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Teacher Workforce, Rural

September 2018


What does the research say about increasing teacher recruitment and retention in rural areas?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and descriptive studies on increasing teacher recruitment and retention in rural areas. In particular, we focused on identifying resources related to K-12 teacher recruitment. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Beesley, A., Atwill, K., Blair, P., & Barley, Z. (2008). Strategies for recruitment and retention of secondary teachers in Central Region rural schools. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL). Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Recruiting and retaining teachers is a nationwide issue for schools in all locales. For rural schools, however, lower salaries, small school sizes, and geographic isolation can make it even more difficult to recruit and retain a qualified teaching staff. This study sought to quantify and characterize differences in recruiting teachers between rural and non-rural high schools in the Central Region, as well as identify differences in teacher recruiting and retention between rural secondary schools that were ‘successful’ and ‘unsuccessful,’ as evidenced from their responses to 12 survey items found in the 2003-2004 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) data. Responses to the SASS items addressing recruiting and retention strategies largely did not differentiate between successful and unsuccessful rural high schools, however. To augment these findings with descriptions of the experiences of successful rural high schools, researchers also interviewed seven principals identified as successful by their state agencies. The interviewed principals identified other strategies for recruiting and retaining secondary teachers, such as a focus on recruiting rural residents. Taken together, the data analysis and the interview findings suggest that small towns and rural areas in the Central Region have in fact had relatively more difficulty in recruiting teachers than have larger communities, underscoring that rural principals and district administrators are in need of strategies for teacher recruitment and retention.”

Biddle, C., & Azano, A. P. (2016). Constructing and reconstructing the “rural school problem”: A century of rural education research. Review of Research in Education, 40(1), 298–325. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This chapter examines 100 years of rural education research in the context of the demographic, migratory, economic, and social changes that have affected rural America in the past century. The authors conducted a systematic review of the literature on rural teacher recruitment, retention, and training as a case study to examine the constancy and change in the construction of the ‘rural school problem,’ a concept drawn from early work by urban education reformers. They found that attention to rurality as a factor affecting education boomed in the first half of the 20th century thanks to a commitment to achieving a kind of modernity, an emphasis that waned in the second half of that century when modernity was believed to have been more or less achieved. Neoliberal economic policies and the precariousness of rural economies revived interest in the resilience and adaptability of rural America in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, however, leading to a renaissance in rural education research but one largely restricted to a few subfield journals. The authors discuss the implications of these trends for the future of rural education research, including the use of place as a lens for considering education.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Fiereck, R., Hammerschmidt, E., Le, M., Lu, N., Traynor, C., & Wong, V. (2016). Smart solutions to Minnesota’s teacher shortage: Developing and sustaining a diverse and valued educator workforce. St. Paul, MN: Educator Policy Innovation Center. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Minnesota has a teacher shortage. Since the 1980s, districts around the state have expressed growing concerns about finding and keeping licensed teachers. Shortages are most acute in specific fields and in specific geographic parts of the state. In addition, Minnesota has a severe shortage of teachers of color.

The Minnesota Department of Education’s Teacher Supply and Demand report offers a helpful overview of Minnesota’s teacher workforce. During the 2013-2014 school year, there were 58,211 teachers employed in Minnesota’s public schools, including those run through school districts and charter schools. But because of the shortage of teachers, districts and charter schools hired 3,504 teachers who ‘lacked the necessary licenses for the subjects and the grade levels taught’ (Minnesota Department of Education, Teacher Supply, 2015).”

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), 1–14. Retrieved from

From the ERIC 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.”

Gray, L., Bitterman, A., & Goldring, R. (2013). Characteristics of public school districts in the United States: Results from the 2011-12 Schools and Staffing Survey (First Look. NCES 2013-311). Jessup, MD: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This report presents selected findings from the Public School District Data File of the 2011-12 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS). SASS is a nationally representative sample survey of public and private K-12 schools, principals, and teachers in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. School districts associated with public schools and library media centers in public schools are also part of SASS. The purpose of SASS is to collect information that can provide a detailed picture of U.S. elementary and secondary schools and their staff. This information is collected through the following surveys: district, school, principal, teacher, and library media center. The 2011-12 SASS uses a school-based sample of public and private schools. The data were collected via mailed questionnaires with telephone and in-person field follow-up. The purpose of this First Look is to introduce new data through the presentation of tables containing descriptive information. Selected findings chosen for this report demonstrate the range of information available on the 2011-12 SASS Public School District Data File. The tables in this report contain counts and percentages demonstrating bivariate relationships. All of the results have been weighted to reflect the sample design and to account for nonresponse and other adjustments.”

