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Rural Education Research Alliance

About the Alliance

In six of the seven states in the central region, at least 25 percent of the population is designated as rural. District and local administrators in rural areas face particular challenges in teacher recruitment and retention, and they would like to investigate evidence-based strategies to address those issues. The Rural Education Research Alliance brings together regional stakeholders with the objective of examining teacher retention, mobility, and attrition in rural settings, and identifying the characteristics of teachers, schools, districts, and communities that are associated with retention, mobility, and attrition.

Currently, alliance members are exploring approaches to addressing challenges with teacher shortages, recruitment, and retention, as well as ways to improve educator preparation and certification.

Summary of Related Projects


 Evidence and Tools from the Regional Educational Laboratories: Resources for Rural Practitioners

Technical Support

Examination of Changes to State Educator Certification Rules in South Dakota
This project responds to the South Dakota Department of Education (SD DOE) request to understand how the new state educator certification system has affected teacher candidates and practicing teachers. The project focuses on developing plans to examine how educator preparation programs respond to rule changes and how those rule changes are related to patterns of certification and outcomes for educators and their students. This work helps SD DOE in its efforts to implement proposed certification rules designed to remove barriers to certification while maintaining integrity and rigor in the system.

Implementation and Evaluation of the North Dakota Teacher Education Loan Forgiveness Project
This project addresses the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) need to develop processes and instruments for systematically collecting and analyzing data related to the implementation and outcomes of the state’s Teacher Shortage Loan Forgiveness Program (TSLFP) in order to inform program and policy improvement. The TSLFP provides greater incentives for teachers to work in high-need rural areas, as it allots the maximum loan forgiveness amount for teachers in areas of critical need in rural and remote town districts. REL Central is supporting NDDPI partners in developing a logic model, creating evaluation questions, identifying data that may inform an evaluation, and using data in an evaluation. We will guide partners in identifying available data to address draft evaluation questions and in assessing the quality of the data, the need for additional data, and the options for collecting needed data. Additionally, we will guide partners in identifying quality data collection tools and ways to develop tools to meet specific data collection needs. Finally, we will work with partners to choose an evaluative approach for the TSLFP. As a result of this project, NDDPI will increase its capacity to describe key elements of the TSLFP, and it will have a plan for evaluating the implementation and outcomes of the program.


 REL Tools for Rural Practitioners


 Studying Educational Effectiveness in Rural Settings: A Guide for Researchers

Technical Support

Examining Practices in North Dakota Rural Districts That Have Closed Achievement Gaps
Project completed in October 2018.
This project addresses the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) need to develop examine and disseminate educational practices that may be associated with closing achievement gaps. NDDPI supports numerous initiatives aimed at improving the achievement of low-income rural students in North Dakota. In 2015, NDDPI and North Dakota Small Organized Schools (NDSOS), with REL Central support, worked to identify rural districts in the state that had raised state assessment scores and closed the achievement gap between students who qualified for free and reduced-price lunch and those who did not. Ultimately, NDDPI identified 15 districts as making substantial progress in these criteria in reading, science, and/or ACT assessments. REL Central is supporting NDDPI and NDSOS partners in developing survey instruments to identify perceptions of education policies and practices associated with reductions in rural student achievement gaps, reviewing best practices in survey analysis, compiling survey analysis, and presenting findings. These project activities will increase NDDPI and NDSOS staff capacity to interpret and use survey data in order to inform the dissemination of best practices associated with reductions in rural student achievement gaps.

Nebraska Rural Achievement Gap Closure
Project completed in March 2018.
Members of the Rural Education Research Alliance have identified student achievement gap closure as a top priority in the REL Central region, and they aim to explore specific practices associated with closing achievement gaps in rural districts. This project involves a virtual training to build the capacity of Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association (NRCSA) and Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) leaders and staff to annually identify rural districts that have narrowed achievement gaps. The training will describe the decision points and considerations for identifying rural districts that have closed achievement gaps; review an analysis of Nebraska gap-closure data from 2013 to 2016; explain data analysis, syntax, and reporting in SPSS programming; and address questions, concerns, and anticipated challenges raised by participants. The project will enhance participants’ knowledge and skills to identify selection criteria, conduct data analysis, and facilitate discussions among Nebraska educators about rural districts that have closed achievement gaps.

Using Data to Understand Rural Teacher Retention, Mobility, and Attrition
Project completed in October 2017.
This project addressed the need of state education agency (SEA) administrators from Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota for information about current research on rural teacher retention, mobility, and attrition, and about factors associated with teachers’ decisions to remain in or leave teaching positions. REL Central conducted a virtual training with representatives from the seven states in our region. During the training, we summarized research studies related to teacher retention, mobility, and attrition, identifying their key characteristics. The project increased the participants’ capacity to understand how data may be collected or leveraged to answer key questions, and built capacity for states’ to leverage their data systems to support research on teacher retention, mobility, and attrition.