February Prepared for. The Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative. By Allison Gruner

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1 Research Brief on Recruitment and Retention of Qualified Special Education & Related Services Personnel in Urban School Districts February 2002 Prepared for The Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative By Allison Gruner

2 Research Brief on Recruitment and Retention of Qualified Special Education & Related Services Personnel in Urban School Districts Introduction Recent national data point to a demonstrated need in the area of special education and related services personnel. In the school year, over 4,000 positions for special education teachers were vacant and over 32,000 of those employed as special education teachers were not fully certified. 1 Recognizing these problems, the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education has funded major studies to document the sufficiency and adequacy of trained personnel serving students with disabilities in the nation s schools. 2 Problems related to vacancy rates and under-qualified personnel are especially acute in urban areas. Not only does the population of students with disabilities tend to be larger in urban school districts, but also the ability of these districts to recruit and retain qualified personnel to serve these students is often limited. Urban school districts around the country have been experimenting with innovative and creative solutions to address their shortages. However, the unique environments in which urban schools operate often present barriers that make it difficult to effectively address these problems alone. The most successful solutions have been those that have involved ongoing collaborative relationships with their respective state education agencies. The Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative recently conducted a survey of its members to document the magnitude of the problem they encounter regarding the recruitment and retention of qualified special education personnel. Thirty-four member districts responded. The results of this survey are summarized in this Research Brief, followed by recommendations regarding ways that state education agencies and urban school districts can work together to address this critical need. The Problem National data regarding shortages in special education personnel show an approximate 1% vacancy rate and that approximately 9% of the country s special education teachers are not fully certified. However, as data from Collaborative members demonstrate, these rates are much higher in urban school districts. For example, the average vacancy rate for special education teachers in responding urban school districts is over 6%, and rates are as high as 21% in some areas. In addition, the average percentage of urban special education teachers who are not fully certified is over 10% and can be as high as 35%. About a quarter of the 1 U.S. Department of Education (2001). Twenty-Second Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. 2 Study of Personnel Needs in Special Education (SPeNSE) &Center on Personnel Studies in Special Education (COPSSE). Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative 2

3 responding districts identified a shortage of teachers of students with emotional/behavioral disabilities as particularly critical (see attached employment data for special education teachers). Difficulties in recruiting and retaining qualified teachers were similar with respect to related services personnel. In particular, speech/language pathologists and school psychologists were mentioned most often as the personnel positions that were most in demand (76% and 41% of the districts responding, respectively). Vacancy rates for speech/language pathologists averaged 6.5% with rates as high as 47% in one city. For psychologists, the average vacancy rate was over 8%, and some cities reported rates as high as 50%. Other positions in which shortages were particularly acute were occupational and physical therapists. While many districts did not report any vacancies in these areas, those that did reported vacancy rates that ranged between 20% and 50%. Specific Challenges Facing Urban Districts Urban school districts encounter unique challenges in recruiting and retaining qualified special education personnel. Survey respondents were asked to describe some of the key barriers they face in recruiting and retaining qualified personnel. With respect to recruitment, four common themes emerged from survey responses: Salaries and incentives for special education personnel are greater in surrounding suburban areas, or in other settings (e.g., medical settings for occupational therapists and physical therapists). Characteristics of student population in urban districts make it difficult to recruit qualified personnel. A number of respondents cited difficulties recruiting qualified minority personnel and/or non-minority personnel with appropriate cultural competencies to work with a diverse student population. State or district certification/licensure requirements can act as barriers. Overly strict requirements can discourage otherwise qualified applicants from entering the field, while overly lenient requirements can lead to under-qualified personnel. Limited availability of advanced degree coursework in proximity to school districts makes it difficult for school districts to offer the ongoing professional development that is often required to develop and maintain a high-quality workforce. With respect to retention, six common themes emerged: High caseloads for special education personnel often lead to a burdensome workload and eventual burnout. Extensive paperwork also contributes to the heavy burden that special education teachers and related service personnel deal with on a daily basis. Lack of ongoing mentoring for new teachers makes teachers and related services personnel feel isolated. New teachers are often afraid to approach senior teachers for help out of fear of appearing incompetent. Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative 3

