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Teacher Effectiveness in Rural Schools
December 2019


What does the research say about teacher effectiveness in rural schools?

Ask A REL Response

Thank you for your request to our Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Reference Desk. Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 RELs that, by design, functions much in the same way as a technical reference library. Ask A REL provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations in response to questions about available education research.

Following an established REL Northwest research protocol, we conducted a search for evidence- based research. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, Google Scholar, and general Internet search engines. For more details, please see the methods section at the end of this document.

The research team has not evaluated the quality of the references and resources provided in this response; we offer them only for your reference. The search included the most commonly used research databases and search engines to produce the references presented here. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The research references are not necessarily comprehensive and other relevant research references may exist. In addition to evidence-based, peer-reviewed research references, we have also included other resources that you may find useful. We provide only publicly available resources, unless there is a lack of such resources or an article is considered seminal in the topic area.


Barrett, N., Cowen, J., Toma, E., & Troske, S. (2015). Working with what they have: Professional development as a reform strategy in rural schools. Journal of Research in Rural Education 30(10), 1-17.

From the Abstract:
"In-service teacher professional development has been used to improve teacher effectiveness. In Kentucky, the National Science Foundation funded a large professional development program called the Appalachian Math and Science Partnership (AMSP) to provide content-based professional development to teachers in rural schools. We show that students assigned to AMSP teachers at a baseline year realized significant math gains not only in that year of assignment but in the following year as well. No gains are evident two and three years after being assigned to AMSP teachers. We frame both the program and its results in the context of teaching careers in rural schools, arguing that limited access to outside labor markets implies that successful professional development may be a key component of improving education in rural locales."

Broton, K., Mueller, D., Schultz, J. L., & Gaona, M. (2009). Strategies for rural Minnesota school districts: A literature review. Wilder Research.

From the Abstract:
"The purpose of this literature review is to gain greater understanding of strategies that can be effectively applied in Minnesota's rural school districts to address their education challenges. In particular, the authors sought to identify strategies that could either: (1) maintain (or improve) students' academic achievement at less cost to the school district, or (2) improve student academic achievement, or that of traditionally less successful subgroups, at the same cost. For some strategies found in the rural education research literature, study results only addressed the strategy's effectiveness in solving a specific problem (e.g., teacher retention) rather than its impact on student achievement or school costs. The authors employed a "bottom-up" approach in their investigation by focusing on strategies tried by rural school districts and the evidence for their effectiveness."

Eppley, K. (2009). Rural schools and the highly qualified teacher provision of No Child Left Behind: A critical policy analysis. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 24(4), 1-11. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"While there is a growing body of work that considers the implications of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) for rural schools, literature that critically examines the policy itself is lacking in rural educational research. This critical policy analysis focuses on the highly qualified teacher provision of NCLB as it relates to rural schools. The goal of critical policy analysis is to contextualize policy within its historical and political landscape, positioning policy as reflective of a group or individual's vision of an ideal society. While the highly qualified teacher provision has been advanced as unproblematic, critical analysis of its broader context suggests a mismatch between its assumptions and the unique needs of rural schools. While undoubtedly all children deserve a highly qualified teacher, what deems a teacher to be highly qualified is a matter that is both complex and highly context-dependent. Thinking about quality teaching in rural schools invites opportunity for dialogue, yet the provision reflects a reductionist, quantifiable conceptualization of quality. The policy stifles debate about what rural communities expect from their teachers, declaring consensus about the role of subject matter knowledge to the exclusion of other factors particularly salient in rural schools."

Gagnon, D. J., & Mattingly, M. J. (2015). State policy responses to ensuring excellent educators in rural schools. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 30(13), 1-13. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"The Excellent Educators for All initiative is the most recent federal policy effort to address unequal access to teacher quality in the United States. States were required to submit equity plans to the U.S. Department of Education that detailed how to ensure that poor and minority children do not receive instruction from less qualified teachers. States could extend their plans to include rural students, although this was not a statutory requirement. Past federal reform efforts around raising teacher quality have been widely criticized as being overly prescriptive, and ultimately failing to account for the unique contexts of rural schools. We examine the extent to which rural needs are addressed in all available state equity plans. We find that roughly half of U.S. states examine equity gaps along the urban-rural continuum, and roughly half propose rural-specific policy solutions to improve rural school staffing, although less than a third do both. States across the country employ a range of strategies in roughly equal measure, including grow your own programs, financial incentives, communities of practice, and capacity building. In addition to detailing findings and providing nuanced examples, this article also discusses implications for students and state policy."

