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REL Central Ask A REL Response


December 2020


What factors influence teacher recruitment and retention in rural school districts? How do rural–urban differences impact teachers who leave rural schools for larger school districts?


Following an established research protocol, REL Central conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles to help answer the question. The resources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic databases, and general Internet search engines. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. We have not evaluated the quality of the references provided in this response, and we offer them only for your information. We compiled the references from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant sources may exist.

Research References

Bailey, J., Khanani, N., Lacireno-Paquet, N., Shakman, K., & Bock, G. (2020). Teacher preparation and employment outcomes of beginning teachers in Rhode Island (REL 2020–029). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast & Islands. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“Because teacher turnover can adversely affect student achievement and local education budgets, many states want to better understand the extent to which teachers switch schools or leave the state public school system. Leaders at the Rhode Island Department of Education are interested specifically in understanding factors related to teacher mobility, retention, and attrition. This study examined these outcomes among beginning teachers in Rhode Island who were trained in a teacher preparation program in the state between 2012/13 and 2016/17 and who then taught for at least one year in the state public school system by the 2017/18 school year. After three years about one-third of these beginning teachers were still teaching in their initial school, one-third were teaching in another school in the state public school system, and one-third were no longer teaching in the state public school system. In general, there was no statistically significant relationship between a beginning teacher's preparation program provider and the teacher's mobility, retention, or attrition outcome. These outcomes did vary by teacher certification field. They also varied by teacher preparation program type: teachers who were trained in alternative programs (programs that permit teaching before completion of all requirements for certification) were more likely than teachers who were trained in traditional undergraduate, graduate, or nondegree programs to stay in their school after one year and more likely to leave after three years. Stakeholders can use the findings from this report to inform policies and supports for beginning teachers, especially teachers who were certified in fields with higher attrition rates and teachers who were trained in alternative programs.”

Beesley, A. D., Atwill, K., Blair, P., & Barley, Z. A. (2010). Strategies for recruitment and retention of secondary teachers in central U.S. rural schools. Rural Educator, 31(2), 1–9. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“This study took place at the University of Wyoming, located in the rural mountain West. The University of Wyoming, with approximately 13,000 students, is the only four-year university in the state. The teacher education population of the College of Education is about 600, and demographically, this population is about 90% White, predominately female, and from rural communities across the state and other states that border Wyoming. Likewise, most school districts in the state of Wyoming are less diverse (ethnically, racially, and linguistically) than the national averages. Given this context, the College of Education has tried to address issues of diversity at the program level over the last decade or so. This article provides an account of a curriculum development, integration, and implementation initiative in the educational studies department (EDST). The content to be integrated in the program focused on language acquisition, a critical need given the urgency for teachers to support and honor rapidly growing populations of English language learners (ELLs) in the state, region, and nation. Given the need to develop and implement curricula and pedagogy that support learning for all children, including those who speak languages other than English, the authors felt morally and professionally compelled to begin to consider the ways they might prepare their students, teacher education candidates, for the language diversity they are sure to experience in their careers. This challenge is especially unique in their context, a rural state with a rapidly increasing ELL student population and an unfortunately small number of teachers with ELL credentials and/or experience working with second language learners. It is the authors’ hope that in creating and sharing this account, they are able to advance understandings about the role teacher education can play in preparing the next generation of teachers for the linguistic diversity in their PreK–12 schools.”

DeFeo, D. J., & Tran, T. C. (2019). Recruiting, hiring, and training Alaska’s rural teachers: How superintendents practice place-conscious leadership. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 35(2), 1–17. Retrieved from
Full text abailable from

From the abstract:

“This article describes how superintendents approach the administrative processes of recruiting, hiring, and training new teachers to work in Alaska’s rural schools. Drawing from interviews of superintendents and administrators in 32 rural Alaska school districts, the data show not only the amount of time and responsibility that rural superintendents commit to these activities, but also how they regard community as central in guiding their execution of these tasks. Our findings underscore the integral role of rural superintendents in setting a place-conscious leadership tone for the districts they serve, as well as the risk of losing institutional memory and networks when these positions turn over.”

