Assessing Special Ed Teacher Shortages in US K-12 Schools

September 2021 - December 2021


Numerous factors contribute to special education teacher and paraprofessional shortages in K-12 education in the United States. The project is a comprehensive literature review that examines existing information and data on this topic, identifies gaps in research and access to information, and offers some potential policy solutions or responses. 

The team’s key takeaways and conclusions from the literature review:

  • Better certification, recruitment, and retention policies at the local, state, and federal levels are needed to respond to shortages and prevent future shortages in special education. 
  • More research, both qualitative and quantitative, is needed to fill information and data gaps, particularly in the context of paraprofessionals. Much of the data was concentrated on small samples, outdated, state-specific, or focused on discontinued federal policies. 
  • More attention and research at the federal level, particularly for groups like GAO, would be valuable. This is especially true considering the level of regional and district-level variation that currently exists in terms of data and policies. 
  • Special education support staff and paraprofessionals should be considered in the context of broader teacher shortages since these positions are so closely connected to each other and, in many cases, depend on one another.


U.S. Government Accountability Office