Special Education Administration at a Crossroads:
Availability, Licensure, and Preparation
Of Special Education Adminstrators
Prepared for the Center on Personnel Studies in Special Education
and the National Clearinghouse for Professions in Special Education
University of North Carolina Greensboro
Mary Lynn Boscardin
University of Massachusetts Amherst
(Document No. IB-8)
--den- I t r i
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Center on Personnel Studies in Special Education
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
CENTER ON PERSONNEL STUDIES IN SPECIAL EDUCATION
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO BOULDER
INSTRUCTIONAL RESEARCH GROUP, LONG BEACH, CA
COPSSE research is focused on the preparation of special education professionals and its
impact on beginning teacher quality and student outcomes. Our research is intended to inform
scholars and policymakers about advantages and disadvantages of preparation alternatives and
the effective use of public funds in addressing personnel shortages.
In addition to our authors and reviewers, many individuals and organizations have contributed
substantially to our efforts, including Drs. Erling Boe of the University of Pennsylvania and
Elaine Carlson of WESTAT. We also have benefited greatly from collaboration with the National
Clearinghouse for the Professions in Special Education, the Policymakers Partnership, and their
parent organizations, the Council for Exceptional Children and the National Association of State
Directors of Special Education.
The Center on Personnel Studies in Special Education, H325Q000002, is a cooperative
agreement between the University of Florida and the Office of Special Education Programs of
the U. S. Department of Education. The contents of this document do not necessarily reflect the
views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of other organizations imply
endorsement by them.
Lashley, C., & Boscardin, M.L. (2003). Special education administration at a crossroads:
Availability, licensure, and preparation of special education administrators. (COPSSE
Document No. IB-8). FL: University of Florida, Center on Personnel Studies in
U. S. Office of Special
I ..F .ducai
Additional Copies may be obtained from:
P.O. Box 117050
University of Florida
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please credit the source and support of the federal funds when
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A b s t r a c t ...........................................................................................................
In t r o d u c t io n .................................................................................................................................................... 4
Supply and Dem and ..................................5
Preparation...... ...................................................................................................................................................... 7
Preparation Program Availability .......................... ......................... ...7
P re p a ra tio n P ro g ra m C o n te n t............................................................................................................ 8
Standards-Driven Reforms and Special Education Leadership
P re p a ra tio n 1...................................................................................1 0
Alternate Paths to Certification and Licensure.......................... ... ...............12
State Professional Development Provisions for Special Education
A d m in is tra to rs ............................................................1 3
Supporting and Developing the Special Education Work Force............................ 14
V is io n a n d C o m m u n ic a tio n ........................... ........................................................................... ...... 1 5
R sources and P aper W ork............................................................. ..... 16
P ro fe s s io n a l D e v e lo p m e n t............... ............................................................ ........................... 1 6
P rin c ip a ls ... . . ................................................................................................................................ 1 7
Special Education Administration at the Crossroads ..............................18
R e fe re n c e s .............................. .................. ......... ...... 1 9
This issue brief reviews the availability, licensure, and preparation of special education
administrators in K-12 public school districts. The shortage of special education administrators
is difficult to measure due to variations in licensure and certification requirements between
states. Pre-service training has fluctuated, and there are fewer training programs available.
Training has been shifted to on-the-job or absorbed by educational administration programs. A
major problem facing special education administrators is the recruitment, retention, and
professional development of special education personnel. The level of administrative support
special education personnel receive affects retention. Special education administrators are now
at a crossroads in the evolution of the field. Their challenge will be promoting collaboration
between general and special education teachers and administrators to assure that high quality
educational programs are accessible to all students.
Special education administration is located at the intersection of the disciplines of special
education, general education, and educational administration. Historically, special education has
provided much of the intellectual, practical, and personnel traffic to that intersection. The
preparation, licensure, and availability of special education administrators has been dominated
by assumptions, practices, and knowledge traditions of the disciplines of special education. This
results in preparation that is too narrow for today's needs. During the 1990s, accountability for
performance results and high standards drove educational reform, and efforts to educate students
with disabilities in the general education classroom became the focus of special educators.
