Skip Navigation

Examining Educator Shortages in Montana

By Sun Young Yoon | December 6, 2019


Sun Young Yoon
Sun Young Yoon is a senior advisor at Education Northwest. She also co-leads the Montana Education Research Alliance, a partnership between REL Northwest and state, local, and tribal education stakeholders in Montana.

Across the country, many states are experiencing educator shortages and turnover, which can vary by subject area and locale. REL Northwest recently took a closer look at these issues in Montana.

Many educators in the state feel that recruitment is a greater challenge than turnover and retention. Findings from a recent REL Northwest study support this belief, while also revealing key factors that appear to be driving educator shortages.

The study is the first to show empirical evidence of educator shortages and turnover using Montana statewide educator data.

Combined with anecdotal data, such as the results from a statewide educator survey, this information provides Montana policymakers a more complete picture of the situation, which will help them make holistic, evidence-based decisions to address educator shortages.

The Gap Between Rural and Non-rural Schools

Across all locales, Montana schools reported that 45 percent of all vacancies were difficult to fill or unable to be filled in the 2017/18 school year, but this number does not tell the whole story.

As shown in the corresponding infographic, in the 2017/18 school year, rural school systems faced the greatest staffing challenges.

Schools in rural-remote areas found 65 percent of their vacant positions difficult to fill, compared to 35 percent for non-rural areas.

The U.S. Census Bureau defines rural-remote school systems as those that are more than 25 miles from an urbanized area and more than 10 miles from an urban cluster, and more than half of all school systems in Montana fit this designation.

Investigating Retention Rates

Overall, the REL Northwest study found that 86 percent of Montana teachers stayed in the same school system and position from 2016/17 to 2017/18. In addition, the study found that retention rates varied widely across schools.

For example, the study found that the school systems with the highest retention rates, for both teachers and principals, were those with higher enrollment, fewer high-poverty students, and fewer American Indian students, as well as those in non-rural areas.

Only 4 percent of teachers moved to a different school system in the state—but when they did, rural school systems lost more teachers to non-rural school systems than non-rural school systems lost to rural school systems (29 percent and 21 percent, respectively).

Next Steps

The REL Northwest study was developed in collaboration with various stakeholder groups in Montana (including the Montana Rural Educator Recruitment and Retention Task Force, the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education, RISE4MT, and the Office of Public Instruction), and state policymakers plan to use the results to inform educator recruitment strategies.

These strategies may include promoting community-based teacher preparation programs, reducing possible barriers to obtaining a teaching certification in Montana, and increasing supports and incentives for teachers.

REL Northwest looks forward to continuing to partner with policymakers and other stakeholders in Montana as they determine what strategies to explore and implement.