Hammer, P. C., Hughes, G., McClure, C., Reeves, C., & Salgado, D. (2005). Rural teacher recruitment and retention practices: A review of the research literature, national survey of rural superintendents, and case studies of programs in Virginia. Nashville, TN: Appalachia Educational Laboratory at Edvantia. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “In 2004, Edvantia, Inc. (formerly AEL) and the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) initiated an effort to identify successful strategies for recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers in rural areas. They reviewed non-rural-specific and rural-specific research and practice literature, surveyed rural superintendents across the nation, and conducted case studies of three Virginia programs that support teacher recruitment and retention. Generally, the literature shows that the problem of teacher shortages varies across geography, demography, and subject area. The schools that find it hardest to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers are those in highly urban and rural areas (especially those serving minority or low-income students) and schools in the Southeast, Southwest, and the West. Especially needed are teachers in special education, bilingual education, math, and science. Edvantia/NASBE survey results and case studies amplify these findings and offer insights into challenges and promising practices in rural teacher recruitment and retention.”

Hayes, K. (2009). Key issue: Recruiting teachers for urban and rural schools. Jessup, MD: National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Teacher shortages are essentially a problem of distribution (Darling-Hammond, 2001; Ingersoll, 2001; National Association of State Boards of Education, 1998; Olson, 2000; Reeves, 2003; Voke, 2002). According to recent studies, hardest to find are teachers who are both qualified and willing to teach in hard-to-staff schools, which included those in highly urban and rural areas—especially schools serving minority or low-income students. In addition, recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers are intertwined; it’s not enough to attract these teachers if concurrent steps are not taken to keep them (Liu, Johnson, & Peske, 2004). Schools need help in building their capacity to attract and maintain a highly qualified teaching staff. Although not all urban and rural schools are hard to staff, those with high numbers of inexperienced and out-of-field teachers, special-needs or English-language-learner students, and poor, minority, and highly mobile students face the toughest recruitment and retention challenges (Jacob, 2007; Monk, 2007; Reeves, 2003; Southeast Center for Teaching Quality, 2002). Also, social and geographic isolation and lower-than-average pay make these schools unattractive to many teachers—leading to an inequitable distribution of teachers as more head to midsized and suburban districts (Levin & Quinn, 2003; Reeves, 2003). The needs of hard-to-staff urban schools are often very different from those of their rural counterparts, and teacher recruitment is no exception. Therefore, recruitment strategies must be targeted to meet the needs of individual districts and schools. Several tips and cautions for policymakers and school leaders to keep in mind are listed in this paper.”

Institute of Education Sciences. (2016). Recruiting and retaining teachers in rural communities [Video file]. Retrieved from

From the description: “REL Midwest and its Rural Research Alliance hosted a webinar to share strategies specific to rural communities to recruit and retain quality educators.”

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. 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.”

Maranto, R., & Shuls, J. V. (2012). How do we get them on the farm? Efforts to improve rural teacher recruitment and retention in Arkansas. Rural Educator, 34(1). Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Rural schools, particularly high poverty rural schools, often have difficulty hiring and retaining qualified teachers. Here, we discuss three programs the Arkansas Department of Education has used to attract teachers to teacher Geographic Shortage Districts (GSDs) through material incentives. Unfortunately, none of the programs have had much success, perhaps in part since the funding offered was inadequate to attract new teachers to isolated communities. Additionally, we analyze the use of materialistic and non-materialistic incentives on the websites of all school districts designated as GSDs by the Arkansas Department of Education. Few GSDs display non-materialistic appeals that might entice individuals to seek out employment in the district, with the notable exception of KIPP Delta, the only charter school on the list, which has much more success recruiting teachers. We end with suggestions for policymakers and school district officials seeking to attract teachers to geographic shortage areas.”

McCullough, P., & Johnson, J. (2007). Quality teachers: Issues, challenges, and solutions for North Carolina’s most overlooked rural communities. Arlington, VA: Rural School and Community Trust. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This report describes, on a number of measures, the challenges facing low-wealth rural school districts in eastern North Carolina as they relate to issues of teacher quality and ensuring that students have a good teacher in each classroom. It describes five strategies that are being used in rural areas throughout the country to respond to these challenges, and specifically what North Carolina is doing around each strategy, including: growing your own; targeting incentives; improving recruiting and hiring practices; improving school level support for teachers; and using technology. In the last part of the report, the authors recommend local and state level activities for each of the five strategies, and add three recommendations that, based on their experience in North Carolina and in other rural states, would help address the pressing issue of providing all children in North Carolina the teachers they deserve.”

Miller, L. C. (2012). Understanding rural teacher recruitment and the role of community amenities. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 27(13), 1–52. Retrieved from [1.43 MB PDF icon ]

From the abstract: “Attracting and keeping teachers is ‘the main problem of rural school districts’ according to the American Association of School Administrators. In addition to low salaries, rural school administrators frequently cite poor community amenities as a contributing factor to their teacher recruitment challenges. This paper is the first attempt to test the community amenity hypotheses in a multivariate framework using administrative data on teacher employment patterns. I employ a McFadden discrete-choice model to analyze administrative data from New York State on nine cohorts of first-time teachers who began their careers in any New York State public school between 1994 and 2002. In doing so, it improves our understanding of who chooses to teach in rural schools. Teachers with stronger academic preparation are shown to be less likely to become rural teachers. Results generally confirm the community amenities revealing teachers to preferring relatively less geographically and professionally isolated rural communities as well as rural communities with relatively more shopping venues. Policy implications for diminishing their negative influence and enhancing their positive influence are discussed.”

