W SPI 0I
Retaining Qualified Special
Understanding Why Teachers Leave and What
Principals Can Do About It
Nationwide, the chronic shortage of
qualified special education teach-
ers threatens the quality of education
that students with disabilities receive. At-
trition-both transferring to other teach-
ing assignments and exiting the field al-
together-contributes to the shortage.
Consider these facts:
* Special education, mathematics, and
science are the fields that experience
the highest turnover rates. Special
education teachers are more likely to
depart than other teachers.
* Estimates for special education attri-
tion are as high as 13 percent annu-
ally, with about half of those teachers
moving to other positions and half
exiting the field altogether.
* Many special education teachers trans-
fer to general education positions.
* General education teachers who hold
both general and special education
certification are not likely to transfer
to special education.
Have you considered why special edu-
cation teachers leave? Efforts to reduce
attrition at the building level must start
with an understanding of the factors that
contribute to these teachers' decision to
exit the profession or transfer to other
A wide range of factors influence attri-
tion, including personal and work envi-
ronment characteristics. Read on to gain
insights from the research.
Have You Considered Teacher
Characteristics and Personal
Teacher characteristics and personal fac-
tors play a large role in special education
teachers' decision to leave. Examples of
characteristics that have been linked to
* Age. Younger teachers leave or ex-
press an intent to leave at rates nearly
twice that of veteran teachers.
* Experience. Teachers are more likely
to leave during the first five years of
Personal factors also account for special
educators' decisions to leave their posi-
tions. Examples of personal factors that
have been linked to attrition include:
* Flexibility (e.g., individuals with no
debts or family responsibilities).
* Lifestyle cycle stages (e.g., child
rearing and retirement).
* Personal needs and preferences
(e.g., better career alternatives, etc.).
Have you considered why
special education teachers
leave the profession? What
school districts should know
to bolster retention practices.
STUDIES IN SPECIAL
I = SPEIA EDUCATION WORKFORCEWATC INSIGHTS FRO RESARC
Have You Considered
Teacher qualifications also may
explain why some teachers leave.
Research has found higher levels
of attrition associated with the fol-
lowing teacher factors:
* Lack of teacher certification.
* Higher scores on standardized
tests (e.g., SAT) or standard-
ized teacher exams.
Have You Considered Work
Work environment factors can
lead to high
i historically, re-
egies have not
sider this: In
ers were newly
hired, more than
levels of stress and
Slow levels of job
both factors as-
sociated with at-
also can seri-
to stay in teach-
ing by reducing
the likelihood of
Special education work environ-
ment factors that contribute to at-
* Low salaries. In some cases,
teachers can earn higher sala-
ries in other districts.
* Poor work climate. There
is often inadequate support
from administrators, isolation
from colleagues, and few op-
portunities for professional
* Job design problems. Job
design factors (e.g., lack of
time, paperwork burdens, etc.)
have been identified as major
factors in special education
teachers' decisions to leave.
In recent years, factors associ-
ated with inclusive practices
(e.g., coordinating with class-
room teachers, complexity of
scheduling students, etc.) also
have contributed to teachers'
decisions to leave.
Unlike their general education
counterparts, special education
teachers typically do not cite stu-
dent characteristics (e.g., lack of
progress) as a reason for leaving.
Have You Considered
Building Level Retention
Building level administrators play
a critical role in retaining spe-
cial educators by ensuring that
schoolwide policies support their
work. Issues such as unreason-
able job requirements and lack
of support systems must be ad-
dressed to ensure that special ed-
ucation teachers can be effective
in their work.
The strategies that follow-espe-
cially when used in combination
with one another-should be
considered in the effort to support
* Enhance teacher profes-
sionalism. Provide opportu-
nities for special education
teachers to grow and advance
* Foster adequate support
systems. Provide mentoring,
administrative support, colle-
gial support, and instrumental
support (e.g., materials, space,
resources, time, etc.).
* Focus on and support needs
of beginning teachers. Typi-
cal challenges include: man-
aging paperwork, making
instructional and assessment
and monitoring individualized
educational programs, and
collaborating with other per-
sonnel and families.
* Make sure job demands are
reasonable. To help reduce
role overload, define respon-
sibilities and program goals,
allot adequate time for tasks,
and assign manageable case-
* Provide paperwork support.
Some districts assign coordina-
tors or related services person-
nel to share paperwork burdens.
For More Information
Information reported in this brief
was based on the COPSSE re-
search synthesis, Special Edu-
cation Teacher Retention and
Attrition: A Critical Analysis
of the Literature by Bonnie S.
Billingsley. This document can be
found on the COPSSE web site at
I .. CENTER ON
S. i PERSONNEL
STUDIES IN SPECIAL
C-P SE EDUCATION
The Center on Personnel Studies in Spe-
cial Education is funded by the Office of
Special Education Programs of the U.S.
Department of Education [cooperative
agreement #H325Q000002]. COPSSE
research is designed to inform scholars
and policymakers about beginning teach-
er quality, effective initial preparation, and
the effects of preparation alternatives. The
Center is directed by Drs. Paul Sindelar
and Mary Brownell. The policy briefs were
produced by Warger, Eavy & Associates.
University of Florida, 300 Norman Hall,
PO. Box 117050, Gainesville, FL 32611
352-392-0701 (X283), www.copsse.org
( F do not necessarily reflect the
"7 views of the US Department
'-_ =, = of Education