These simultaneous initiatives require special education administrators to be well versed in the
knowledge and skills from the disciplines of general education and educational administration.
Becoming an effective special education leader for the 21st Century requires that administrators
work collaboratively with teachers, parents, other school administrators, and policymakers to
bring resources, personnel, programs, and expertise together to solve problems of practice for all
Our purpose in this paper is to review availability, licensure and certification,1 and preparation of
special education administrators in K-12 public school districts with emphasis on their roles in
maintaining a quality work force in special education. For this review, special education
administrators are those individuals who work in school districts to lead, supervise, and manage
the provision of special education and related services for students with disabilities. Special
education administrators are responsible for implementing the provisions of the Individuals With
Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), state and local statutes as well as policies and procedures that
stipulate a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment for all students
We have focused primarily on literature from 1990 to the present to review current research
regarding the preparation, licensure, and availability of special education administrators. In some
cases, literature prior to 1990 is cited to establish historical perspective. Sources included
professional journals, dissertations, research reports, federal and state documents and websites,
and websites from educational organizations. We also reviewed literature on teacher recruitment
and retention, teacher induction, and professional development to recommend actions that
special education administrators can apply to building and maintaining a work force of quality
special education and related services professionals.
Special education administrators have played a critical role in the evolution of the field. The
future challenge for special education administrators will be promoting collaboration between
general and special education teachers and administrators to assure that high quality educational
programs are accessible to all students regardless of ability.
1 Some states treat educational endorsement to practice as a licensure process, while others treat
it as a certification process. This paper uses the terms interchangeably.
SUPPLY AND DEMAND
The commonly asked question, "What can we do to create and sustain an adequate flow of
special education administrators?" generates multiple answers, because states vary widely in how
they endorse and certify (or avoid endorsing or certifying) special education administrators.
Some states have decided the role of special education administrator is unimportant and have
filled this position with administrators not trained in special education or special education
administration. While some states have been quite rigorous, clearly defining competencies and
expectations for special education administrators, other states have no such definitions or
guidelines. The absence of national competencies that define the role of special education
administrators for all states makes it difficult to measure administrative shortages in special
The Council of Exceptional Children (CES), in conjunction with the Council of Administrators
of Special Education (CASE), is developing national competencies that would be applied to
accredit training programs by the National Council of Accreditation of Teacher Education
(NCATE). This catalyst for standardization across the United States could facilitate more
accurate determination of special education administrator shortages.
Although the shortage of administrators in general has been widely reported, there has been less
attention to the shortage of special education administrators. Arick and Krug (1989) found in a
local survey of special education directors that approximately 40% of all special education
administrative jobs would be open in the next four years in Oregon. At the time of their study,
25% of the positions were unfilled. In 1993, Arick and Krug reported the national shortage of
special education administrators was 10%. Of the 1,453 districts, 55 districts reported 148
unfilled positions; and 91 districts had 146 positions filled by interim appointments. Arick and
Krug (1993) projected that 789 of the 1,444 districts responding to the questionnaire would
experience vacancies over the next four years. Over half (55%) of the districts expected to
replace approximately two special education administrative positions. Districts reported
replacements due to: retirement, 26%; job change, 33%; moving out of area, 12%; and other
reasons, under 1%.
According to the Wisconsin Teacher Supply and Demand Project (1998), 13.3% of 264 directors
of special education in 1997-98 were new. Wisconsin anticipated a 6.3% attrition rate at the
time. During this same period of time, Massachusetts lost 1% of its special education
administrators to retirement, 2.4% voluntarily resigned, 3% did not have their contracts renewed,
25.9% transferred to other positions within the system, and 32% were newly hired
(Massachusetts DOE Data, 1998).
As early as 1992-93 in the U. S. Department of Education's 17th Annual Report (U. S.
Department of Education [USDOE], 1995), there were indications of special education
administration shortages nationally. At the local education agency (LEA) level, 15,791 special
education administrators and supervisors were employed and 1,176 more were needed. That
same year, 1,064 special education administrators were employed at the state education agency
(SEA) level with 130 needed.
