How technology can address the special ed. staff shortage crisis

Data-driven solution to delivering adaptive teaching and learning experiences

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The longstanding shortage of special educators has seen some States scrambling to offer fast-track programs to produce qualified professionals to fill the gap. However, a more targeted and faster approach to providing appropriate interventions, individualized instruction, and support services to special-education students might be a better solution.

As the US Department of Education noted, 45% of schools were reporting special education vacancies and 78% were experiencing difficulties hiring special education staff. To address educator shortages, Indiana and Tennessee are improving the preparation and retention of special educators through fast-track training programs while working with state and local partners.

The shortage of special educators negatively impacts three areas namely, the morale of teachers who have to take in more workload to fill in the gap, the quality of education and support for students with special needs, and the productivity of the families involved.


Increased workload for existing staff and hindered collaborative efforts: As a result of fewer educators available, dedicated teachers face heightened responsibilities, which could result in burnout and compromise the quality of their support. This in turn prevents effective communication, coordination of IEPs (Individualized Education Programs), and consistent support systems, which slows down the whole collaborative process.


Limited individualized attention and delayed student progress: In the face of staff shortages, it becomes challenging to provide children with the level of personalized attention necessary to ensure they receive the appropriate special education services. Inadequate staffing creates obstacles in implementing timely interventions and providing necessary support, which subsequently leads to delayed progress or further setbacks in a child's development.


Loss of productivity as employees / workers of the affected families: Parents who are caring for their own children with special needs often experience higher levels of anxiety and depression, along with an increase in absenteeism. In a study conducted by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH), parents of children with special needs lose around five hours of work per week, totaling about 250 hours a year, which is equivalent to a loss of $3,000 to $5,000 per person for businesses.


Empowering parents to fill in the shortage of special educators

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Empowering parents as active participants in their children's development journey by analyzing past successes, utilizing available tools, and designing future-focused plans is an innovative way to design IEPs and solve the shortage of special educators, according to Amy Kwok, founder of PenguinSmart.

“We empower parents and teachers to collaborate with skilled therapists and language coaches, creating personalized lesson plans that seamlessly align with each child's IEP. The beauty lies in the flexibility of these plans, as they can adapt and evolve alongside a child's progress. Despite staffing challenges, we ensure that every child continues to receive tailored instruction and support,” said Kwok.

She said that while the shortage of special educators for in-person services is a pressing issue, traditional teletherapy alone falls short, especially for young children. “To bridge this gap, we collaborate with school districts, regional centers, and preschools to offer personalized one-to-one support for preschooler families. Our approach involves integrating family assessments and IEPs into home routines, ensuring comprehensive support and development,” Kwok noted.

Data-driven approach to offer tailor-fitted teaching and learning

PenguinSmart embraces a data-driven approach to gain valuable insights and promote collaboration.

“By analyzing relevant data, we uncover valuable information that informs our strategies and interventions. For example, we found out that through integrating effective communication techniques into daily life, we saw accelerated and sustained improvement in children, surpassing the progress achieved through weekly speech therapy alone (in some cases 2-3 times faster),” said Kwok.

As a result of giving parents active participation in their child's development and offering tailored lessons and activities through PenguinSmart's data analytics, working parents of children with special needs will be more productive. "Employers that make an effort to accommodate the needs of their employees can create a more positive work environment that encourages productivity," she noted.

Spread the word! If you know someone who could benefit from this valuable information and the services we provide, don't hesitate to share this article with them! Together, we can make a positive impact on the lives of children in need of specialized support. Reach out to us at or our website to discover how we can assist you.

The topics covered in this article are partly covered in a podcast titled, Unlocking Solutions for Staff Shortages in Education, click here to watch the video.



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About PenguinSmartPenguinSmart, founded by a Harvard-MIT couple, brings together HealthTech and a social mission. Our team combines cutting-edge data sciences with expert insights to empower parents as active participants in their children's development journey. By integrating effective communication techniques into daily life, we have witnessed accelerated and sustained improvement in children, surpassing the progress achieved through weekly speech therapy alone (in some cases 2-3 times faster). As an Alchemist Accelerator-backed social enterprise, PenguinSmart was nominated for the global "Top 100 Healthcare Visionaries" award in 2021. However, our greatest reward comes from our clients, who consistently rate us highly (4.8 out of 5 stars), driving our unwavering commitment to helping every child and family reach their life potential, regardless of their starting point.


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