August 16, 1999
Ms. Nancy Safer
Thank you for your letter expressing concern about an apparent conclusion contained in The 20th Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of IDEA in a module entitled, "Special Education Teachers: National Trends in Demand and Shortage." The statement appeared to suggest that the shortage of special education teachers can and should be resolved simply by shifting the responsibility for educating students with disabilities away from special educators and toward general educators. Nothing could be further from the truth. I appreciate the opportunity to clarify the intentions behind the module and to expand on the very serious issue of the shortage of qualified special education teachers.
As you know, the United States is currently experiencing a shortage of qualified teachers both in the special education and the general education fields. The question is how to meet the challenge posed by these shortages. Unfortunately, there is no single solution to this problem. It is true that general educators in inclusive classrooms are teaching increasing numbers of students with disabilities. It also is true that general educators need training and preparation to help them teach these students effectively. But inclusion does not diminish the need for qualified special education teachers. In fact, as special educators serve more students across a number of inclusive classrooms, the demands of their job have become more complex, demanding even greater expertise in collaboration and consultation.
However, inclusion and collaboration alone will not resolve the difficulties posed by the shortage of special education teachers. While no single approach can eliminate this problem, increasing both the number of qualified special education and general education teachers must be part of the solution. I deeply regret that the 20th Annual Report seems to suggest otherwise.
Every student with a disability -- indeed, every student -- is entitled to be taught by qualified, well-prepared teachers. We will continue our support of personnel preparation programs and other collaborative efforts aimed at helping the education field increase the Nation's supply of highly qualified teachers in all fields.
Our mission is to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the Nation.
Page 2 - Ms. Nancy Safer
Thank you again for bringing this issue to our attention. I also am sending a response to the cosigners of your letter.
Richard W. Riley
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This page last updated August 18, 1999 (pjk)