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What is the research on what works in retaining hard-to-staff teaching positions in special education, English language learners, math and science and a diverse teacher workforce?

July 2017

Following an established REL Northeast & Islands research protocol, we conducted a search for recent research on retaining hard-to-staff teaching positions and a diverse educator workforce. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed retaining a diverse teacher workforce and teachers in special education, English language learners, math and science positions. The sources searched included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response and we offer them only for your reference. Because our search for references is based on the most commonly used resources of research, it is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research on strategies for retaining special education, English language learner, math and science teachers

  1. Belknap, B., Taymans, J. (2015). Risk and Resilience in Beginning Special Education Teachers. Journal of Special Education Apprenticeship, 4(1).
    From the abstract: “Special education teachers leave the field at a rate that outpaces their general education teacher counterparts, with special education teaching positions unfilled at a rate 5.5 times greater than general education positions (Boe, 2006). This study identified perceptions of risk and resilience in nine first year special education teachers in order to identify how to best support and retain them. Through semi-structured interviews the teachers described their experiences in the following roles (1) co-teaching, (2) self- contained, (3) case management, and (4) "other" (e.g., coach, tutor). Participants identified and positively or negatively ranked six "feeling" words they experienced in each role, which resulted in a portrait of risk and resilience. Results indicated that participants felt the most positive in an "other" and self-contained teaching role with less positive feelings in co-teaching and case management roles. When participants felt supported and perceived that they were making a difference, they felt the most resilient. When participants felt isolated and underprepared, they felt the least resilient. Implications for school-based supports and teacher preparation are discussed.”
  2. Diaz, Z., Mahadevan, L. (2011). How to Recruit and Retain Bilingual/ESL Teacher Candidates? Texas A&M University.
    From the abstract: “This study examines what strategies institutions of higher education in Texas are utilizing to recruit and retain bilingual/ESL teacher candidates and the effectiveness of preparing teacher candidates to better serve their future students. The researchers used a mixed method approach. Data was generated via an electronically mailed questionnaire sent to deans/administrators of teacher preparation programs in Texas that offer bilingual and/or ESL education. Findings from the study indicated that institutiona l commitment and funding levels were associated with high enrollments and higher student scores on state-mandated certification exams. This study also provides recommendations on the area of recruitment and retention.”
  3. Staudt, D., Risku, M., Martinez, E. (2008). Science and Mathematics Alliance for Recruiting and Retaining Teachers (SMARRT): Addressing the Teacher Shortage in At-Risk Schools. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 33(4) Article 5.
    From the abstract: “The Science and Mathematics Alliance for Recruiting and Retaining Teachers (SMARRT) is a collaborative partnership pursuing aggressive strategies to recruit high quality minority teachers to teach in high-need schools in urban school districts. This partnership is dedicated to recruiting, preparing, and retaining high quality teachers with strong academic content knowledge in science and/or mathematics and a wide repertoire of research-based teaching practices including ESL strategies. The SMARRT project is designed to allow urban school districts experiencing severe shortages in mathematics, science and ESL teachers to create a pipeline of highly qualified teachers by partnering with the university to recruit, prepare, and retain teachers in high need schools. Insights, concerns, and implications for teacher education related to the SMARRT project are addressed.”
  4. Newton, X. A., Jang, H., Nunes, N., Stone, E. (2010). Recruiting, Preparing, and Retaining High Quality Secondary Mathematics and Science Teachers for Urban Schools: The Cal Teach Experimental Program. Issues in Teacher Education, 19(1). 21-40.
    From the abstract: “Recruiting, preparing, and retaining high quality secondary mathematics and science teachers are three of the most critical problems in the nation's urban schools that serve a vast majority of children from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Although the factors contributing to these problems are complex, one area that has caught the attention of leaders of the teacher education community centers are the alternative pathways (or routes) through which teachers are trained and allowed into the profession. Many of these alternative pathways, teacher educators argue, aim to move teachers into teaching on a fast track and thereby short- change the necessary training that candidates need to have to become adequately prepared as classroom teachers. This article looks at the arguments on both sides: proponents and critics of traditional and alternative pathways of teacher education, and discusses how California addressed the persistent shortages of mathematics and science teachers through the program, Cal Teach. The program provides a unique and excellent opportunity for experimentation in alternative approaches to math and science secondary teaching credential programs. (Contains 7 figures and 4 notes.)”
  5. Duncan, M. (2014). How the Cultural Contexts of Urban Teaching Affect Novice Science Educators: Implications for School Leaders. International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation, 9(1).
    From the abstract: “While the challenge to retain highly competent teachers affects all schools, the crisis is critical in urban districts, which historically suffer from high teacher turnover (Ingersoll, 2004). This high turnover is especially problematic in the content areas of science (Ingersoll & Perda, 2010). Through ethnographic case studies, the first year teaching experiences of three teachers, working in urban districts, are documented. Results focus on how the tri-cultural spheres of teacher socialization (personal, institutiona l, and societal) shape novice science teachers' induction into the teaching profession and the implications for school leaders. In addition the analysis of the data suggests that novice's needs and concerns differ based on the relationship between image of self in response to school and local community culture. The purpose of this study is to examine the commonalities and differences in novice teachers' experiences in order to help increase school leaders' understanding of how to better support teachers to work in urban districts. A current demand for retaining the supply of quality science teachers reinforces the need for this type of research.”
  6. Pirkle, S. F. (2011). Stemming the Tide: Retaining and Supporting Science Teachers. Science Educator, 20(2) 42-46.
    From the abstract: “Chronically high rates of new and experienced science teacher attrition and the findings of new large-scale mentoring programs indicate that administrators should adopt new approaches. A science teacher's role encompasses demanding responsibilities, such as observing laboratory safety and OSHA mandates, as well as management of a business-like, yet engaging, hands-on classroom environment. When added to the challenges experienced by all new teachers, these science-specific challenges can contribute to a science teachers' decision to abandon teaching. This study summarizes data from reports of the US Department of Education, state, other federal, private and professional societies on teacher attrition and new mentoring models. It describes successful features of programs and recommends how they can be delivered economically. When senior-level science teachers are provided pay incentives and some release time, they can become discipline-specific mentors, helping to ensure successful retention of new teachers and providing motivation for experienced teacher to postpone leaving. Pairing experienced science teachers, using electronic media, providing recognition, providing additional time or assistance to gain control of the laboratory, and supporting new teachers in joining appropriate professional groups are strategies described in this paper. (Contains 1 figure.)”

