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Facing shortages, LAUSD stepping up efforts to find special ed teachers

Mike Szymanski | October 16, 2015

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SpecialEdFacing a statewide and national trend in a shortage of special education teachers, LA Unified officials are mounting an aggressive campaign to find them. And, if they can’t find them, the district is training the teachers themselves.

“We are out and relentless as far as it goes for teachers, because university enrollment is down for special education teachers,” said Debi Ignagni, LAUSD’s deputy chief human resources officer. “And we have a fully accredited district intern program where after two years you can get a special ed teaching credential.”

Since 1983, the district has trained more than 10,000 special education teachers, and they all stated to work at LAUSD. The retention rate is higher than the average teacher, too, Ignagni said.

As part of a relatively new trend, teachers with existing teaching credential are being retrained to become the more-needed special ed teachers. This year, 125 teachers at LAUSD are getting their extra credentials while 73 are first-time teachers who are training specifically for special education.

The number of LAUSD students with disabilities is about 82,600, and statewide the enrollment in special education teaching programs has dropped 27 percent over the past few years, according to the California Commission on Teaching Credentials. Nationally, 49 states report a shortage of special ed teachers and 90 percent of high poverty districts report a difficulty in attracting highly qualified special ed teachers.

Every district in California is facing a shortage of those teachers, so LAUSD works closely with local universities that offer teaching credentials, such as Cal State Northridge, Cal State Dominguez Hills, UCLA, Cal State LA and private institutions, Ignagni said. Some of the schools have LAUSD staffers at the university sites to recruit candidates.

When LAUSD had to layoff teachers in 2009, the special education training was a way to help retain some of them. “Many of the layoffs were for elementary school or English teachers, and we offered a tuition-free opportunity to get special education credentials and we were able to bring them back,” Ignagni said.

Special education teachers make the same salary as general education teachers at LAUSD, and it doesn’t require a master’s degree. So far, the situation isn’t critical at LAUSD, but it is getting close.

“We have been able to staff all of our classrooms,” Ignagni said. “But I think it’s always critical when talking about students. Our first priority would be to have fully-prepared teachers in those classrooms. In that sense, yes, there is a shortage because we don’t have fully-prepared teachers in every classroom.”

She added, “Are we doing the best we can? Yes. And we are doing everything we can with coaching and support in the classroom as well.”


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