September 27, 2023

Key points:

  • Teachers shortages abound, but special education is grappling with even higher vacancies
  • Virtual learning options are growing in popularity as a way to offer high-quality instructional options to students with special needs
  • See related article: 3 ways telepractice helps combat burnout in special education

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), K-12 public schools faced significant teacher shortages in 2022, with nearly half reporting vacancies. Special education was one of the areas hit hardest, with 45 percent of schools needing to fill positions. Unfortunately, this trend is expected to continue, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 37,600 yearly openings for special education teachers over the next decade.

As the demand for special education teachers outpaces supply, school districts are seeking innovative solutions to bridge the gap and provide high-quality education to students with special needs. Teleservice solutions have gained widespread adoption in recent years, enabling schools to cast a wider net and tap into a pool of highly-qualified professionals beyond their immediate geographic area.

While many schools have become familiar with this approach, its effectiveness is not always straightforward and requires a more nuanced understanding of the factors that contribute to its varying success. In fact–and more broadly–according to a report by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), 57 percent of respondents indicated that they have many edtech programs and products in their schools, but they are not always used effectively.

When it comes to virtual learning in special education, we have found that maximizing its potential requires a multifaceted approach. Here are three key strategies school districts should implement when considering what will influence and optimize the effectiveness of virtual learning in special education for schools, educators, and students:

Understand the diverse needs of your student population.

A significant percentage of students receiving special education services have specific learning disabilities (33 percent), speech or language impairments (19 percent), or other health impairments (15 percent), according to NCES. With the number of students requiring these services on the rise, schools are facing the challenge of managing increasingly diverse and complex caseloads.

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