Research News

Ruppar, Doren receive Spencer grant to study ways to help special education teachers in rural schools

September 28, 2018

UW-Madison’s Andrea Ruppar and Bonnie Doren were recently awarded a grant from the Spencer Foundation to examine ways to help rural school districts better support special education teachers.

Andrea Ruppar
Ruppar and Doren are faculty members with the School of Education’s Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education (RPSE). Their funding is being provided via the Spencer Foundation’s small research grants program​.

Melinda Leko and Kimber Wilkerson, who also are faculty members with RPSE, are co-Investigators on the project. Leko is department chair while Wilkerson is the faculty director of the School's new Teacher Education Center.

The researchers explain that special education teaching positions are often difficult for administrators to fill, with a shortage of special education teachers in 49 states, including Wisconsin. This problem is even more pronounced in rural areas.

When a special education teaching position is left unfilled, administrators commonly issue an emergency license or permit to a general education teacher without a special education license, or to an unlicensed special education teacher.

According to data available in Wisconsin, during the 2015-16 school year nearly two-thirds (65.5 percent) of rural districts had special educators with emergency licenses, while more than half of the rural districts in the state hired at least one emergency licensed special educator. In addition, nearly a quarter (24 percent) of rural districts reported that more than half of their special educators had emergency licenses.

Bonnie Doren
Ruppar and Doren note that rural school districts often have difficulty providing professional development needed to support emergency certified teachers as they work toward full licensure. Rural schools are also often geographically isolated from universities with teacher education programs.

“Our research will identify emergency certified rural special educators’ professional development and support needs, and help us learn how teacher educators can support their development as teachers,” says Ruppar.