W SPI 0I
Retaining Qualified Special
Understanding Why Teachers Leave and What
School Districts 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
transfer 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 educa-
tion teachers leave? Efforts to reduce at-
trition at the district level must start with
an understanding of the factors that con-
tribute to these teachers' decisions to exit
the profession or transfer to other posi-
tions. A wide range of factors influence
attrition, including personal and work
environment 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' decisions 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 rear-
ing and retirement).
* Personal needs and preferences (e.g.,
desire to leave urban districts, better
career alternatives, etc.).
hhy do special education
teachers leave the profes-
sion? What school districts
should consider when bol-
stering 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
- historically, re-
egies have not
sider this: In
ers were newly
hired, more than
i r4 r4 r -- __*^ ...-
levels of stress and
low levels of job
both factors as-
sociated with at-
sive and pro-
longed work en-
lems also can
to stay in teach-
ing by reducing
the likelihood of
i1,uuu poSi posons itive intrinsic
remained open. rewards.
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) also have
contributed to teachers' deci-
sion 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
District Level Retention
Central office administrators play
a critical role in retaining special
educators by ensuring that district-
wide policies support their work.
Issues such as teacher role over-
load, unreasonable job require-
ments, and lack of support sys-
tems must be addressed to ensure
that special education 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
* Provide higher salaries. Re-
cruitment practices such as
cash bonuses and placement
on a higher salary step may
help to attract teachers, al-
though such practices may not
necessarily retain them.
* Enhance teacher profes-
sionalism. Provide opportu-
nities for special education
teachers to grow and advance
* Develop beginning teacher
programs. Provide support in
areas where beginning special
educators report challenges,
including: managing paper-
work, making instructional and
developing and monitoring in-
dividualized educational pro-
grams, and collaborating with
other personnel and families.
* Offer mentor programs that
help teachers become more
effective. Special education
teachers should be paired
with special education teacher
mentors, even if they teach in
* 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 .Z, CENTER ON
STUDIES IN SPECIAL
COP 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
do no n necessarily reflect the
views of the US Department
I, of Education