ERIC Identifier: ED262515
Publication Date: 1984-00-00
Author: Smith-Davis, Judy
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children Reston VA.

Personnel Development in Special Education: Quantity Versus Quality. 1984 Digest.

Approximately 2,380,000 teachers are employed in the United States today. Of this number, 6 percent (or around 142,800) leave the profession each year. Although public school enrollments have declined in the last decade, census figures show that the school-aged population will again begin to burgeon in the mid to late 1980s. Moreover, though the overall enrollment did decline in the 1970s, the number of students identified as handicapped increased. By the end of this decade, it is estimated that the demand for new teachers to fill all roles will be 200,000 per year (National Center for Educational Statistics 1983).

Among colleges and universities in the United States, 1227 (or 70 percent) have teacher education programs. Most of these programs have been experiencing a gradual decline in enrollment (Feistritzer 1983). The number of new teachers who graduated from these programs was 313,000 in 1972-73, but only 141,000 in 1980-81 (Kluender 1984). Approximately 698 of the nation's teacher education programs are engaged in preparing special education personnel (Geiger 1983); one-tenth of all bachelor degrees awarded in education in 1980-81 were in special education.

The overall supply of teachers produced annually is already 4 percent short of demand (American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education 1983). The greatest shortages are in math, physics, vocational education, bilingual education, and special education. The most pressing needs reported by school districts are for occupational therapists; physical therapists; speech clinicians; personnel to work with students who are emotionally disturbed, behavior disordered, severely retarded, severely emotionally disturbed, multiply handicapped, visually handicapped, or hearing impaired; and personnel for special education in the secondary schools (Smith-Davis, Burke, and Noel 1984).

These data demonstrate the reality that the current supply of qualified personnel does not meet demand, particularly in such important areas of instruction as special education.


In recent years (and, in most cases, prior to the National Commission on Excellence report), 85 percent of colleges and universities offering preparation in teacher education have initiated efforts to improve the quality of their programs by upgrading the curriculum (National Center for Educational Statistics l983), by lengthening the teacher education program to five years, and/or by expanding the clinical and field experience components of their programs (Kluender 1984). Seventy-four percent of these colleges and universities have increased admissions standards (National Center for Educational Statistics 1983).

In special education, personnel preparation programs have been greatly enhanced in the past decade by these and other steps. Among the new strengths in preservice training programs in special education are greater emphasis on trainee acquisition of competency objectives, as evidenced by the trainee's ability to effect change in learners; greater collaboration with parents and interdisciplinary professions; and improved field-based training with clinical supervision and the measurement of performance objectives.


Any limitation on numbers of available personnel promotes mediocrity because it limits selectivity. In special education, the already existing shortages are constraining selectivity in hiring. Indeed, "in special education, the most widespread solution to problems of personnel shortages and recruitment problems is the issuance of certificates to persons who do not demonstrate the preparation, experience, qualifications, and other criteria ordinarily used for certification. Up to 30 percent of the personnel in some jurisdictions are thus working with children with whom they have had minimal experience or preparation, and no jurisdiction is free of the need for provisionally certified personnel" (Smith-Davis, Burke, and Noel 1984).

Meanwhile, higher education must deal with the continuing decline in teacher trainee enrollment at the same time that it endeavors to raise its admission standards, the quality of its programs, and its graduation criteria.

A major factor in decisions not to choose a teaching career is the low salary level (Dresap, McCormick, and Paget 1984). According to reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Endicot, and the College Placement Council, beginning salaries for teachers with a bachelor's degree are lower than in any other professional occupation.

The depopularization of public education in politics and the press also reportedly discourages many high caliber individuals from entering the profession. In 1969, 75 percent of respondents in a Gallup poll said they would like their children to become teachers. By the time of the 1983 Gallup poll, only 45 percent of respondents wanted their offspring to become teachers (Cresap, McCormick, and Paget 1984). Out of the effort to rivet public attention on the mediocrity ascribed to public education, perhaps a self-fulfilling prophecy is evolving.

Under the prevailing conditions, higher education's potentially greater selectivity in admissions, retention, and graduation stands to further limit the available personnel who are and will be needed, and thereby limit the selectivity of employers. If we desire not only to have enough teachers but also to have good ones, higher education cannot be held exclusively accountable for both goals. Colleges and universities cannot alone guarantee a teacher for every vacant position in every school everywhere, as long as other factors create shortages for both trainees and teachers.

What colleges and universities can and should guarantee is that every special education graduate is indeed an accomplished professional. What states, districts, and national policy makers should guarantee are the incentives and conditions that will make education an attractive, lucrative, promising, and respectable profession. Until issues of quality can be disentangled from problems of quantity, the overall excellence of teacher education and its graduates will be impeded, and the tide of mediocrity in the public schools will continue to rise.


American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. TASK FORCE ON SHORTAGE/SURPLUS QUALITY ISSUES IN TEACHER EDUCATION: REPORT ON A SURVEY OF CHANGE IN TEACHER EDUCATION. Washington, D.C.: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, 1983.

Business/Higher Education Forum. THE NEW MANUFACTURING: AMERICA'S RACE TO AUTOMATE. A REPORT SUBMITTED TO PRESIDENT REAGAN. Washington, D.C.: Business/Higher Education Forum, 1984.

Cresap, McCormick, and Paget. TEACHER INCENTIVES: A TOOL FOR EFFECTIVE MANAGEMENT. Reston, VA: National Association of Secondary School Principals (with the National Association of Elementary School Principals and American Association of School Administrators), 1984.

Feistritzer, C. E. THE CONDITIONS OF TEACHING: A STATE BY STATE ANALYSIS. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983.


Kluender, M. M. "Teacher Education Programs in the 1980's: Some Selected Characteristics." JOURNAL OF TEACHER EDUCATION 34 (1984):33-35.

National Center for Educational Statistics. THE CONDITION OF EDUCATION, 1983. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1983.

National Commission on Excellence in Education. A NATION AT RISK: THE IMPERATIVE FOR EDUCATIONAL REFORM. Washington, D.C.: U. S. Department of Education, 1983.


Smith-Davis, J., P. J. Burke, and M. Noel. PERSONNEL TO EDUCATE THE HANDICAPPED IN AMERICA: SUPPLY AND DEMAND FROM A PROGRAMMATIC VIEWPOINT. College Park, MD: University of Maryland, Institute for the Study of Exceptional Children and Youth, 1984.

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