By Kellie Krick Oborn, Early Childhood Special Education Program Coordinator
Every two years, the Educator Licensing Division of the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) is tasked with producing a report on the supply and demand of teachers. This report summarizes the findings and highlights the perceived teacher shortage areas and trends as measured by the data collected. The full 2013 report is available to the public on the Minnesota Department of Education website (http://education.state.mn.us). The following highlights finding relevant to Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE).
According to the most recent Supply and Demand Report, there has been a six percent increase in the enrollments of students with special needs in Minnesota. Early Childhood Special Education specifically is expected to see continued enrollment increases due to enhanced public awareness efforts and Minnesota Early Learning Scholarships Pathway. Since its inception in 2010, MN Help Me Grow has witnessed substantial increase in birth to three and three to five referral numbers and is but one indication of projected enrollment growth. Continued increases in the number of special education students needing services will generate a greater need for special education teachers.
While special education enrollment is projected to continue to slowly increase, the Supply and Demand Report also highlights significant teacher shortage for all areas of special education licensing. Early Childhood Special Education has been identified as one of 11 teacher shortage areas in the state. Many school districts are struggling to find qualified, licensed ECSE teachers to meet the growing needs of children and families receiving ECSE services.
One simple indicator of the teacher shortage comes from the MDE Supply and Demand Survey that asked district hiring officers about their experiences attempting to recruit and hire qualified teachers in various subject areas. These data provide confirmation from the field about staffing areas for which too few qualified applicants exist. In the area of ECSE, 14% of the districts reported that they could not fill or found it very difficult to fill openings with qualified ECSE candidates, and 12% reported that it was ‘somewhat difficult’ to fill openings.
In Minnesota, teachers who wish to teach outside of their areas of licensure must apply for special permission. Districts and schools offering positions to these applicants must be unable to find a fully licensed individual to fill the teaching vacancy. Thus, examining the licensure fields for which special permissions are granted allows MDE to assess which licensure areas are experiencing shortages and the magnitude of those shortages.
Special permissions data indicate that during 2011-12, districts had to hire 91 ECSE teachers who lacked the necessary licenses. The workforce simply doesn’t exist in sufficient quantity to meet the growing needs of children and families receiving ECSE services in Minnesota. A number of factors contribute to the growing shortage.
The number of teacher candidates who complete requirements for teacher preparation programs in a Minnesota institution has been slowly declining over the last three years. Of the most significant declines is in ECSE. In addition, the number of institutions offering ECSE licensure programs in Minnesota is also declining. Of the 15 Institutions of Higher Education in Minnesota, seven offered ECSE licensure programs in the past. As of February, 2013 only four programs are approved. The University of St.Thomas is one of four state approved teacher preparation programs currently offering an Early Childhood Special Education Licensure Program. Compounding the shortage, nearly 40% of licensed ECSE teachers in Minnesota are over the age of 50 and quickly approaching retirement with 60 being the average age of retirement for educators in Minnesota.
These data taken together suggest expected increases in teacher shortages in ECSE within the near future resulting in greater career opportunities for aspiring early educators. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, special education job prospects should be excellent. The US Department of Education approval of the proposed shortage areas in Minnesota may benefit student grant and loan recipients who are qualified to teach in the academic disciplines, grade levels, and/or geographic regions in MN where the designated teacher shortages currently occur.