According to the 22nd Annual Report (2000), there were 175 vacant administrator and special
education supervisor positions based on 1999 data (U. S. Department of Education [USDOE],
2000). Of the 15,166 administrators and supervisors of special education that were employed,
754 were not fully certified. The only certainty is that these administrators did not meet the
certification requirements for their state, regardless of the comprehensiveness of the
requirements. At the SEA level, 956 administrators were fully certified, 14 were not fully
certified, and there were 70 vacant positions.
The number of vacancies reported and projections of retirements and transfers to other positions
indicate that a significant number of special education administration positions will be open and
that individuals will not be available to fill those positions. LEA shortage reports often depend
on the number of satisfactory candidates that a district has to fill a position. If there are not a
sufficient number of applicants or if no one from that pool fits district qualifications, then a case
can be made for a shortage in the number of qualified applicants. The present number of
vacancies and unfilled positions indicates that districts are experiencing a shortage of special
education administrators and that these numbers may be even greater than current reports
Analyzing the preparation of special education administrators involves two factors: (a)
availability of pre-service preparation programs, and (b) the content of those programs. While
research about the preparation of special education administrators is limited, we have concluded
that: (a) preparation programs are linked to state certification requirements (Jones, Robinett, &
Wells, 1994); (b) there is considerable confusion about preparation and certification
requirements (Hirth & Valesky, 1990, 1991; Jones et al., 1994); (c) there are relatively few
preparation programs that are oriented specifically to special education administration (Jones et
al., 1994; National Clearinghouse on the Professions in Special Education [NCPSE], 2001), and
(d) standards-based, outcome-driven reforms will have a significant impact on the preparation of
special education administrators.
Preparation Program Availability
Finkenbinder (1981) intended to identify and establish the state of the art in the practice of
special education administration and supervision. "Although the administration of special
education programs has been a growing field, the lack of literature about it persists" (p. 488).
There was a token effort in the '60s to establish training programs. However, institutions of
higher education did not develop formal programs of study until the '70s (Finkenbinder, 1981).
Some of the programs developed in the '70s have since disappeared.
After their efforts to ascertain the availability of personnel preparation programs from each
state's CSPD representative were inconclusive, Jones et al. (1994) surveyed faculty members in
institutions of higher education to determine the availability, location, characteristics, and
requirements of special education administration preparation programs. Their survey of 212
programs contacted indicated that 18 IHEs offered limited course work in special education
administration, 21 offered certification-only programs, and 11 offered a degree program-nine at
the doctoral level and two at the specialist level. Jones et al. (1994) limited their research to
degrees beyond the Master's since the U. S. Department of Education requires that programs
funded through its Personnel Preparation Division support training at the doctoral or specialist
Jones et al. (1994) found that 7 of the 11 degree-granting programs were housed in the IHE's
Special Education department, 2 were housed in Educational Administration departments, and 2
were housed jointly. Our review of the NCPSE'S Database of College and University Programs
(2001) yielded information from 27 institutions of higher education that provide advanced
training in special education administration. Six of these programs were housed in departments
of educational administration, nineteen were housed in special education departments, and two
were housed in joint arrangements. Only two of the programs listed in the Jones et al. (1994)
study were included in the NCPSE database.
Programs required from two to four courses related directly to special education administration,
with the exception of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, which offered nine
such courses. Courses in the legal principles of special education and in the supervision of
special education were most often mentioned. Programs required two to six courses in
educational administration and additional courses in research and content areas. With one
exception, all certification and degree-granting programs required an internship. Ancarrow
(1995) found that 12,500 students received advanced degrees in educational administration and
supervision, including only 9 Master's degrees and 11 doctoral degrees in special education
Preparation Program Content
At the federal level, leadership training grants have been provided to higher education
institutions for the purpose of training special education administrators. Since the inception of
the leadership training grants, there has been a shift in the definition of leadership training. The
category has been broadened to include areas outside special education administration, assuming
that any student obtaining an advanced degree qualifies as a leader. The erosion in the number
of leadership training grants offered to institutions of higher education has contributed to the
decline in the number of training programs and students of special education administration.