4 Lack of appropriate administrative support was also cited as a concern. Administrative staff generally do not understand the unique circumstances and conditions facing special education staff and are therefore unable to provide appropriate support. State certification requirements often make it easy for special education teachers to transfer to general education. Better salaries and benefits in suburban areas lure teachers away. Solutions Responding districts indicated a number of strategies they have employed to address personnel shortages. These strategies fell into three general categories: recruitment strategies, certification strategies, and professional development strategies. In each of these categories, strategies that involved partnerships with colleges and universities or with the state appeared to be the most effective. Recruitment strategies With respect to recruitment, several districts mentioned recruiting at state and national job fairs and conferences, and many also mentioned the Internet as a valuable recruitment tool. Most of the districts that mentioned recruitment strategies described the important role that their local and state colleges and universities played in their recruitment efforts. They mentioned universities that sponsored job fairs, using interns and student teachers from universities as future job applicants, and partnerships with universities that allowed for tuition reimbursement programs for candidates as well as current teachers and staff. Few districts mentioned partnerships with their states for recruitment strategies, but two did refer to using their state Department of Education s website for recruitment purposes. Several districts described specific, targeted recruitment strategies that they employ to address the particular problems that they face in their district. For example, Fairfax County Public Schools offers interest-free transition loans for teachers new to the county. In Miami-Dade County, where large shortages exist in the areas of emotionally handicapped students, the district has reached out to social work and psychology majors, offering them the opportunity to teach if they agree to become certified in-field within three years. The Madison Metro School District has experienced delays in negotiating contracts for new teachers because of testing requirements for applicants. In order to streamline the process, the district has begun to identify potential applicants at the junior level, allowing them to test prior to graduation. Certification strategies As described earlier in this Research Brief, one of the most common barriers to recruiting and retaining teachers has been strict state certification requirements. Some districts described ways that they have been addressing this problem. For example, the St. Louis Public Schools has teamed with colleges and universities to help teacher assistants, teachers with regular education certification, and persons with degrees in other fields to become special education teachers. South Bend Community School Corporation described efforts by their state government to alter licensing requirements for speech and language pathologists, of which Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative 4

5 there is a severe shortage in their district. The plan calls for a stand-alone licensure for teachers of communication disorders at the bachelor s level, and termination of the separate school services requirement, which is at the masters level. Professional development strategies Many of the survey respondents cited a lack of appropriate staff development and administrative support as a reason for retention problems. One of the more common strategies that districts reported using to address these issues was providing support for advanced graduate coursework. Many districts reported implementing tuition reimbursement programs in collaboration with universities, and some reported offering bonuses for National Board teacher certification. Greenville County, South Carolina has implemented a Special Education Teacher Incentive Program that offers a free graduate course to all special education teachers, as well as a $1,000 bonus to teachers who elevate their teaching credential as a result of coursework taken during a given school year. Another common professional development strategy is to develop mentoring programs for new teachers. Nearly half of the districts that responded to this portion of the survey described some type of mentoring program that they have implemented in their school system for special education personnel. Baltimore City described a state-sponsored program, Senate Bill 15, which allows retired teachers to return to reconstitution eligible schools as mentor teachers or classroom teachers at full salary without losing retirement benefits. This type of state support has been critical for addressing its personnel needs. While most districts reported a partnership of some sort with universities, partnerships with states were much less common. Less than a quarter of the districts that responded indicated that they received support from their state in implementing solutions to their staffing shortage problems. In addition, many noted that without state support, district-sponsored solutions were not effective. For example, many districts are trying to raise salaries, but still cannot match those of neighboring suburban communities. State support is crucial to address this problem. Recommendations Survey responses described in the preceding sections can be summarized by two major findings: State shortages in personnel are driven largely by shortages in urban areas; and Barriers to recruitment and retention that urban school districts confront tend to reflect external conditions that make it particularly difficult for these districts to address without state assistance. Given these two findings, the Collaborative is asking the special education leadership of the states to join in an effort to address this critical issue. The three recommendations below reflect the most common recruitment and retention problems reported by respondents to the Collaborative s survey and are intended to promote the design/implementation of joint stateurban school district solutions. Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative 5

