CLEMSON — Clemson University’s Eugene T. Moore School of Education has been awarded a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education in an effort to increase the number of college faculty members focused on special education issues in high-needs schools.

Led by Clemson special education faculty members Joe Ryan, Janie Hodge and Antonis Katsiyannis, the grant will allow for the creation of Exemplary Personnel for Education, Research, and Teaching in Special Education (ExPERTiSE), a program that will support five scholars over a five-year period to earn doctorates in special education.

The Clemson board of trustees approved the Ph.D. program in special education, along with a master of arts in teaching program in special education, at its fall meeting Friday.

The ExPERTiSE program will provide a multifaceted approach to doctoral preparation through extensive coursework in special education research and teacher preparation, with a particular focus on behavior/academic interventions and bullying and dropout prevention in high-needs schools, according to Ryan.

ExPERTiSE scholars will take part in internships with several nationally recognized programs housed at Clemson, including the National Dropout Prevention Center/Network (NDPC/N) and the Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life (IFNL).

A major advantage of this doctoral program is that scholars will have the opportunity to work with NDPC/N and IFNL to provide training and support to high-needs schools on bullying and dropout prevention, Katsiyannis said.

In the last year of the program, Katsiyannis added, scholars will complete dissertations addressing behavioral and academic issues in high-needs schools.

The need for the program is borne out of the critical shortage of highly qualified special education teachers in the U.S., which is inextricably linked to the shortage of highly qualified special education faculty in universities, Hodge noted.

“This supply-demand imbalance is expected to worsen as many special education faculty members approach retirement age,” Hodge added. “Recent estimates predict that one-half to two-thirds of all special education faculty in doctoral-granting programs will retire in the next five years.”

The need for qualified special education teachers – and the faculty who teach them – is especially apparent in high needs schools, where students with special needs have an increased risk of dropping out of school and are significantly more likely to be victimized by their peers, Hodge said.

Students with disabilities experience some of the highest dropout rates in the country, according to Ryan. A recent report showed that only 39 percent of South Carolina students with disabilities graduated from high school in 2011.

“Our educational system, especially within high-needs schools, demands leaders who are capable of addressing the needs of students, their families and the personnel who work with them,” Ryan said. “This requires scholars with extensive training in evidence based-practices and skills to conduct quality, rigorous research to impact the gaps in student achievement and teacher shortages within high-needs schools.”

“We are delighted that the U.S. Department of Education has awarded this grant to Clemson,” said George Petersen, founding dean of the Eugene T. Moore School of Education. “The award is evidence of our continued dedication to transforming education, with a particular focus on assisting underserved schools across the state and nation. We are grateful for the opportunity to engage this important work.”

“Clemson is proud to partner with the U.S. Department of Education to help attract and mentor Ph.D. students to become professors who can shape the lives of special education teachers and, more importantly, the students they serve,” said Nadim Aziz, interim dean of Clemson’s graduate school. “Their trust in the School of Education faculty and their ability to serve schools in need is well placed, and is evidence of Clemson’s ability to have a broader impact on the education of our children.”

The grant, which is fully funding the ExPERTiSE initiative, has been made possible by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs, which works to improve results for infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities by providing leadership and financial support to assist states and local districts.