Because these students are older and further along in their careers, entering a special education
administration preparation program represents a significant financial sacrifice. Many have
families and children by the time they decide to pursue this area of study.
Early competencies identified for the successful practice of special education administration
included knowledge of the following areas: disabilities in children, school law, general
education, vocational education, curriculum and instruction, effective interventions, budgeting,
finance, negotiation and conflict resolution, due process, professional development, personnel
and program evaluation and supervision, administrative duties, supervisory/consultative duties,
service delivery, planning, organization, management, coordination, teacher assistance teams,
and family issues around disabilities (Finkenbinder, 1981; Newman, 1970; O'Reilly & Squires,
1985; Voelker, 1966, summarization of the Mackie-Engle (1955) study).
In a 1993 survey, Arick and Krug found that special education directors, supervisors, or assistant
supervisors spent 72% of their time engaged in special education administrative tasks, 21% on
general education administrative tasks, and 7% was spent on other responsibilities. In this
survey, the three highest-rated special education-related training needs were listed as
collaboration between general and special educators, evaluation of program effectiveness and
quality, and adaptation of curricula and instruction for students. An interesting aspect of Arick
and Krug's (1993) study was their inquiry into the general education administrative
competencies that special education administrators and supervisors thought would be beneficial.
The three highest-rated general education administration training needs were developing grant
proposals, planning information systems for program management, and creating strategies for
facilitating collaboration. Unfortunately, the rankings performed by the special education
directors in the Arick and Krug (1993) study were the result of forced choices given to the
respondents; it is possible that the importance of other training needs was overlooked. For
example, in the early 1990s the suspension and expulsion of students with disabilities was a
major concern. This item did not appear specifically on the list but could be included under one
of the more general categories. A more contemporary example would be the expressed need for
training around school violence issues, statewide assessments of students with disabilities, and
access to the general education curriculum frameworks by students with disabilities. It should
also be noted that the role of the special education administrator has shifted dramatically since its
inception, from one where the primary concern was on effective interventions to one where the
dominant concern currently is litigation.
Stile, Abernathy, & Pettibone (1986) noted that there were two tracks-general education and
special education-present in the education systems they investigated in their study. Valesky and
Hirth (1992) noted the need for general education administrators to have a knowledge of special
education. These two studies stressed the need for reform in administrator training. Not only
must training programs for general education administrators include special education
competencies in the knowledge base, but special education administration training must also
include general education administration competencies. Special education administrators must
also have the competencies needed to provide special education professional development
opportunities to their general administration colleagues.
Thirteen of the NCPSE Database (2001) programs were recipients of support for personnel
preparation projects funded by the U. S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education
Programs (OSEP). Information about the OSEP-funded programs indicates that mentoring
relationships with practitioners, recruitment of minority personnel to leadership positions, and
addressing the needs of minority students with disabilities are important themes in leadership
preparation programs. Further, if we assume that OSEP funding priorities are intended to
influence the direction of administrative preparation, then the following priorities must be
addressed to receive funding from the fiscal 2002 Preparation of Leadership Personnel grants
competition (U. S. Department of Education [USDOE], 2001) will be important themes in the
curriculum of leadership preparation programs:
1. Understanding and working with culturally and linguistically diverse populations,
developing competencies necessary for working with these groups, and infusing those
competencies into training programs
2. Coursework that emphasizes the participation of students with disabilities in the
general education curriculum and practices that improve student outcomes
3. Relating research to practice in training programs and coursework
4. Preparing special education leaders who can collaborate and foster collaborative
5. Connecting the quality of services that program graduates provide to the goals and
activities of the training program so that training program outcomes are linked to
outcomes for children with disabilities in schools
6. Aligning training programs with state standards for children in schools.
Standards-Driven Reforms and Special Education Leadership
Currently, programs that prepare educators are participating in a wide range of standards-driven
reform and accountability initiatives. The Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support
Consortium (INTASC), the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), and
the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) standards have been
interlinked and aligned to provide teacher education with a well-integrated set of expectations
and outcomes upon which to base their practice. The Council for Exceptional Children's
Institutional and Program Requirements are aligned with INTASC, NBPTS, and NCATE
Standards to provide special education teacher educators with expectations and outcomes that are
linked to those in general education.
