Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Early Childhood Education

First Advisor

DaShaunda Patterson

Second Advisor

Barbara Meyers

Third Advisor

Teresa Fisher


Special education teacher attrition is a widespread problem in the United States (Billingsley 2005; Boe, 2006; Duffy & Forgan, 2005). Although researchers have explored factors that increase special education teacher retention, such as increased involvement from administrators, more time for collaboration with general education teachers, and limits on caseloads to maintain appropriate work loads, the perspective of experienced special education teachers in small primary schools (schools with fewer than 500 students serving pre-kindergarten through third grade) has received little attention. Small schools have many advantages, but special educators in small schools face some particular issues, including the fact that they typically have few special education colleagues, must often work with students and teachers in multiple grade levels, and must accommodate caseloads increasing in size throughout the year as many students become eligible for services in the early grades. To gain the perspective of special education teachers regarding the factors contributing to their decisions to stay in small schools, I have designed a multiple-case study in the context of a small school district. This inquiry is intended to fill the gap in the retention literature by surveying and interviewing special educators working in small schools. The primary research question is: From the perspective of experienced special education teachers serving pre-kindergarten (PK) and kindergarten through third grade (K-3) students in small schools, what kinds of organizational and individual characteristics influence their decision to continue teaching special education in a small school?

INDEX WORDS: Special education, Small schools, Attrition, Retention