disabilities. Again, IDEA Part D does not do enough to create a pipeline for qualified special educators.

One piece of legislation that aims to create such a pipeline and improve these outcomes through training and retention is the STRIVE Act (S. 2370 and H.R. 4914). Within this act there are specific measures to attract more diverse educators and to target high-poverty and significant at-risk populations, like special education students. Research has shown that when we attract teachers that our students can identify with, these students benefit. The rationale behind this is that the students are able to see those they identify with in positions of authority, these educators have higher expectations for at-risk students, and the effect of cultural diversity. However, there has not been research done to look at the student outcomes when their special educators identify as disabled. Furthermore, there are not specific initiatives to attract disabled special educators to the field. From my own experience as a special education teacher that identifies as disabled, I can tell you the profound impact that this has had on my students. I was able to disclose my disability to my students and I was able to share my frustrations and successes with them. When my students realize that someone like them, with a disability, can not only graduate high school and college, but can go on to pursue their master’s degree, it helps them realize that they can also achieve their goals. I have seen my students reach this point and then begin to think about and plan their goals for their future.

IDEA Part D funding is not enough to ensure success for our students with disabilities. We need to find new ways to recruit more diverse educators, including those with disabilities. And one step towards this, if we’re playing the long game, is to elect more disabled officials to public office as well.


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Danielle Drazen is a 2018 AAPD Summer Intern. She interned with the Institute for Educational Leadership.

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