The accrediting organizations cited above have joined together to develop special education
administration leadership competencies that emphasize integration of expectations and outcomes.
The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) has joined with NCATE to develop Performance-
Based Standards for Special Education Administrators (2001). These standards address the
Standard 1: Foundations (philosophical, historical, and legal)
Standard 2: Characteristics of learners (human development, principles of learning)
Standard 3: Assessment, diagnosis, and evaluation
Standard 4: Instructional content and practice
Standard 5: Planning and managing the teaching and learning environment
Standard 6: Managing student behavior and social interactions
Standard 7: Communication and collaborative partnerships
Standard 8: Professionalism and ethics
The knowledge and skills embedded in these Standards are linked to the Common Core of the
Performance-Based Standards for beginning special education teachers. The language and
approaches suggested by these standards are grounded in the special education knowledge
traditions. As a result, special education administration continues to be an activity that is
separated from the general education program.
In cooperation with the Educational Leadership Constituent Council, NCATE's new Standards
for Educational Administration, which are aligned with the Interstate School Leaders Licensure
Consortium (ISLLC) Standards, address the following:
Standard 1: A shared vision of learning
Standard 2: Culture and programs conducive to student and personnel learning
Standard 3: Safe, efficient, and effective learning environments
Standard 4: Collaboration and working with the community
Standard 5: Ethical behavior
Standard 6: Understanding and influencing political, social, economic, legal, and cultural
Standard 7: internships that are standards-based and cooperatively delivered by university
and school district personnel
These standards are firmly grounded in current research on educational reform and
accountability as well as in the general education and educational administration knowledge
traditions. These standards continue to demonstrate a disregard for diverse populations by the
general education administration establishment. No explicit acknowledgement of students with
disabilities and the challenges special education programs bring to schools and districts are
addressed by the standards.
As we can see from the CEC/NCATE and the ELCC/NCATE standards, the preparation of
special education administrators reflects the existence of the dual systems of general and special
education that have marked the history of efforts to educate children with disabilities. Like that
of special education teachers, the preparation of special education administrators is often situated
in a separate special education program or department and focuses on the special education
knowledge tradition. While understanding the premises and assumptions of special education as
a discipline is an important component of training for special education administrators, such a
focus limits their capacity to engage in experiences that deepen their understandings of
leadership, organizational dynamics, and general education. In turn, the combination of
extensive special education expertise and limited leadership, organizational, and general
education knowledge and skills exacerbates the division between general and special education,
reducing opportunities to unify the dual system of education. We challenge educators
responsible for preparing school leaders to address the needs of all students; they should develop
approaches that integrate knowledge, skills, and dispositions from special education, general
education, and educational administration. Prospective administrators must be equipped to forge
new designs for inclusive, diverse, unified schools.
CERTIFICATION AND LICENSURE
Certification and licensure vary widely between states. Stile et al. (1986) found 16 state
education agencies had requirements for special education administrators, compared to 12 states
in 1979 (Stile & Pettibone, 1980). Eighteen states reported endorsements in special education
administration as part of a general administrative certificate. Twenty-three states offered a
separate special education administration credential while six states offered a similar certificate
at the supervisory level. One year later, Prillaman and Richardson (1985) found that 26 states
had a separate endorsement for special education administrators compared to only 6 states in
1975. Twenty (20) states required an initial certificate in general administration to obtain an
endorsement as a special education administrator.
Valesky and Hirth (1992) found that a special education administration endorsement was offered
in conjunction with the receipt of a general education administrative certificate. The special
education administrative endorsement was awarded by 33 states at the general administrative
level, 47 states at the principal level, 39 states at the instructional supervisor level, and 47 states
at the superintendent level. A completely separate endorsement for the administrator of special
education was offered by 38 states (Valesky & Hirth, 1992). Compared to the data of Stile et al.
