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Study Examines Educator Shortages in Montana

December 11, 2019

According to a new report from REL Northwest, educator shortages in Montana are being driven by school systems’ inability to recruit qualified candidates for open positions, rather than by high rates of teacher turnover, as in many other states. The study is the first to examine educator shortages and turnover using Montana administrative data and the results of a statewide survey of educators.

A Snapshot of Educator Mobility in Montana: Understanding Issues of Educator Shortages and Turnover
 Infographic |  Full Report

The data showed that 62 percent of all positions in 12 "shortage" subject areas, such as English, math, and science, were difficult to fill or unable to be filled in 2017/18. And these shortages were particularly acute in rural areas.

Montana schools in rural-remote areas—which account for nearly two-thirds of the state's school systems—reported that 65 percent of all educator vacancies were difficult to fill or unable to be filled, compared with 35 percent at non-rural schools.

In addition, the study found that schools with higher rates of students living in poverty and schools with higher percentages of American Indian students are finding it more difficult to retain both teachers and principals.

Responses to a statewide survey of teachers, principals, and superintendents were also examined and highlight some of the most significant challenges schools face in recruiting and retaining educators. "Having a clear understanding of staffing challenges can help the state equitably distribute resources so that schools can attract, hire, and retain high-quality educators in hard-to-staff schools," says Sun Young Yoon, coauthor of the report.

"Our team is pleased to have this report on one of Montana's most pressing educational needs," says Angela McLean, chair of the Montana University System Rural Educator Recruitment and Retention Task Force. "We look forward to using it to guide policymakers toward focused efforts on rural educator recruitment and retention that will have a lasting impact."

REL Northwest conducted the study at the request of a broad coalition of Montana stakeholders, including the Montana Rural Recruitment and Retention Task Force, the Office of Commissioner of Higher Education, RISE4MT, and the Office of Public Instruction. "This study is important to our school administrators and leaders across the state," says Dr. Kirk Miller, executive director of the School Administrators of Montana and a representative of RISE4MT. "It provides unique insight as to how our local trustees and superintendents can better support all educators who become a part of their team."

REL Northwest is working with these stakeholders to determine how the findings can inform recruitment strategies, such as promoting community-based teacher preparation programs, reducing possible barriers to obtaining a teaching certification in Montana, and increasing supports and incentives for teachers. According to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen, "Braiding this report with other information will strengthen the solution as we all move forward in supplying the best teachers for our students regardless of where they live."