You can ask any educator at any level what they think are the greatest problems in education and they will have an immediate answer for you. Whether it’s the teachers and speech language pathologists in the schools, the speech leads and principals we work under, or the department and state representatives. On the surface, their answers will look completely different because everyone has something different to worry about.

Surveys conducted with educators in administration, working in the schools, general education, and special education indicate that some of the greatest problems in education relate to funding, expenses, staff shortages, paperwork, and caseload size.

But what if the major problems in education are related? What if we could all focus on one thing and have a variety of results?

Today in this essay we are going to conduct a thought experiment. I’m going to share the results of polls from each echelon of education sharing what some of their current greatest concerns are. Not too many surprises here but it is good to see them all gathered in one place.

Here’s the payoff: By considering all education problems together, it gives us the chance to see overlap. And if we have overlap, that means that we can work together. Imagine the sheer numbers of educators focused on a single outcome? That sounds exciting, motivating, and sounds like progress.

the 6 professions focusing on problems in education

What are you facing? We would love to hear your thoughts on this and what you see as the biggest problem down in the comments.

State Educational Agency / Insurers

Problem: Funding

For the state agencies and the insurers at the top of the chain, almost uniformly, they are dealing with issues of funding. They must make many crucial decisions about the amount of money going to certain programs or the amount of money that is not going to programs. These are stressful decisions because every decision to support a program or fund salaries is a vote against something else.

It’s often seen that school districts and clinic staff aren’t getting enough money or are underfunded. There’s some truth in this. For example, even if we compare speech pathologists to our OT, PT, and RT (respiratory therapists) brethren, SLPs on average leave graduate programs making less money than our peers. So there’s no question that some work can be done on our salaries. But I found this statistic fascinating:

“In the United States, total spending on students with disabilities surpasses $80 billion annually and hovers around 20% of total spending on K-12 public education, according to the Center for Special Education Finance.”

Return on Investment in Special Education

So think about that. We work with 8-12% of the population and receive 20% of all funding. Arguments can be made left and right about what our pay is and the amount of money that should be going to education. But the truth is that $80 Billion is available.

Maybe this is in part an issue of allocation and what we are spending the money on rather than how much money we have? What I don’t like about statistics and news like this is it feels disempowering because I am not sure what I can do on the ground to change this. But, we do have one lever in our control which, if every SLP simultaneously pulled, would definitely influence the funding issue.

Special Education Directors / Clinic Owners

Problem: (Funding) Program/Staff Expenses and Allocation of Resources

With the special education directors, if you speak with them, what is one of their greatest problems? Same thing, albeit wearing a slightly different set of clothes. Special education directors receive the moneys from the state and allocate them to the schools and staff in an attempt to alleviate the things that are our greatest pain points.

So it’s funding in terms of hiring and placing staff and also buying and paying for continuing education, support, and equipment. Think about the dramatic shifts a campus can have from year to year both in the number of students they serve and the types of disorders they are confronted with. These are the problems that are shared by leads who have their ear to the ground of everyone working in the schools.

Speech Team Leads

Problem: Not enough personnel or not the right personal to match skill sets with disabilities or home languages.

If you speak with speech team leads, they’ll share that they might not have enough personnel or they may not have the right personnel with the right skill set to treat children with Autism, children with Down Syndrome, or to serve bilingual students with language disorders. The best speech team leads are like master chefs who can make the most incredible meal from the fewest ingredients to feed a large number of people. However, the constant stretching and fixing can be exhausting. Plus, allocation strategies are great until there is an unexpected resignation, retirement, or maternity leave. It’s a constant juggle.  


Problem: Getting students the right services and the number of meetings.

How many of you have heard this?

“I know this kid has a problem. Why can’t we get him tested and services?”

Typically it’s in a meeting with our peers and hopefully not in front of parents, but their frustration is visible. Here is another one:

“I know the student has a problem. My teachers are saying this child has a problem. She is with the counselor daily. We spend more time 1:1 with her more than any other student on the campus and I can’t understand why we can’t get her tested and get services provided.”

And heaven help you if the testing takes 2-3 months and then they don’t qualify! Oh, that’s painful.

Principles are really, really good people. Many have decades of experience in multiple job positions and impressive degrees. Yes, they are an administrator of sorts but they are still one of us, the educators. So it’s tough to explain our antiquated special education system and how long it is going to take to test a child.