(1986), there has been an increase in the offerings of special education administrative
Alternate Paths to Certification and Licensure
The quality of certification and licensure requirements has been further compromised by the
introduction of alternate paths. These alternate paths to certification and licensure are frequently
sponsored by state departments of education in direct competition with the certification and
licensure programs offered by institutions of higher education (IHE). The IHEs are often held to
a much higher standard for certificate endorsement. Alternate paths to certification have proven
to be more attractive to pre-service administrators because of their lower costs and shorter time
Some states (e.g. Illinois, Kentucky) have made significant efforts to coordinate their alternate
paths to administrative certification with their public institutions of higher education. Other state
departments of education have placed themselves in direct competition with their IHEs (e.g.
Massachusetts, New Hampshire). Interestingly, New Hampshire has six paths to alternate
certification (http://www.ed.state.nh.us/Certification/credenti.htm). Obtaining a certificate from
an institution of higher education is the first alternative. The last alternate path is on-the-job
training. The Illinois Alternative Certification Initiative includes an Administrative Alternative
Certification Program (http://www.cait.org/aci). This program is presented in four phases
commencing with an initial application, screening, and admission process and then progressing
to an intensive 8-week summer program, followed by a year-long administrative appointment in
an LEA, and culminating with a final assessment of progress of the pre-service administrator by
the university supervisor, mentor, and LEA supervisor. The cost is $450 to participate in the
initial assessment, and $7,500 for the 8-week course and one-year practicum.
Although many states have adopted alternate paths to certification, there is a dearth of research
on alternate paths to administrative certification and certification of special education
administrators. There is a great need for research to assess the efficacy of such programs by
determining the effect on the delivery of services to students with disabilities and the retention of
special education personnel.
State Professional Development Provisions for Special Education
The greatest change that Stile et al. (1986) found was in the number of state offices requiring
special education coursework or demonstration of competency in special education as part of
general education administration certification. Valesky and Hirth (1992) produced the only
report with data about the professional development of in-service special education
administrators. They reported that 75% of all states offer special education in-service training to
administrators each year. Stile et al. (1986) did not address the provision of in-service training
for veteran special education administrators at the LEA level. Compared to research on teaching
improvement, very few research topics are directed toward improving administrator skills.
While improving personnel skills is important, it is equally important for administrators to reflect
on tasks that are germane to the actual administration and management of the programs for
which they provide leadership. Given the paucity of research in the area of professional
development for in-service special education administrators, this is an area that would benefit
from further investigation.
SUPPORTING AND DEVELOPING
THE SPECIAL EDUCATION WORK FORCE
Retaining certified and qualified personnel in special education is the ultimate challenge for
special education administrators. Their roles in supporting and developing the special education
work force involve the recruitment, retention, and professional development of special education
teachers and related services professionals. Districts and special education administrators face a
shortage of licensed and qualified personnel, which necessitates filling special education
teaching positions with uncertified and untrained personnel. Gonzalez and Carlson (2001),
reporting on the Study of Personnel Needs in Special Education, indicate that school districts
recruited 69,249 special education teaching positions for the 1999-2000, hired 50,320 teachers,
and left 12,241 positions unfilled. Working from data from the 22nd Annual Report, Carlson and
Billingsley (2001) reported that approximately 9% of all special education teachers are not
certified for their assignments, and they cited research indicating that 32% of new special
education teachers are not certified. Clearly, recruiting additional teachers, developing their skills
as special educators, and working to keep them in the field should be high priorities for special
According to the Bright Futures for Exceptional Learners report (Kozleski, Mainzer, &
Deschler, 2000), there are eight pressing issues affecting the retention of special education
1. Special educator role definitions that are ambiguous and conflicting
2. Over-zealous procedural compliance
3. Lack of system supports for special educators
4. Mismatch between student needs and teacher activity
5. Teacher isolation
6. Diminished pool of potential special educators
7. Incompletely prepared new special educators
8. Fragmented, nonreciprocal teacher licensing systems.
Special education administrators must be able to develop district action plans that address each
of these areas. While many administrators either explicitly or tacitly have acknowledged each of
these issues at one time, few have made these issues a pressing priority and developed a formal
solution. Personnel retention and recruitment are closely related. When personnel feel
supported by their administrators they are less likely to leave, which in turn contributes to the
attractiveness of the work place environment.
