Hiring Heats Up in K-12 Teaching Specialties

Rett Fisher

Big changes in education, driven by changing curriculum standards, demographics and diagnoses of kids with special needs, are creating opportunities for graduates with the right skill sets. Josh Fernandez is one new teacher who has capitalized on these changes. In 2008, Fernandez, a communications grad of East Carolina University, began working as a paraprofessional at Maryland's Gaithersburg High School, helping a paraplegic student with his day-to-day activities.

Realizing that he'd found his calling, Fernandez pursued a master's in special education part time at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education. After graduating in June 2012, he was immediately hired by his high school to teach special ed.

[Explore the Best Education Schools rankings.]

Around the country, many districts are adding staff in response to the burgeoning number of students diagnosed with special needs; the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects hires will grow 17 percent between 2010 and 2020.

The increasing prevalence of autism (affecting 1 in 88 children in 2008 versus 1 in 150 in 2000, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (9 percent of 5- to 17-year-olds in the CDC's latest survey, up two points since the late '90s) have contributed to the sudden surge.

Special ed is such a "critical need area at all levels," says Jeffrey Martinez, director of the department of recruitment and staffing for Montgomery County Public Schools, where Fernandez teaches, that the district offers to pick up a substantial portion of the costs for tuition, books and fees for employees pursuing a master's at Johns Hopkins who agree to work in the school system for two years.

[Find online graduate education programs.]

Demographic shifts are fueling hiring in another hot area: English as a second language. According to the Pew Research Center, a record 23.9 percent of children in pre-K through 12th grade were Hispanic in 2011.

This trend will only continue: By 2050, Hispanics will represent 38 percent of all school-age children. Jeff Edmundson, director of master's degree programs in the department of education studies at the University of Oregon, says having a "bilingual endorsement," too, is better yet - meaning the teacher is also proficient in the language of the students being taught.

Meanwhile, the U.S. effort to stay globally competitive is creating an urgent push to get scientists and mathematicians into the classroom. In 2012, President Barack Obama challenged schools to "recruit 100,000 math and science teachers within the next 10 years" to help bring student performance up to snuff.

While the challenge of finding qualified teachers has "been going on forever," it is even greater now, says Steve Head, director of education portfolios and career services at the University of Wisconsin--Madison School of Education.

[Get tips for succeeding in education school.]

That's because new Common Core standards, adopted by almost all states and the District of Columbia, establish more rigorous uniform national learning goals for students in math, and a second movement is afoot to boost science standards. The College Board is also overhauling the way Advanced Placement science is taught.

Job candidates must now be "able to teach at the level that our students are going to be assessed at," explains Laurie deBettencourt, associate dean of educator preparation programs at Hopkins' School of Education. Several school districts deBettencourt works with have teamed up with universities to provide financial incentives to students with backgrounds in math and science who agree to get their master's and certification to teach K-12.

Anecdotally, the incentives seem to be working, she says. Many grads who before would have moved into other careers or higher education positions are opting instead to teach in grade school or high school.

This story is excerpted from the U.S. News Best Graduate Schools 2014 guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.