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The Speech Gap

An SLP shortage is affecting districts nationwide. What's the answer?

For at least a decade, the shortage of speech language pathologists has run like a series of fissures through the country-from Oregon to Texas, North Dakota to Missouri, California to New York. And the cracks have only gotten deeper.

Why? Begin with the increasing number of children who speak English as their second language or who have been diagnosed with developmental issues. Consider the scarcity of SLP graduate programs and professors to teach these courses, along with the competition for program spots. And toss in the fact that schools, their pockets already turned inside out, often can't fund enough positions-or they pay so little and demand so much that SLPs opt to work in private practice or the health care industry. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) confirms this: 71 percent of their members surveyed said there are severe shortages of SLPs in their districts.

What can individual practitioners, and schools, do? Some SLPs have gotten creative, doing group therapy, using RTI techniques, or bringing in externs from nearby universities. Others are moving from a caseload to a workload model, and trying more pre-intervention. But creativity can only go so far, especially in remote rural districts. Some schools have turned to technology as part of the solution. Mike McLaughlin, superintendent of John Swett USD, outside of San Francisco, was able to move about 40 percent of his district's speech therapy students onto an online platform, PresenceLearning-and he says students and parents love it, and many students are making strides. "We were ready for an alternative. We just jumped in."

Assistive technology like PresenceLearning, TinyEye, and other such programs lack the human factor necessary to deal with the multiple issues some students have, of course. The best strategy, says ASHA-and many districts agree-is to use a blend of smart people and smart technology.

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