Kushman, J., Hanita, M., & Raphael, J. (2011). An experimental study of the Project CRISS reading program on grade 9 reading achievement in rural high schools. (NCEE 2010- 4007). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

From the Summary:
"Students entering high school face many new academic challenges. One of the most important is their ability to read and understand more complex text in literature, mathematics, science, and social studies courses as they navigate through a rigorous high school curriculum. The Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest conducted a study to examine the effectiveness of a teacher professional development program called Project CRISS, which stands for Creating Independence through Student owned Strategies. Through Project CRISS, high school teachers learn how to apply research-based learning principles and reading/writing strategies in all major subject or content areas using materials, training, and follow-up support provided by the developer. The ultimate goal of Project CRISS is to help students learn new ways to read and comprehend, practice reading and writing strategies in different classes, and eventually internalize and use successful reading and writing strategies independently, leading to improved reading comprehension."

Lazarev, V., Toby, M., Zacamy, J., Lin L., & Newman, D. (2017). Indicators of successful teacher recruitment and retention in Oklahoma rural schools (REL 2018–275). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest.

From the Abstract:
"Recruiting and retaining effective teachers are serious concerns throughout Oklahoma. The Oklahoma State School Boards Association (2016) reported 500 teacher vacancies at the beginning of the 2015/16 school year, according to a survey of school districts, and 53 percent of respondents said the teacher shortage was worse than in the previous year. For years, Oklahoma rural school district administrators have reported difficulty retaining teachers who could cross state lines for higher pay and lower class sizes or seek employment in other industries. In 2013 the Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction established the Oklahoma Educator Workforce Shortage Task Force to recommend measures to alleviate the "significant and widespread shortages" of classroom teachers. The task force was succeeded in September 2015 by the Teacher Shortage Task Force, which was established to identify and recommend successful strategies for curbing the statewide teacher shortage crisis and which recommended several strategies for placing highly qualified teachers in all Oklahoma classrooms. The state's teacher shortage, as well as the unique context of rural schools in Oklahoma, led members of the Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest Oklahoma Rural Schools Research Alliance to seek information about factors associated with successful teacher recruitment and retention in Oklahoma. The goal was to develop effective strategies for recruiting and retaining teachers in rural schools. In response, this study identified factors that can support teacher recruitment and retention, particularly malleable factors that can be controlled through policies and interventions. This report refers to these factors as indicators of the characteristics of teachers or districts that predict successful teacher recruitment and retention. While associations between indicators and outcomes cannot be interpreted as causal--a specific indicator is not necessarily the cause of a related outcome--the results from this study can be used to pinpoint potential problems and inform future policies. The results can also provide a rationale for experimental evaluations of programs aiming to improve teacher recruitment and retention. The study first explores patterns of teacher job mobility in Oklahoma, including teachers' probability of remaining employed in the same district for a given number of years, the proportion of teachers who leave rural school districts and move to another rural school district, the proportion of teachers who receive tenure, and the one year retention probability for each successive year of employment. Patterns of teacher job mobility are examined for any differences between rural and nonrural school districts. The study was designed to identify teacher, district, and community characteristics in rural Oklahoma that predict which teachers are most likely to be successfully recruited (defined as having completed a probationary period of three years and obtained tenure in their fourth year of teaching) and retained longer term (defined as the duration of employment of tenured teachers in a given school district). This study covers the 10 school years between 2005/06 and 2014/15 and uses teacher and district data from the Oklahoma State Department of Education, Oklahoma Office of Educational Quality and Accountability, and community characteristics from data in federal noneducation sources and publicly available geographic information systems from Google Maps."

Moffa, E., & McHenry-Sorber, E. (2018). Learning to be rural: Lessons about being rural in teacher education programs. The Rural Educator, 39(1), 26-40.

