Although the issues facing rural educators vary greatly from region to region, state policymakers could help alleviate some of the challenges by equalizing the teacher-salary structures of their urban, suburban,and rural districts, advocates for rural education say.
That prescription emerged at a meeting held in the nation’s capital earlier this month by Organizations Concerned about Rural Education, or OCRE, a Washington-based coalition of about two dozen groups dedicated to the improvement of public education in rural areas.
Some states, such as Arkansas and Tennessee, “have made substantial moves to equalize teacher salaries within the state,” said Rachel Tompkins, the president of the Arlington,Va.-based Rural School and Community Trust, adding that more effort is needed.
“Rural teachers are paid 86 cents to the dollar compared to urban and suburban teachers nationally,” said Ms.Tompkins, whose group is a member of OCRE.
Lower salaries often are justified by the perceived lower cost of living in rural areas, she said.
Rural states may face other challenges, however, in competing for teaching talent. In West Virginia, for example, housing is inexpensive in the most rural areas, but the lack of suitable housing options for teachers and their families is an obstacle to recruiting and retention, Ms. Tompkins said.
From a federal standpoint, rural education tends “to get lost in the background,” said Joel Packer, the director of education policy and practice for the 3.2 million-member National Education Association, who also attended the meeting to discuss the federal No Child Left Behind Act’s role in rural education.
Better professional development and financial incentives could help, he said.
Ms. Tompkins agreed.
“States need to have a very robust set of professional-development supports for mentoring and continuous improvement for teachers in rural districts,” she said. “They should be asking, ‘What are the particular needs of rural teachers, and how are we going to provide those supports?’”
A version of this article appeared in the April 30, 2008 edition of Education Week