Research on strategies for retaining diverse teachers

  1. Waddell, J., Ukpokodu, O. N. (2012). Recruiting & Preparing Diverse Urban Teachers: One Urban-Focused Teacher Education Program Breaks New Ground. Multicultural Education, 20(1) 15-22.
    From the abstract: “This article explores a university's Urban Teacher Education Program (UTEP) and its success not just in recruiting, preparing, retaining, and graduating its students, but in likewise leading to employment and retention as teachers in urban schools. It focuses on critical aspects of the program, including recruitment of diverse candidates, specifically for urban schools; collaborative partnerships; student support and mentorship; curriculum conceptualized for social justice and multicultura l education; extended field experiences in urban schools and communities; and induction for program graduates. It also describes the program's context and its basic features, including the recruitment process and programmatic innovations, and offers an analysis of the assessment of the program's impact and sustainability.”
  2. Valle-Riestra, D. M., Shealey, M. W., Cramer, E. D. (2011). Recruiting and Retaining Culturally Diverse Special Educators. Interdisciplinary Journal of Teaching and Learning, 1(2) 68 87.
    From the abstract: “In light of the current challenges in addressing the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students, the persistent problems of disproportiona lity in special education, and the dismal post-school outcomes for culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) students and those living in poverty, it is critical that successful models of teacher recruitment and retention are developed and implemented. In this article we review current literature on multicultural issues in special education that underscore the need for a more diverse teaching workforce and look at the recruitment trends described in the retention of teachers who are prepared to effectively serve PK-12 students and their families from diverse backgrounds. We also share preliminary data on our efforts to recruit and retain graduate students in an advanced special education program at a Hispanic-serving institution of higher education. To further guide the efforts of others, we provide recommendations for program development and future research.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

Retaining hard-to-staff teaching positions

Retaining diverse teacher workforce

Retaining science teachers

Retaining math teachers

Retaining special education teachers

Retaining English language learner teachers

Recruiting Structured English Immersion Teachers

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were included in the search and review.

Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including WWC, ERIC, and NCEE.

Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types – randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order; (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc.; (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Northeast & Islands Region (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, US Virgin Islands, and Vermont), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast & Islands at Education Development Center. This memorandum was prepared by REL Northeast & Islands under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0008, administered by Education Development Center. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.