From the Abstract:
"This qualitative study investigated the evolving perceptions of rurality of five Appalachian native, first-year teachers as influenced by their teacher preparation program. Findings suggested tensions between participants' rural upbringings and programmatic and non-rural peer conceptions of rurality that surfaced during their program of study. Responses to these tensions included participants positioning themselves as "rural representatives" in their courses and, in some cases, the adoption of revised conceptions of rurality. Intra-Appalachian diversity, such as different childhood community types and childhood social class, influenced participants' conceptualizations of rurality and their perceptions of its representation in their programs. The majority of participants perceived a trend toward generalized notions of rural place that were not necessarily representative of their personal experiences. Transitioning to first-year teachers, participants relied on their community-driven knowledge and teacher preparation to guide their practice in home or new rural, Appalachian communities."

Mollenkopf, D. (2009). Creating highly qualified teachers: Maximizing university resources to provide professional development in rural areas. Rural Educator, 30(3), 34–39.

From the Abstract:
"The ‘highly qualified teacher' requirement of No Child Left Behind has put pressure on rural school districts to recruit and retain highly qualified regular and special education teachers. If necessary, they may utilize uncertified, rural teachers with provisional certification; however, these teachers may find completing the necessary certification difficult due to time, distance, and geographic barriers. The University of Nebraska at Kearney has been able to address this need by: (1) creating access to the university's certification program, (2) providing professional supports, (3) tailoring assignments, projects, and field based practicum experiences and (4) building capacity for rural teachers who have completed certification to mentor others in their regions."

Nguyen, T.D., Pham, L., Springer, M. & Crouch, M. (2019). The factors of teacher attrition and retention: An updated and expanded meta-analysis of the literature. (EdWorkingPaper: 19-149). Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Building on a previous meta-analysis of the literature on teacher attrition and retention by leveraging studies with longitudinal data and a modern systematic search process, this updated comprehensive meta-analysis synthesizes findings from 120 studies on the factors of teacher attrition and retention. We find the research on teacher attrition has grown substantially over the last thirteen years, both on the factors that are examined as well as the increased specificity and nuanced operationalization of existing factors. Consequently, we expand the conceptual framework to include four new categories of these factors and organize existing and new categories into three broad groups of factors, namely personal, school, and external correlates. We discuss our findings of how these factors are associated with teacher attrition and contrast them with previous findings. We also discuss the policy implications of our findings."

Pharis, T. J., Allen, L., Mahoney, J. V., & Sullivan, S. (2018). Implementation of the Teacher Professional Growth and Effectiveness System in Rural Kentucky High Schools. International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership, 13(5), 1-20.

From the Abstract:
"A focus on improving teacher quality and student achievement led many states to implement teacher effectiveness systems. The Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching was adapted by Kentucky as the Teacher Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (TPGES). This study examined educator viewpoints concerning the impact of TPGES on improving teacher quality and student achievement, educator attitude for implementation, time requirement, and the potential to impact teacher growth and student learning. Teacher and principal triangulated data indicated mixed viewpoints concerning the impact of TPGES implementation on improving teacher quality and improving student learning. The data did not indicate positive educator attitudes for the implementation and time requirement for TPGES. Study implications focused on five identified dispositions relevant for all educators striving to implement innovative change initiatives."

Player, D. (2015). The supply and demand for rural teachers. The Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho (ROCI.) Retrieved from

From the Document:
"Using nationally representative data collected over the past 15 years, I summarize the differences and similarities between rural and non-rural schools and teachers. Because rural schools are not homogenous, I also break out rural schools by their remoteness and make comparisons across rural types. Finally, the comparisons are also made with rural schools in Idaho, which is a state of particular interest for this project. I begin by describing the structure of rural and non-rural schools, in terms of the frequency of vacancies and the difficulty rural schools report in filling those vacancies. I then summarize the teacher workforce in rural and non-rural schools and some aspects of their reported working conditions. Finally, I summarize rural teachers' reported satisfaction with teaching, contrast it with the satisfaction of teachers from other settings, and offer discussion and recommendations that flow from the findings."

Prusaczyk, J., & Baker, P. J. (2011). Improving teacher quality in southern Illinois: Rural access to mathematics professional development (RAMPD). Planning and Changing, 42(1/2), 101–119.

From the Abstract:
"This article describes how Southern Illinois University–Carbondale (SIUC) partnered with twelve rural schools with high percentages of students in poverty. SIUC provided faculty development activities featuring the adoption of Cognitively Guided Instruction, combined with activities to increase math content and to reduce math anxiety for groups of instructors lacking specific training in mathematics. The partnership is a positive example of a complex-brokered partnership, with instructional experts who were not members of the SIUC faculty. The success and sustainability of this partnership are analyzed to discover the factors that contributed to the durability of what may have been, in other circumstances, a fragile and weak partnership."

