Focus on Recruitment and Retention for Rural Texas Schools

Texas is responsible for educating more rural students than any other state, with students of color making up nearly half of the student population and more students living in poverty compared to urban districts.

Rural schools are also more likely to have teachers with less experience, lower certification exam results, and less ability to attract specialist teachers, reducing access to special education and retraining classes. advanced placements.

It’s no secret that the pandemic has affected teacher recruitment and retention rates. What isn’t reported much is the substantial impact on rural Texas schools – affecting nearly 700,000 students in our state. Retention and recruitment rates are down, and our heads of state should make fixing this a top priority.

Long-standing trends show that rural schools face common teacher recruitment challenges – often the more rural the school, the more difficult it becomes to recruit and retain a qualified teacher. Lower base salaries, limited local supply of teachers, and geographic and social isolation are all often cited problems.

An increase in workload due to the pandemic triggers an increase in teacher turnover. Resignations create more work for the remaining teachers, which creates more turnover. For example, one district recently received the resignation of 57 teachers during the week before Christmas vacation.

As education researchers, we regularly talk with superintendents, school board members, principals, and teachers in Texas and other states. Every state faces similar issues. Texas, however, should be a national leader given its large rural population.

In 2016, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath commissioned the Texas Rural Schools Task Force to identify current challenges in rural districts. It was a good start, but now is the time to adopt policies targeting the recruitment and retention of rural teachers.

What the state should do is increase teachers’ salaries, especially in rural districts. Salary incentives can allow rural teachers to stay longer in the same schools. Raising wages and improving working conditions in schools can also help the state recruit talented workers from other professions who seek new careers under the “Great Resignation”.

To attract more talented professionals from other fields, the state can reduce the cost of obtaining a teaching certificate.

Texas should also focus on funding rural teacher preparation programs in partnership with universities. More than half of Texas teachers are prepared in alternative certification programs, but alternative certified teachers are less likely to stay in the job beyond five years than those educated in universities. Raising salaries, improving working conditions and encouraging university preparation could help stabilize the teaching staff in rural areas.

Lisa Maselli, University of Texas at Austin

The state would also be wise to subsidize tuition loans leading to teacher certification and provide hardship allowance for the most challenging or physically isolated environments. Congress has considered funding hazard pay or “Patriot Pay” as bonuses for healthcare workers and other essential personnel. Rural teachers are no less essential and continue to be at great risk of contracting COVID-19.

Finally — and especially given the current health crisis — Texas should ensure that rural districts have the mental and physical health infrastructure to support teachers and their communities. Rural schools play an important role in the health of their communities, especially important since Texas has seen the highest number of rural hospital closures since 2005.

This means that rural teachers have a greater influence on the well-being of their communities than teachers in urban areas, where other institutions play a dominant role.

Each of the state’s nearly 700,000 rural children deserves a caring, well-trained teacher, especially in the midst of a deadly and disruptive pandemic. The pipeline of rural teachers has always been deprioritized, but for Texas to be a truly vibrant state, our leaders must innovate and invest on behalf of rural children.

David DeMatthews is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Texas at Austin. Annie Maselli is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at Penn State and an associate at the Center on Rural Education and Communities.

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