Forget Everything You Think You Know About Rural Teachers

I can’t remember the last time I read a report that so thoroughly informed me about the basics of an important subject or so swiftly disabused me of my faulty assumptions.

If you care about rural-education issues or track the composition of the teacher workforce, you must read “The Supply and Demand for Rural Teachers” by Dan Player.


Image from The Atlantic, “The Challenge of Teaching Science in Rural America”

This short and edifying paper is the latest release from our rural ed-reform initiative, ROCI. The paper’s purpose is deceptively simple: “Summarize what we know about the current state of rural teacher labor markets by contrasting them with the same data from urban, suburban, and large and small town settings.”

What follows are mostly descriptive statistics. Nevertheless, you’ll almost certainly find yourself repeatedly thinking, “I. Did. Not. Know. That.”

For example, rural areas send fewer kids to college than suburban and urban areas. It’s also the case (according to one study) that 85 percent of educators begin their careers teaching in schools fewer than 40 miles from their hometowns. So if rural areas produce fewer college graduates and most teachers stay close to where they grew up, rural areas start with a smaller pool of potential teacher candidates than other areas.


The data show that rural schools are not likelier than suburban or urban schools to report difficulties filling vacancies. The only position type that rural schools had a harder time filling (compared to suburban and urban schools) was ELL. So we need to reconsider our assumptions about the implications of rural schools’ constrained applicant pools.

The data are clear, however, that rural teachers are considerably less likely to have graduated from a selective college, with remote-rural teachers being the least likely. Rural teachers are also significantly less likely to have been alternatively certified.

Interestingly, rural schools have fewer novice teachers than urban schools. And, while rural teachers are on average more experienced, they are less likely to have advanced degrees (with remote-rural teachers being the least likely). When you control for school demographics, rural teachers are actually more likely to be African-American or Hispanic than suburban teachers.

The last section of the paper provides data on work conditions. Rural teachers feel more influence over their schools than urban and suburban teachers. Remote-rural teachers feel the most influence. Rural teachers also feel more in control of texts, course content, and teaching techniques than suburban and urban teachers. Probably as a result of this, rural teachers are likelier to be satisfied in their jobs and believe the same of their colleagues.

There’s much more of interest in this report. Hopefully this whets your appetite for learning more about rural schools and rural educators.