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Strategies to Prepare Teachers in Rural Schools
October 2019


What does the research say about strategies to prepare and support teachers to teach 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.


Barley, Z. A., & Brigham, N. (2008). Preparing teachers to teach in rural schools (Issues & Answers Report, REL 2008-045). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Central.

From the Abstract:
"The Central Region states have greater percentages of rural students and schools than the U.S. average. This report describes how nine teacher preparation programs in the region prepare their graduates for teaching positions in rural settings. The study found that, of 120 institutions in the Central Region that offer teacher preparation, only 17 confirmed a rural program emphasis, and only 9 have three or more of the components. Three of the nine programs offer options for teachers to receive multiple certifications. Seven of the nine programs offer online courses and four offer courses at more accessible community college campuses. Four of the nine programs recruit students from rural communities. Two of the nine programs actively seek student teaching placements in rural schools (however, seven of the nine are based in rural areas and naturally have access to rural school placements). Researchers confirmed the presence of five rural-focused program components in 17 of the 28 four-year teacher preparation institutions in the Central Region: (1) options for obtaining multiple certifications; (2) access to teacher preparation for those living in rural areas; (3) efforts to recruit to teaching residents from rural settings; (4) the use of rural schools for practice-teaching placements; and (5) the availability of online courses for rural teachers. Nine Central Region teacher preparation programs, described in this report, had three or more of these components. The primary audiences for this report are the Central Region commissioners of education, other state policymakers, and administrators of teacher preparation programs who are considering adding or sharpening a focus on preparing rural teachers. Appended are research method, sample, and limitations and an interview protocol."

Eppley, K. (2015). "Hey, I saw your grandparents at Walmart": Teacher education for rural schools and communities. Teacher Educator, 50(1), 67–86. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"This is a case study about how teacher education might better prepare rural teacher candidates for rural schools. Parents, teachers, community members, and students associated with a rural school described what is important in the preparation of teachers for today's rural schools. Their goals and wishes for their children's school and community were complex and contradictory at times, precluding any possibility of a "one best" model for preparing teachers for their schools, but their descriptions suggested direction for programs of teacher preparation. The study concludes with a discussion of priorities for the preparation of teachers for rural schools."

Goldhaber, D., Krieg, J., & Theobald, R. (2014). Knocking on the door to the teaching profession? Modeling the entry of prospective teachers into the workforce (CALDER Working Paper No. 105). Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research, National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research.

From the Abstract:
"We use a unique longitudinal sample of student teachers ("interns") from six Washington state teacher training institutions to investigate patterns of entry into the teaching workforce. Specifically, we estimate split population models that simultaneously estimate the impact of individual characteristics and student teaching experiences on the timing and probability of initial hiring as a public school teacher. Not surprisingly, we find that interns endorsed to teach in "difficult-to-staff" areas are more likely to be hired as teachers than interns endorsed in other areas. Younger interns, white interns, and interns who did their student teaching in suburban schools are also more likely to find a teaching job. Prospective teachers who do their internships at schools that have more teacher turnover are more likely to find employment, often at those schools. Finally, interns with higher credential exam scores are more likely to be hired by the school where they did their student teaching. Contrary to expectations, few of the measures of the quality or the experience of an intern's cooperating teacher are predictive of workforce entry in the expected direction."

Goldhaber, D., Krieg, J. M., & Theobald, R. (2017). Does the match matter? Exploring whether student teaching experiences affect teacher effectiveness. American Educational Research Journal, 54(2), 325–359.

From the Abstract:
"We use data from six Washington State teacher education programs to investigate the relationship between teacher candidates' student teaching experiences and their later teaching effectiveness. Our primary finding is that teachers are more effective when the student demographics of their current school are similar to the student demographics of the school in which they did their student teaching. While descriptive, this suggests that the school context in which student teaching occurs has important implications for the later outcomes of teachers and their students and that teacher education programs and school districts should consider placing student teachers in schools that are similar to the schools in which they are likely to teach once they enter the workforce."

Krieg, J., Goldhaber, D., & Theobald, R. (2018). Teacher candidate apprenticeships: Assessing the who and where of student teaching (CEDR Working Paper No 11212018-1-1). Seattle: WA: University of Washington, Center for Education Data and Research.

From the Abstract:
"We use comprehensive data on student teaching placements from 14 teacher education programs (TEPs) in Washington State to explore the sorting of teacher candidates to the teachers who supervise their student teaching ("cooperating teachers") and the schools in which student teaching occurs. We find that, all else equal, teachers with more experience, higher degree levels, and higher value added in math are more likely to serve as cooperating teachers, as are schools with lower levels of historical teacher turnover but with more open positions the following year. We also find that teacher candidates are more likely to be placed with cooperating teachers of the same gender and race/ethnicity, and are more likely to work with cooperating teachers and in schools with administrators who graduated from the candidate's TEP."

Krieg, J. M., Theobald, R., & Goldhaber, D. (2015). A foot in the door: Exploring the role of student teaching assignments in teachers' initial job placements (CEDR Working Paper No. 2015-2.2) Seattle: WA: University of Washington, Center for Education Data and Research. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"We use data from Washington State to examine two distinct stages of the teacher pipeline: the placement of prospective teachers in student teaching assignments; and the hiring of prospective teachers into their first teaching positions. We find that prospective teachers are likely to complete their student teaching near their college and hometowns, but that prospective teachers' student teaching positions are much more predictive of their first teaching positions than their hometowns. This suggests that the "draw of home" in new teacher hiring is driven by patterns in student teaching assignments. We also find that more qualified prospective teachers tend to student teach in more advantaged districts, suggesting that patterns in student teaching assignments may contribute to the inequitable distribution of teacher quality."

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."


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources: Field placement, Teacher effectiveness, Teacher preparation, Rural, Teacher

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.