Our review of the literature regarding special education administrators' roles in supporting and
developing the special education work force indicates that administrative support is critical to
retaining special educators and improving their abilities to have a positive effect on outcomes for
students with disabilities. In a study of teachers' working conditions in six urban school
districts. Billingsley, Gersten, Gillman, and Morvant (1995) found that "teacher satisfaction,
commitment, and intent to leave were all highly associated with administrative support" (p. i).
By administrative support, they mean "treating teachers like knowledgeable professionals,"
"effective communication," and "provid... [ing] assistance to teachers by helping them with their
needs" (pp. 2-3). The literature on the recruitment and retention of special education teachers
suggests that important factors in administrative support, which district-level special education
administrators can address, include:
1. A common vision of the purposes and goals of the special education program and
effective communication systems that articulate the vision
2. Availability of resources and the over-burden of paper work
3. Provision of professional development
4. The crucial role of the school principal and the special education administrators'
responsibility for developing principals' capacities to support special educators.
In order to address these issues, special education administrators must understand what teachers
mean by administrative support. They must "periodically assess teachers' needs for support"
(Billingsley, et al., 1995, p. 8) and make frequent contact, actively listen, and thoughtfully
consider teacher points of view. A close relationship between special education professionals,
general education teachers, and principals, in which views are shared and learning is valued,
appear to be critical to teacher job satisfaction.
Vision and Communication
Studies on teacher dissatisfaction in special education point out special educators feel the need to
know the purposes and directions of the special education program, want to have a voice in the
decisions that affect their work, and want to know that their perspectives are listened to and
respected. Cegelka and Doorlag (1995) found that teachers do not feel supported in the areas of
"special education placement decisions, IEP development and monitoring, dealing with
behavioral problems, selecting and implementing curriculum, and interacting with parents" (p.
5). In other words, special education teachers did not believe that they were supported in critical
components of theirjobs.
Gersten, Gillman, Morvant, & Billingsley (1995) argue that special education teachers
experience a great deal of role conflict. They suggest that special educators are unable to
prioritize the tasks they are asked to perform and that it appears to teachers that there are
competing priorities in schools (e.g., Should they be concerned with compliance through paper
work or providing what is best for students?). They also suggest that teachers do not believe that
they have a voice in the purposes and goals of the programs in which they work and, as a result,
do not feel that decisions are made with their perspectives or interests in mind. Finally, Gersten
et al. (1995) argue that teachers are "confused about what is expected of them in their jobs" (p.
Gersten et al. (1995) suggest that increasing the flow of information to schools and teachers and
using approaches "for meaningful shared decision-making" (p. 8) are necessary components to
addressing teacher dissatisfaction with their job responsibilities. Billingsley, et al. (1995) found
that teachers often felt that their lack of frequent, meaningful contact with district-level
administrators indicated a lack of respect for their work. Further, their perception that district-
level administrators were too far removed from teachers' daily work lives meant that decisions
about their work were not well informed. Billingsley, et al. (1995) summarize by stating "and as
one teacher put it, the important thing was not always in getting the resources, but rather in
feeling that someone was out there advocating for her needs" (p. 5).
Resources and Paper Work
Our review of the research illustrates that administrators must reduce the paper work burden on
special education and provide the resources teachers believe they need to do their jobs. Teachers
cite time to do their work, large and disparate caseloads, availability of planning and
collaboration time, excessive paper work, and lack of instructional resources as major restrictions
on their abilities to do their jobs (Gersten et al., 1995). Gersten et al. (1995) argue that the
number of tasks that special education teachers are required to do have "not been modified or
redistributed in any way" (p. 8), and therefore opportunities for professional development and
uses of planning time have eroded. SPeNSE (2001) reports that special education teachers spend
five hours per week on paper work-about as much time as they spend on lesson planning.
Using SPeNSE data, Carlson and Billingsley (2001) indicate that special education teachers
believe that paper work interferes with teaching. Special education administrators can play an
important role in utilizing technology and organizing work to reduce the burden that paper work
and resource shortages present to special educators. To do this effectively, their decision making
must be driven by teaching and learning and the needs of students rather than focusing solely on
compliance with regulatory demands.