Espel, E. V., Meyer, S. J., & Weston-Sementelli, J. L. (2019). Factors related to teacher mobility and attrition in Colorado, Missouri, and South Dakota (REL 2019–008). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Central. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“This report describes teacher and school characteristics related to teacher movement within and out of public school systems in Colorado, Missouri, and South Dakota. Stakeholders in each of these states expressed interest in better understanding teacher mobility and attrition and related factors. The authors used administrative data provided by state education agencies to examine the characteristics related to the likelihood that teachers would move to different schools or leave state public school systems from 2015/16 to 2016/17. Results suggest that the likelihood of teachers either moving or leaving was most strongly related to age, years of experience in their schools or districts, special education teaching assignments, average salaries, school demographics and performance, and school state accountability designation. Information about factors that contribute to moving and leaving may help decision-makers improve the policy and practices aimed at attracting and keeping teachers.”

Goldhaber, D., Strunk, K. O. Brown, N., Naito, N., & Wolff, M. (2020). Teacher staffing challenges in California: Examining the uniqueness of rural school districts. AERA Open, 6(3) 1–16. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“Using unique data from California on teacher job vacancies, we investigate staffing challenges across the urbanicity spectrum, focusing on the extent to which the characteristics of rural school systems explain the differences in staffing challenges as measured by vacancy rates and emergency credentialed teachers, relative to other urbanicities. We find that rural districts have significantly and substantially higher staffing challenges than districts from different urbanicity classifications (urban, suburban, and towns). Some of these differences are explained by district-level attributes, such as the proportion of students in poverty in the district. The geography of rural districts itself also explains the high levels of staffing challenge as rural districts are more likely to be located on a state border and far from teacher education programs, both of which are strongly associated with staffing challenge measures. Even after controlling for a rich set of observable covariates, there is evidence that rural districts are still somewhat more likely to face staffing challenges, suggesting that there are unobserved aspects of being rural associated with the desirability of employment that are not readily captured by quantitative data. ”

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). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest. Retrieved from

From the ERIC 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.”

Meyer, S. J., Espel, E. V., Weston-Sementelli, J. L., & Serdiouk, M. (2019). Teacher retention, mobility, and attrition in Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota (REL 2019–001). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Central. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“This study is designed to provide a better understanding of the dynamic and geographic character of the teacher labor market, including factors related to mobility and attrition, in rural and nonrural settings in four REL Central region states--Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota. State and district administrators may use findings to identify needs for recruitment and retention, target workforce improvement strategies, inform progress toward state and district teacher-equity goals, and aid development of supports or incentives designed to improve teacher recruitment and retention where the need is greatest. Research Questions: (1) To what extent is the teacher workforce in four REL Central region states characterized by classroom teachers who are entrants (entering the state public school system), stayers (remaining in a classroom teaching position in the same school), movers (moving to a classroom teaching position in a different school or district), and leavers (taking a nonteaching position or exiting the state public school system) in rural and nonrural settings, and by state, county, and district?; (2) How does the prevalence of classroom teachers who are entrants, stayers, movers, and leavers vary according to characteristics of teachers, schools, and districts in rural and nonrural settings?; (3) How long do classroom teachers stay in the same classroom teaching position, and how does tenure in position vary in rural and nonrural settings and according to characteristics of teachers, schools, and districts?; and (4) To what extent are characteristics of teachers, schools, and districts related to classroom teacher mobility and attrition in rural and nonrural settings? Study Design: The study will use data from statewide longitudinal data systems in Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota for the academic years 2011/12 to 2016/17. REL Central researchers will conduct descriptive analyses to examine teacher workforce dynamics in rural and nonrural settings within and across states. Researchers will also employ correlational analyses to examine the relationship between teacher mobility and attrition and various teacher, school, and district characteristics.”

Showalter, D., Hartman, S. L., Johnson, J., & Klein, B. (2019). Why rural matters 2018–2019: The time is now. Rural School and Community Trust. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“The majority of rural students attend school in a state where they make up less than 25 percent of public school enrollment. More than one rural student in four lives in states where rural students constitute less than 15 percent of overall enrollment. ‘Why Rural Matters 2018-19: The Time Is Now,’ shows that nearly 7.5 million public school students were enrolled in rural school districts during the 2016-17 school year–or nearly one of every seven students across the country. The number is even larger when counting students who attend rural schools, including rural schools within districts classified as ‘non-rural.’ By this measure, more than 9.3 million–or nearly one in five students in the U.S.–attend a rural school. This means that more students in the U.S. attend rural schools than in the nation's 85 largest school districts combined. This report uses five ‘gauges’ to describe the condition of rural education in each state: (1) the ‘Importance’ of rural education; (2) the ‘Diversity’ of rural students and their families; (3) the ‘Educational Policy Context’ impacting rural schools and communities; (4) the ‘Educational Outcomes’ for rural students; and (5) the ‘College Readiness’ of students in rural schools. Each gauge includes five equally weighted indicators. The higher ranking of a state, the more important or urgent rural education matters are for that particular state. It combines the five average gauge rankings to determine an overall average ranking, the Rural Education Priority ranking.”

