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IES Grant

Title: Exploring How Special Educatorsí Working Conditions Contribute to their Engagement of Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders in Effective Reading Instruction
Center: NCSER Year: 2017
Principal Investigator: Bettini, Elizabeth Awardee: Boston University
Program: Early Career Development and Mentoring      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (7/1/2017-6/30/2021) Award Amount: $400,000
Type: Training Award Number: R324B170017

Mentors: Nathan Jones; Stephen Smith (University of Florida)

Purpose: The Principal Investigator (PI) will conduct a program of research to better understand how working conditions (e.g., instructional resources, planning time, collegial support) contribute to special education teacher instruction and student education outcomes. In addition, the PI will participate in mentoring and training activities to develop expertise in evaluating teachers' instruction, conducting mixed-methods research, designing and analyzing single-case studies, and grant writing. The PI's primary aim is to explore relations between working conditions and the quality of special education teachers' reading instruction and the reading achievement of students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (EBD) in self-contained classes. A secondary aim is to explore how administrators conceptualize their role in providing supportive working conditions for special education teachers. Although research has indicated that working conditions contribute to general educatorsí instructional quality and student achievement, there is limited research on how they contribute to special education teachers' instruction. Given that these teachers fulfill unique roles and experience different working conditions, research examining the effects of working conditions on general educators may not apply to special education teachers and students with disabilities. The proposed study will address this gap by examining the working conditions of special education teachers who serve students with EBD in self-contained classes. The study will focus on this specific context for two reasons: (1) self-contained classes present teachers with particularly challenging working conditions, and (2) students with EBD are at especially high-risk for negative outcomes (e.g., drop out, incarceration).

Research Plan: The PI will conduct a series of studies to address the following key research aims: (1) determine the types of working conditions that contribute to the quality and effectiveness of special education teachersí reading instruction, (2) generate and test explanations for how working conditions contribute to teachers' reading instruction, and (3) explore how administrators conceptualize their responsibility to provide special education teachers with supportive working conditions. First, the PI will use mixed methods (i.e., interviews, direct observations, and student progress monitoring measures) to explore the nature of special education teachers' working conditions and their contribution to reading instructional quality and the reading proficiency of third through fifth grade students with EBD in self-contained classes. Through interviews and direct observations, the PI will also explore administrators' perspectives on the role of supporting special education teachers and the working conditions that the administrators feel they can change. Next, the PI will use structural equation modeling (SEM) to test whether relationships among working conditions, instructional quality, and student outcomes are significant after controlling for relevant teacher characteristics (e.g., experience); which working conditions explain the most variance in instructional quality; and what factors mediate or moderate relations between working conditions and student and teacher outcomes. Finally, the PI will use single-case design to determine whether manipulating working condition(s) (i.e., the working condition(s) that explain the most variance in teachers' instruction using SEM) produces improvements in the quality of teachers' reading instruction. The single-case design study will be supplemented by interviews with special education teachers and administrators to better understand the outcome of the single-case study. The projectís results will inform the development of an intervention to improve special education teachersí working conditions in order to improve their instructional quality and student achievement.

Career Plan: Through a career development plan, the PI intends to develop the following competencies: (1) evaluating special education teachersí instruction; (2) conducting mixed-methods research; (3) designing and conducting single-case experimental studies; and (4) developing competitive grant proposals. To accomplish these goals, the PI will engage in monthly meetings with mentors, consultation with experts, a course in mixed methods, an intensive summer institute on single-case design, and grant-writing workshops.