Teachers often cite their need for professional development. The number of new and uncertified
teachers entering the field indicates that education, training, and professional socialization are
important needs for special education teachers. Gersten et al. (1995) indicate that professional
development that encourages interactions with other teachers who are engaged in similar work is
critical to special education teacher job satisfaction. Wald (1998) suggests district-level
administrators must arrange for professional development activities that support teacher's efforts
to manage instruction and be an advocate for students. Throughout the studies in this literature
review, teachers expressed the need to be connected with their peers through professional
development networks. They expressed that the challenges of teaching students with disabilities
requires a continuing commitment to professional learning. Attention to the induction of new
teachers, which is indicated in the NCATE and INTASC Standards and in projects like North
Carolina's Performance-Based Licensure, is necessary to develop a high quality work force. All
of these concerns point to the importance of a well-developed, systematic approach to
Our review of the literature indicates that principals' support for the work of special education
teachers is critical to the recruitment and retention of special educators. Carlson and Billingsley
(2001) report that school climate is an important factor in special education teachers' believing
that their jobs are manageable, in their sense of efficacy, and in their intention to stay in the field.
School principals are major factors in establishing school climate. Teachers report that the
support of their building principal is crucial to their job satisfaction and their capacity to educate
their students effectively (Billingsley et al., 1995). District-level special education
administrators need to prepare school-level administrators to understand the roles and
responsibilities of special educators (Wald, 1998).
SPECIAL EDUCATION ADMINISTRATION AT A CROSSROADS
The shortage of administrators is well-documented, and the shortage of special education
teachers exacerbates the shortage of special education administrators. The preparation and
licensure of special education administrators has not received sufficient attention in the past ten
years. Research in leadership preparation has focused on principals and superintendents. Some
work has been done regarding the role of principals in special education (Valesky & Hirth,
1992), but district-level administrators have not received research attention, even though they
make critical programmatic and organizational decisions. In addition, the wide variety of
approaches to certification and the resulting preparation requirements makes it difficult to
determine the quality of the special education administration work force and the availability of
qualified personnel. One avenue of research could determine: (a) the qualifications of persons
who have filled special education administration positions, (b) how or whether they became
certified, and (c) their preparation for the positions.
The preparation and licensure of special education administration reflects the dual systems of
special and general education. The special education knowledge tradition is well represented in
preparation and licensure of special education administrators. How special education
administrators are prepared to work with their general education colleagues and to proceed
toward a unified system of services remains to be seen. Further research in these areas could
focus on how preparation can address issues like accountability, instructional improvement for
all students, and increased collaboration between general and special education for instructional
purposes and how professional development can be a tool to address these issues. The discourse
on collaboration has been highly visible in providing tools for teachers as they work to include
students with disabilities in general education. However, further research is needed to address
how administrators can facilitate collaboration and how they will be prepared to foster
collaborative environments where teachers work toward curriculum access for all students.
Some research that gives administrators and boards guidance about what they can do to recruit
and retain quality special education teachers and related service professionals is available. We
have focused on the actions special education administrators can take to improve the work lives
of special educators by providing support through induction and professional development,
reducing burdens (such as paper work and caseload), and securing resources for teachers.
Special education administration is located where special education, general education, and
educational administration come together. Historically, the knowledge traditions and practices
of special education have dominated the discourse in special education administration. As
inclusive practice and accountability became important in American schools in the 1990s, a
merger of general and special education to meet the educational needs of all students has been
suggested (Burrello, Lashley, & Beatty, 2001; Villa & Thousand, 2000; Lipsky & Gartner,
1996). Particularly, the ascendance of outcome accountability measures for all students has
highlighted the necessity to apply all curricular, instructional, and assessment tools from both
general and special education to the education of all students. As a result, special education
administration has come to a crossroads as a practice. Special education and general education
leaders will be challenged to join together to solve the problems of practice inherent in a diverse,
complex, high-stakes educational environment.
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