Journal Issue: Excellence in the Classroom Volume 17 Number 1 Spring 2007
The Unique Challenges of Urban and Rural Settings
Urban and rural schools each face particular challenges in attracting, retaining, and making the most of their teacher workforce. Brian Jacob identifies the challenges and potential policy solutions for urban schools; David Monk, those for rural schools.
Most of the lowest-performing schools and students in the United States are in urban districts, where poverty is highly concentrated and large shares of students have limited English proficiency and perform poorly on achievement tests. These districts often face unusually high costs. Higher wages in other occupations make it more costly for schools and districts to hire workers; space is often expensive; and high crime rates increase facilities requirements and tend to make upkeep more expensive. Urban districts are often far larger than other districts. Although increased size may offer some advantages in terms of reduced rates from suppliers, it also presents problems. As Jacob points out, to manage their many schools, large urban districts often institute unwieldy bureaucratic systems that slow the pace of operations. They also tend to face powerful teachers unions that hamper their actions even further. Urban districts thus face challenges both in attracting teachers to their schools and in optimizing their hiring, transfer, and retention policies so that they are able to bring the best available teachers into their classrooms and retain them.
In examining the recruitment and retention of teachers in rural areas, David Monk begins by noting the unique 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, are seriously impoverished. Classes in rural schools tend to be small, and teachers often report good working conditions and relatively few discipline problems. But compensation tends to be low, perhaps because of a lower fiscal capacity in rural areas. Moreover, rural areas often have a smaller pool of college-educated workers from which to recruit teachers. Teacher turnover is often high, and the share of highly trained teachers is low. Relatively large shares of students with special needs and of highly mobile children of low-income migrant farm workers can also complicate recruiting and retaining teachers. Thus, while much of the policy focus has been on urban schools, the small size, remote location, and often poor and mobile student populations of rural schools create other obstacles to improving the teacher workforce.