6 Recommendation #1: Promote greater collaboration among urban districts and state colleges and universities to increase both the pool of qualified applicants as well as to adopt incentives for students to accept and keep jobs in urban areas. Recommendation #2: Modify existing state certification requirements, where necessary, to address urban needs while ensuring the necessary quality of the teacher pool. Recommendation #3: Provide financial assistance to urban districts struggling to match suburban pay scales and compensation packages. Students with disabilities in urban schools are among our nation s most vulnerable students. Research has shown this population of students to be less likely than their non-urban peers to graduate from high school, enroll in postsecondary training, or be employed after secondary school. 3 These inequitable outcomes stem to a great degree from inequitable resources, especially the availability of qualified personnel to serve these students. It is in the interest of educators, administrators, and policymakers at all levels of government to engage in active efforts to recruit and retain qualified special education teachers and related service professionals in urban school districts around the country. 3 U.S. Department of Education (1996). Eighteenth Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative 6

7 STATE & SCHOOL DISTRICT EMPLOYMENT DATA FOR SPECIAL EDUCATION PROFESSIONALS Sorted By State

8 Special Education Professionals - All disabilities Total Employed Vacant Vacancy rate Not fully certified % not fully certified California 26,195 25, % 4, % Fresno % % AVERAGE 16.5% 4.5% Florida 16,761 16, % 1, % Miami-Dade County 3,114 2, % % Collier County (Naples) % % AVERAGE 3.5% 6.2% Illinois 20,082 19, % % Chicago 4, , % % Villa Park % - 0.0% AVERAGE 2.7% 2.2% Indiana 6,101 6, % % South Bend % % East Chicago % 2 2.9% AVERAGE 3.9% 11.0% Maryland 7,292 7, % % Baltimore City 1, , % % AVERAGE 4.0% 35.4% Massachusetts 9,699 9, % - 0.0% Brockton % 6 4.2% Cambridge % 1 1.1% Chicopee % % New Bedford % % Newton % - 0.0% Revere % 3 5.9% Springfield % % AVERAGE 7.2% 5.5% Michigan 11,131 11, % % Kalamazoo % 3 3.8% AVERAGE 7.1% 3.8% Missouri 8,341 8, % % St. Louis % % AVERAGE 21.1% 9.5% Nevada 1,639 1, % % Clark County 1,595 1, % % AVERAGE 12.0% 3.1%

9 Special Education Professionals - All disabilities Total Employed Vacant Vacancy rate Not fully certified % not fully certified New Jersey 15,334 15, % - 0.0% Jersey City % % Newark Perth Amboy % 4 4.9% AVERAGE 2.6% 10.3% New York 32,177 31, % 6, % New York City 15,552 15, % 4, % Rochester % % Yonkers % 6 2.3% AVERAGE 0.7% 15.5% Pennsylvania 13,798 13, % - 0.0% Pittsburgh AVERAGE Rhode Island 1,468 1, % 7 0.5% Providence % % AVERAGE 3.3% 7.6% South Carolina 11,186 11, % % Greenville County % 7 1.5% AVERAGE 1.7% 1.5% Texas 23,998 23, % 3, % Dallas % - 0.0% El Paso % - 0.0% Socorro % % AVERAGE 4.8% 4.0% Virginia 11,074 11, % 1, % Fairfax County 2, , % % AVERAGE 1.2% 8.1% Wisconsin 7,053 6, % % Madison % % Milwaukee 1,228 1, % % AVERAGE 7.7% 13.5% AVERAGE Urban rates 6.26% 8.85% Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative 9

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