Rasmussen, J., De Jong, D., & Aderhold, F. (2018). Comparing perceptions of dual-role administrators and teachers regarding the effectiveness of dual-role administrators in a rural state. ICPEL Education Leadership Review, 19(1), 42-59. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"One increasingly utilized option for rural school districts under fiscal constraints is to utilize one person to fulfill both administrative positions of superintendent and building principal in the same school district. This study compared the perceptions of rural school administrators in this Midwest state who are serving in these dual-roles with the perceptions of teachers in this Midwest state whose principal is also tasked with serving as the superintendent. The population for this study consisted of 58 dual-role administrators and a sampling of approximately 350 teachers in schools with dual-role administrators. Results of the t-test for independent samples indicated that dual-role administrators identified school board relations, public relations, and school finance as significantly more important than did their teachers. Teachers desired that dual-role administrators spend significantly more time on student discipline and attendance. A significant difference existed in the perceptions of time allocation between dual role administrators and teachers, with teachers perceiving that dual-role administrators spend more time on the superintendency than the principalship. Results also indicated a significant difference existed in the desired time allocation with dual-role administrators desiring to spend more time on the superintendency than teachers desired of their dual-role administrators."

Tran, H., & Dou, J. (2019). An exploratory examination of what types of administrative support matter for rural teacher talent management: The rural educator perspective. ICEPL Education Leadership Review, 20(1), 133-149. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Administrative support has been frequently identified as the most important factor influencing teachers' employment decisions (Burkhauser, 2017; Ladd, 2011). While many rural schools operate in hard-to-staff contexts that suffer from severe teacher shortages, it is unknown if rural teachers require rural context specific administrative support. This study was designed to shed light on this issue by first confirming with a sample of South Carolina rural educators (n=28) through an open-ended survey that administrative support is the most important factor to advertise for teacher recruitment. The study then obtains the perspectives of a subsample of the educators (n=12), via in-depth interviews, to provide more details concerning the types of administrative supports that matter for rural teacher retention and whether the supports should differ for new vs. more seasoned teachers. Several important themes emerged from the interview findings including verification of the necessity of rural specific administrative support due to adequate rural teaching preparation, building relational trust (from open communication), providing mentorship, offering financial incentives, advertising the community, maintaining administrative consistency/stability, and providing teachers with a positive, collaborative and open work culture. Results and implications for leadership development are discussed."

Yoon, S. Y., Mihaly, K., & Moore, A. (2019). A snapshot of educator mobility in Montana: Understanding issues of educator shortages and turnover. Portland, OR: Education Northwest, Regional Educational Laboratory Northwest

From the Abstract:
"This study was conducted at the request of education policymakers who participate in the Montana Rural Recruitment and Retention Task Force. Like many states, Montana is struggling to recruit and retain qualified educators, especially in certain subject areas and in more rural parts of the state. The purpose of this study is to provide information that will help the task force address these challenges. Task force members asked REL Northwest to examine the following questions: (1) What is the extent of educator shortages in the state in 2017/18? How do educator shortage patterns vary by characteristics of school systems?; (2) To what extent did educators stay in their position and school system, move to a different position within the school system, move to a different school system, or leave the public education system between 2016/17 and 2017/18? How do educators' decisions to stay, move, or leave school systems and/or positions vary by the characteristics of educators and school systems?; and (3) To what extent were teachers and principals in Montana employed in multiple roles within their school systems and/or within multiple school systems in 2016/17? How did patterns in holding multiple roles differ by the characteristics of school systems? To examine these questions, REL Northwest used statewide administrative data from 2016/17 and 2017/18 .Task force members were also interested in the intended mobility of educators in the following school year (2018/19), including factors associated with accepting their current position, and--for administrators--the top barriers they faced to hiring teachers. To meet this request, we examined data from an existing statewide survey of teachers, principals, and superintendents, and we provide the findings in an appendix. Task force members and other policymakers in Montana will use this information as they determine how to address the state's educator workforce challenges. Given the high percentage of schools located in rural areas in Montana, the study findings may be useful to other states with similar demographics. Educator mobility in Montana: Understanding issues of educator shortages and turnover. Key findings: (1) Educator shortages in Montana: (a) In the 2017/18 school year, district administrators in Montana reported that 62 percent of positions in shortage subject areas, such as math and science, were difficult to fill or unable to be filled; and (b) In the 2017/18 school year, rural school system administrators reported a higher percentage of positions as difficult to fill or unable to be filled, as compared to non-rural school system administrators; (2) Educator mobility and attrition in Montana: (a) In the 2017/18 school year, 86 percent of teachers and 87 percent of principals in Montana returned to the same position and school system they were working in the previous school year; (b) Among educators who did not stay in their position and school system from 2016/17 to 2017/18, more than half left the Montana public education system; (c) The percentage of teachers who stayed in their position and school system was higher in school systems with a below-average proportion of American Indian students, school systems located in non-rural areas, and school systems with higher enrollment; (d) Among teachers who moved between school systems, more teachers moved from rural to non-rural areas (29 percent) than from non-rural to rural areas (21 percent), indicating that rural school systems lost teachers to non-rural school systems from 2016/17 to 2017/18; and (e) The percentage of principals who stayed in their position and school system was higher in school systems with a below-average proportion of American Indian students, those with lower levels of poverty, those with higher enrollment, and those located in non-rural areas; and (3) Multiple educator roles: In the 2016/17 school year, 29 percent of Montana teachers and 24 percent of principals held multiple positions. This percentage was higher in school systems located in the most remote rural areas, where 36 percent of teachers and 40 percent of principals held more than one position."