Sullivan, K., Barkowski, E., Lindsay, J., Lazarev, V., Nguyen, T., Newman, D., & Lin, L. (2017). Trends in teacher mobility in Texas and associations with teacher, student, and school characteristics (REL 2018–283). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“The Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest Educator Effectiveness Research Alliance expressed interest in investigating annual teacher mobility in Texas. This resulting study, using data from the 2011/12-2015/16 school years, first asked how large teacher mobility was and how much of that movement was between schools in the same district, how much was between districts in Texas, and how much was out of public school teaching in Texas altogether. The study also addressed the relationships between teacher mobility and teachers’ personal and professional characteristics, school-level student characteristics, and schools’ average teacher ratings (under a new system piloted in 2014/15). The study used 2011/12-2015/16 data collected by the Texas Education Agency on all Texas public schools. It also used data collected by the Texas Education Agency during the 2014/15 pilot of the Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS) in 57 school districts-about 5 percent of districts in Texas. This report provides state and district policymakers in Texas with updated information on trends in teacher mobility and on correlates of mobility in the teaching workforce, offering a systematic baseline for monitoring and planning. The findings will enable policymakers to formulate a strategic, targeted approach for recruiting and retaining teachers rather than relying on generic approaches for increasing the overall supply of teachers or improving recruitment. For example, informed efforts might target attracting and retaining teachers in specific fields (such as special education), at certain stages of their career (such as novice teachers), or in certain geographic areas. Moreover, the analysis enriches the knowledge base about schools’ teacher retention and mobility in relation to the quality of the teaching force and may inform policy discussions about the importance of a stable teaching force for teaching effectiveness.”

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

Yow, J. A., Lotter, C., & Irvin, M. (2018, November 15–18). Preparing secondary mathematics and science teacher leaders in rural districts [Paper presentation]. North American Chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education Annual Meeting, Greenville, SC, United States. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“This study examines secondary mathematics and science teacher perceptions of teacher leadership during the first year of a professional development program focused on preparing teacher leaders in rural schools. It also begins to offer details as to what content-focused teacher leadership looks like and how teachers in rural schools enact teacher leadership. Data collection includes interview and survey analysis. Findings indicate four areas of growth for participants and project staff: participants began to expand their thinking and influence beyond the classroom, advocate more for students, develop a richer understanding of what content specific teacher, districts may be easier given the context of smaller settings but may also be more challenging in terms of teacher burnout.”


Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Incentives + “Rural Education”
  • Incentives + “Rural Schools”
  • Mobility
  • “Rural Challenges”
  • “Rural Education”
  • “Rural Urban Differences”
  • “Teacher Employment” + “Rural Education”
  • “Teacher Employment” + “Rural Schools”
  • “Teacher Persistence” + “Rural Education”
  • “Teacher Persistence” + “Rural Schools”
  • “Teacher Recruitment” + “Rural Education”
  • “Teacher Recruitment” + “Rural Schools”
  • “Teacher Retention” + “Rural Education”
  • “Teacher Retention” + “Rural Schools”
  • “Teacher Satisfaction” + “Rural Education”
  • “Teacher Satisfaction” + “Rural Schools”

Databases and Resources

REL Central searched ERIC for relevant references. ERIC is a free online library, sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences, of over 1.6 million citations of education research. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and Google.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching for and reviewing references, REL Central considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the Publication: The search and review included references published between 2010 and 2020.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority was given to ERIC, followed by Google Scholar and Google.
  • Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were used in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types, such as randomized controlled trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive analyses, literature reviews; and (b) target population and sample.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Central Region (Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Central at Marzano Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Central under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0005, administered by Marzano Research. Its 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.