Monk, D. H. (2007). Recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers in rural areas. The Future of Children, 17(1), 155–174. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “In examining recruitment and retention of teachers in rural areas, David Monk begins by noting the numerous possible characteristics of rural communities—small size, sparse settlement, distance from population concentrations, and an economic reliance on agricultural industries that are increasingly using seasonal and immigrant workers to minimize labor costs. Many, though not all, rural areas, he says, are seriously impoverished. Classes in rural schools are relatively small, and teachers tend to report satisfaction with their work environments and relatively few problems with discipline. But teacher turnover is often high, and hiring can be difficult. Monk observes that rural schools have a below-average share of highly trained teachers. Compensation in rural schools tends to be low, perhaps because of a lower fiscal capacity in rural areas, thus complicating efforts to attract and retain teachers. Several student characteristics, including relatively large shares of students with special needs and with limited English skills and lower shares of students attending college, can also make it difficult to recruit and retain high-quality teachers. Other challenges include meeting the needs of highly mobile children of low-income migrant farm workers. With respect to public policy, Monk asserts a need to focus on a subcategory of what might be called hard-to-staff rural schools rather than to develop a blanket set of policies for all rural schools. In particular, he recommends a focus on such indicators as low teacher qualifications, teaching in fields far removed from the area of training, difficulty in hiring, high turnover, a lack of diversity among teachers in the school, and the presence of migrant farm workers’ children. Successful efforts to stimulate economic growth in these areas would be highly beneficial. He also calls attention to the potential for modern telecommunication and computing technologies to offset some of the drawbacks associated with teaching in rural areas.”

Rosenberg, L., Christianson, M. D., Angus, M. H., & Rosenthal, E. (2014). A focused look at rural schools receiving School Improvement Grants (NCEE Evaluation Brief. NCEE 2014-4013). Jessup, MD: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The Study of School Turnaround is a set of case studies of the school improvement process in a purposive sample of 35 schools receiving federal funds through the School Improvement Grants (SIG) program over a three-year period (school years 2010-11 to 2012-13). This evaluation brief focuses on the nine SIG schools that were in rural areas and how respondents in these schools perceived their rural context to influence specific turnaround activities. Key findings that emerged from the rural case study data collected in spring 2012 include: (1) Although rural SIG schools reported some challenges that nonrural SIG schools have also reported, such as low student motivation and staff morale, the rural schools reported additional challenges resulting from their schools’ remote locations and large catchment areas. For example, respondents reported that these rural characteristics affected the recruitment or retention of teachers and, to a lesser extent, parents’ involvement in the schools. (2) School and district administrators in eight of the nine schools suggested that long teacher commutes or isolated communities posed challenges to recruiting or retaining teachers. To counter these challenges, respondents in two schools reported offering direct support for teacher commutes (for example, gas stipends or vans), and respondents in three schools reported offering signing bonuses to incoming teachers. (3) School and district administrators and teaching staff in the nine schools mentioned multiple factors limiting parent involvement in school-based activities. Respondents from five schools perceived that a lack of access to transportation limited parent involvement, whereas respondents from three schools noted that the distance between schools and parents’ homes was a contributing factor. Four schools focused on hiring or expanding the role of parent liaisons to increase parent involvement.”

Spradlin, T. E., & Prendergast, K. A. (2006). Emerging trends in teacher recruitment and retention in the No Child Left Behind era (Education Policy Brief. Volume 4, Number 12). Bloomington, IN: Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, Indiana University. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Teacher quality is one of the most important predictors of a child’s academic achievement, but schools in Indiana and across the nation are struggling to employ a full cadre of teachers who are qualified to instruct the subjects they are teaching. This policy brief explores the factors and circumstances behind the national struggle to meet the highly qualified teacher requirement under No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), focusing on recruitment and retention issues for both subject-area and geographic shortages. Factors contributing to teacher turnover are explored. The policy brief outlines several key recommendations to help schools improve teacher recruitment and retention efforts.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality –

From the website: “NCTQ researches, evaluates, and provides information and guidance. We propose new changes to restore the teaching profession to strong health so we can provide every child with the education needed to ensure a bright and successful future and to offer all teachers—from aspiring to veteran—the conditions needed to thrive and succeed.”


Keywords and Search Strings

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

  • descriptor: “rural areas gap” descriptor: “teacher recruitment”

  • descriptor: “rural schools” AND descriptor: “teacher shortage”

Databases and Search Engines

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 IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

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

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were included in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for 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.