Special needs staff are swamped by paperwork

17th November 2000 at 00:00

UNDERFUNDING, red tape and the loss of experienced staff have driven the education of the country's six million disabled students to crisis point, according to a two-year study.

The new report says these conditions have made it impossible for schools to recruit teachers for classes of physically, mentally and emotionally disabled students.

Experienced educators are leaving the field at twice the rate of teachers who work with mainstream students.

And two-thirds of those who do teach the disabled spend the equivalent of one day each week filling out government forms, compared to just two hours a week in one-on-one instruction.

"Mounting shortages of special educators are occurring at a time when they are being asked to perform their roles under difficult and increasingly bureaucratised conditions," said the report by the Council for Exceptional Children, an advocacy group. "Therefore, some of the most difficult to teach students in our schools are often served by inexperienced and unqualified teachers."

Congess has now increased federal spending on so-called special education by 20 per cent, to $6.3 billion (pound;4.42bn). It was Congress that required schools to teach disabled students, but the government has provided little of the funding demanded and created far too much paperwork.

The issue has evolved into a political dispute. Republicans, who favour greater spending for special education, say Democrats have been resistant because the programme has little populist appeal.

During the election for President, both Al Gore and George W Bush, the Democrat and Republican candidates, pledged to increase special education funding.

Meanwhile, in the classroom, teachers of disabled students struggle with competing responsibilities, professional isolation, poor training, excessive bureaucratic demands, and unmanageable class sizes, the report said.

"We expect special education teachers to do more for students who have increasingly diverse and complex needs with less time, fewer materials, and less support than ever before," it said.

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