Parallel Learning’s CEO emphasizes the critical special ed teacher shortage in American public schools

Parallel Learning CEO Diana Heldfond joined “Sunday Night in America” host Trey Gowdy to discuss the obstacles facing schools across the U.S. to meet the needs of the number of children requiring special education services. Heldfond, who has firsthand experience with learning disabilities, now leads a company focused on addressing the surging demand for those services.

Heldfond pointed out the diversity of needs within the special education demographic – a spectrum that includes as many as 7.2 million students, per “Sunday Night in America” – noting the learning differences between students with, “dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, to learning differences like ADHD, autism.”

“Each of those students are very unique relative to, you know… your neurotypical student in the general ed classroom,” Heldfond said. “There has been a provider shortage for a number of different reasons: poor incentive, extra qualifications needed in the realm of special education and a lot of turnover that has been only further perpetuated from COVID and the teacher staffing crisis that we hear about day in, day out.” 


Heldfond pointed to the unique teaching environment as a contributing factor in the shortage of special education providers.

“Teachers don’t make a lot of money, regardless of the classroom in which they find themselves,” Gowdy noted, asking Heldfond to make a case for those considering special education as a career path. The CEO responded by emphasizing the power special education providers can have by, “changing the lives for so many students who are really disenfranchised by the typical American education system.”

“The biggest incentive beyond any kind of monetary incentive is simply what you can do for students,” Heldfond said. “Giving them the heightened extra resources that they need to be really productive members of society post-graduation and to really thrive both in the classroom and beyond the classroom.”

Gowdy also pointed out the challenges facing testing and measuring student attainment in the classroom, asking Heldfond if it’s “even more difficult with special education to actually test or measure how a teacher’s doing?”


Heldfond agreed with the complexity of testing requirements and noted that each student in special education has an individualized education plan (IEP). 

“In those IEPs, there are goals set for each student to actually help them, you know, really overcome the challenges that are identified in the evaluation and diagnosis process. So those teachers are expected to help those children ultimately reach those IEP goals,” she explained.

Heldfond added that the complex requirements coupled with limited resources and time allocated to students make this objective daunting.

She added, “Problem comes down to lack of time, lack of resources, [and] the amount of work that is expected of special education teachers far greater than any other teacher in the school. And every teacher works so hard, but specifically, special education teachers are left doing a ton of administrative work, a ton of documentation associated with all of the services that are being provided.”

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