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Rural Hurdles in Recruiting, Training, Retaining Spec. Ed. Teachers

The apparent first national survey of rural special education teachers recommended more training as a means of improving retention, according to a new study in a recent issue of the Rural Special Education Quarterly.

"Issues in Special Education Teacher Recruitment, Retention, and Professional Development: Considerations in Supporting Rural Teachers" highlights the fact that the shortage of special education teachers nationally can be especially difficult for rural areas. Its authors include: Ann B. Berry, of Plymouth State University in Plymouth, N.H.; Robert A. Petrin of The Pennsylvania State University, in University Park, Penn.; Maggie L. Gravelle, of the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Thomas W. Farmer, of The Pennsylvania State University. The article does not appear to be online.

Researchers interviewed rural special education teachers and administrators by phone between April and December of 2009. They used National Center for Education Statistics data to identify 8,646 rural districts nationally, and a computer chose a random sample of 10 percent of those.

More than half of the rural administrators surveyed said they had "moderate to extreme" difficulties filling special education teaching positions, and more than half said they hired at least one teacher who didn't meet the federal law's requirement for highly qualified teachers.

Nearly three-fourths of administrators said they also had a difficult time retaining teachers, and they said teachers often left to retire or for personal reasons. The most commonly cited factors affecting retention were: competition from other districts, salary, geographic isolation, and benefit packages. Forty-two percent of rural special education teachers said they would leave their schools in the next five years.

As for training, teachers said they needed more information on: working with paraprofessionals and parents, working with students in certain disability categories, and including special needs students in the general population.

The study's authors said their findings point out a need for pre-service and in-service training on:
• the coordination of services with paraprofessionals and parents;
• low-incidence disabilities;
•emotional and behavioral disorders;
•classroom management;
•skills in collaboration and inclusive practices, and
•curriculum content.

It didn't give recommendations for how rural districts could better recruit special educators, but the study said the suggested training areas could help increase teachers' confidence and help them to remain in their positions.

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