Other Resources

Best, J., & Cohen, C. (2014). Rural education: Examining capacity challenges that influence educator effectiveness. McREL International.

From the Abstract:
"While a quarter of all American students are enrolled in rural public schools, many rural teachers and administrators believe that education stakeholders are slow to fully recognize and address the unique challenges facing rural educators. This brief discusses recent steps taken by the federal government and individual states to address the concerns of rural teachers and administrators, and outlines questions policymakers should consider when exploring additional initiatives. The following capacity challenges highlighted by rural teachers and administrators are addressed: (1) Recruiting and retaining highly effective teachers; (2) Connectivity to technology and use of digital capacity; and (3) Effective teacher evaluation processes for rural school settings. In addition, the brief summarizes responses to the proposed legislation and provides considerations and recommendations for policymakers."

Hunt Institute (2015). Teacher policies, state summary: Montana. Retrieved from

Mohr, S. & Furois, S. (2017). Critical quality educator shortages: Identification of schools and licensure and endorsement areas impacted by critical quality educator shortages for the 2017-18 school year. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Critical Quality Educator Shortages Section 20-4-503, MCA directs the Board of Public Education, in consultation with the Office of Public Instruction, to identify: (a) specific schools that are impacted by critical quality educator shortages; and (b) within the schools identified in (a), the specific quality educator licensure or endorsement areas that are impacted by critical quality educator shortages. Quality educators working in schools that are identified as impacted schools and teaching in licensure or endorsement areas that are impacted by critical quality educator shortages are eligible for loan repayment assistance."

Sheridan, S., Dynarski, M., & Bovaird, J. (2017). Studying educational effectiveness in rural settings: A guide for researchers. Decision Information Resources, Inc.

From the Abstract:
"This guide provides experienced education researchers with suggestions for conducting high-quality effectiveness studies to overcome research challenges common to rural settings. The guide addresses four factors that researchers must consider when conducting educational effectiveness research in rural settings: (1) study design, (2) recruitment of participants, (3) supporting and monitoring implementation of the intervention, and (4) data collection. The guide presents economical study designs that can help researchers achieve adequate statistical precision, use cost-effective strategies to support and monitor implementation, and develop alternative approaches for reducing the costs of data collection."


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources: Teacher effectiveness in rural schools, (Teacher effectiveness OR educator effectiveness) AND rural

Databases and Resources: We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and EBSCO databases (Academic Search Premier, Education Research Complete, and Professional Development Collection).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

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

Date of publications: This search and review included references and resources published in the last 10 years.

Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority was given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, as well as academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, and Google Scholar.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references:

  • Study types: randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, and policy briefs, generally in this order
  • Target population and samples: representativeness of the target population, sample size, and whether participants volunteered or were randomly selected
  • Study duration
  • Limitations and generalizability of the findings and conclusions

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest. It was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0009 by REL Northwest, administered by Education Northwest. The 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.