For decades, the U.S. public school system has seen declining numbers in special education teachers, but the university has just received money to help alleviate this problem.
This semester, Long Beach State’s College of Education received two grants totaling $2.5 million to combat this problem. These grants are awarded by the U.S. Department of Education and are meant to reduce the shortage of special education teachers, counselors and psychologists by helping students become special education teachers.
According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the California Department of Education has reported special education staffing shortages nearly every year since the early 1980s. From 2017 to 2018, all but three states reported shortages.
“In places like Southern California the problem is even worse because we have a much bigger population of diverse students, but we are not recruiting as fast to get a similar population of teachers,” said Edwin Achola, Project CREST’s primary investigator and an assistant professor in the Advanced Studies in Education and Counseling Department. “This grant really helps in terms of speeding up the process of getting students and supporting them through training.”
According to Jessica Olague, admissions director for Special Education at LBSU, there are a few factors attributing to the shortage of special education teachers and counselors. She made it clear that many students coming into the program are intimidated by the lack of support from their school, while others are intimidated by possible conflict that may arise between student, parent and teacher, especially when coupled with social and cultural differences.
“Research shows us that students with disabilities from communities of color have disproportionately lower high school graduate rates and lower college completion rates than those of other students,” said Carmen Varela, Disabled Students Services director. “This translates into higher unemployment and underemployment rates, higher rates of poverty, and a reduced quality of life for people with disabilities.”
Varela has experience in transition planning, which helps students with disabilities transition to new environments, whether that be from one school to another or from school to work. This is harder to come by with the shortage of special education teachers, so she said she was excited to hear about the grants which will help solve this issue.
Achola said he believes the grant for Project CREST will help alleviate stress from students’ lives as well as prepare them for the educational environment they will be facing in the future.
“I am excited about the challenge of this grant because it’s going to allow us to very carefully investigate what we are and are not doing in our preparation practices and making sure that we are improving in every possible way,” Olague said.
With the two grants awarded to the College of Education, by the end of five years, 52 students will have received training.
Although the number of special education teachers and counselors have been bleak in the past, Achola has high hopes for this grant and sees it making a real difference in the near future.
The first grant is for Project CREST, a program that will provide support for students who are striving to become special education teachers or counselors. CREST stands for Culturally Response Transition Support in School Counseling and Special Education.
Through Project CREST, 28 graduate students enrolled in LBSU’s Special Education or Counseling degree program are provided a scholarship of $27,000 over five years to cover their educational expenses and training in culturally diverse transition planning, a process that helps students’ individual needs such as going to a new school or entering the workforce.
The second grant is for multicultural secondary transition services for students with high need disabilities. Similar to the grant for Project CREST, 24 graduate students in the Special Education or School Psychology degree programs will be awarded scholarships over the course of five years. This grant is also similar to the first in that it aims to address the shortage of secondary special education teachers and school psychologists that understand a diverse range of cultures.
“In general, nationally, special education has had a difficult time recruiting and retaining teachers,” Achola said. “We are always training teachers and hoping they stay in the field.”