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Section 1

Descriptive Design: Problem, Purpose, and Research Questions for Descriptive Design

Problem, Purpose, and Research Questions for Descriptive Design in an Applied Doctorate

Research studies within the Applied Doctoral Experience (ADE) will be practical in nature and focus on problems and issues that inform educational practice.  Many of the types of studies that fall within the ADE framework are exploratory and align with descriptive design. An example of a problem statement appropriate for ADE research and aligned with descriptive design follows:

The problem to be addressed in this study is that rural schools in the state of Utah are experiencing a shortage of special education teachers to serve students with disabilities (Johnson, 2020; Ragan et al., 2019; Smith & Doolittle, 2021).  According to Jenkins (2021) teachers in all disciplines report preferences for employment in larger districts because of better pay, smaller workloads, and classroom support. Without special education teachers who are specifically trained to meet their unique learning needs, children with disabilities are more likely to score below their non-disabled peers on standardized assessments (ESEA, 2015), repeat a grade (Anlong, 2020; Johnson, 2020), and fail to graduate on time (Baney, et al. 2018).

Identifying strategies for recruiting and retaining special education teachers in rural school districts can be complex. Rural school districts have fewer financial resources, which places limitations on their ability to compete with larger, better funded school districts for qualified applicants (Baney, et al, 2018, Ragan et al., 2019).  Meeks and Juble (2019) suggest that incentives other than compensation or workload have an impact on the recruitment and retention of qualified employees in the field of business. These alternative incentives include flexible work schedules, time off, recognition, and professional development. However, it is unclear how alternative incentives may impact the recruitment and retention of qualified special education teachers in rural school districts. Therefore, research into which types of incentives may encourage special education teachers to practice in rural school districts is needed.  Results from this study will provide insight into practices to recruit and retain qualified special education teachers in the state of Utah.

This problem statement suggests that there is a specific practice problem in rural schools related to benefits and compensation for which research may prove insightful.  This problem statement also suggests that there is limited research on this topic and that an exploratory design may be useful. Therefore, a purpose statement for this problem could be:

The purpose of this qualitative, exploratory study is to examine special education teachers’ perceptions about employment incentives which may encourage them to practice in rural schools’ districts in Utah.

An aligned research question for this study might be: 

What are special education teachers’ perspectives about employment incentives which may encourage them to practice in rural schools’ districts in Utah?

Methods aligned with this study may include interviews with special education teachers within the state of Utah who are seeking employment and triangulated with the analysis of documents such as benefits policies. Recruitment might take place in collaboration with employment services for teachers, via social media sites for special education teachers, or directly to special education teachers who belong to an employee union. Descriptive design is preferable to case study design for these types of recruitment strategies as the participants will likely represent a variety of systems and organizations and therefore, would not be considered bounded.