Speech Language Pathologists

Problem: Caseload Size & Paperwork

And what about us? If you poll speech language pathologists (and ASHA does it over and over), what are our greatest concerns? Caseload size and paperwork. It’s not only the sheer number of sessions that we are providing and evaluations that we are doing, but the documentation too.

SLPs have become masters at scheduling, organizing, and getting things done. I was listening to a podcast of “productivity hacks” and I busted out laughing. The expert was suggesting ways to improve your email and fit in those oh-so tedious meetings.  I thought to myself, you don’t have a clue buddy. Come spend 5 days with a speech language pathologist and you will never have a concern in your real job again.

I wanted to ask:

4 meetings a day? How about 10 30-minute sessions?

Cancel a meeting??? What if every meeting you cancel needs to be made up because it’s the law?

Meet in a coffee shop? What if you had to take a rope with plastic donuts tied to it to all the cubicles to gather up your “coworkers” and find someone to manage them during your meeting?

What if everyone in your meeting was 3 feet tall, spoke a different language, and had an impairment?

Productivity hacks? Give me a break!

Our job is complex, and not changing soon. And truthfully I don’t want it to change that much because I like it. I just want less of it.

This begs the question:

Is there one thing that all of us can focus on that could address everyone’s needs?

I believe there is.

Caseload size.

problems in education can be solved by reducing caseload size

What If We Are All Dealing with The Same Problems in Education?

I’m not suggesting that there is a single solution for everything that each educator is dealing with. But, what if we could magically stick a pin in a single balloon and shrink many of these issues for other people as well as for ourselves?

I think caseload size and dismissals is that magic pin that can help so many of us. If we have fewer students, no matter how that comes about, we need less money, we have fewer sessions, and we have fewer meetings, and we have less paperwork.

State Educational Agency / Insurers

If we have smaller caseloads, the budget can be spent differently.

Two independent studies kind of arrived at the same number saying that a special education student costs about $5,000 more annually than a general education student. If we multiply that number by the number of children who might not need to be in special education, that is a good chunk of change.

Special Education Directors / Clinic Owners

If we have smaller caseloads, we can better allocate our resources and serve students better.

Imagine that all of you immediately go back in September and you have 35 students, 40, 45 students, whatever’s doable for you. And then someone has a maternity leave or someone gets that one unfortunate campus that gets slammed with 20 evals. Would you have the time to go be over there helping out? Definitely. And would you be able to better manage what you are doing and serve the people you were or get more help for what you need?

Speech Team Leads

If we have smaller caseloads, our staff members are happier, and we have the staff numbers that we need. 

Aside from assigning jobs and everything that they do, speech team leads are interviewing and trying to fill positions. Between spouses who get transferred to another city, parental leave, resignations, and retirements, it is a continual process. Needing less staff means better responsiveness to areas of the district that need it and less fires to put out.


If we have smaller caseloads, we can tell principals “YES!” because we have time to test children and a place to put them on our caseload. 

I was covering a campus and said something to a principal that she probably never heard before. She squared off for the umpteenth time in her career to basically tell me there was a handful of kids that hadn’t been tested and she wasn’t happy about it.

I said: “Give them to me, and let’s plan the meetings right away.” It was spring, and I used the referral process I share below to reduce my caseload in the fall and had time to test everyone. How much more receptive do you think she was when I suggested that some of them didn’t qualify?

Speech Language Pathologists

If we have smaller caseloads, we can serve our students better, do less paperwork, and experience less stress.

And then there is us. For every one less student, that’s 37 less sessions, Medicaid notes, and data points. It’s 2 fewer meetings and 4 fewer progress notes per year. We cannot control the amount of paperwork that has been increasing. That’s absolutely true. I don’t have a solution for that. I don’t think anyone does at this point. But if you can control the number of kids, paperwork is only exponential based on the number of kids you have.

Have You Been Taught How to Reduce Your Caseload?

Was this covered in your grad program?

Have you ever attended a training on dismissals?

I bet you have learned about the referral process or RtI though, right? Think about this: There is funding and training in place to get kids on our caseloads but a big part of the problem is related to successfully getting them off…

problems in education tend to focus on rti

There are two courses that we put together to put us back in the driver’s seat and give us a way to address the biggest problems. We can help ourselves, our leads, and directors without having to wait for them to come up with a solution for us. One is on re-envisioning the referral process and the other is on dismissing students. Check them out.

Reference: Center for Special Education Finance

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