Boosting Idaho Students’ College Prospects by Expanding Access to Great Teaching

Bryan Hassel, Shonaka Ellison, and Jeannette P. Cornier – October 2015

The quality of education in Idaho’s rural communities—which contain more than a third of its students—is concerning. In contrast to other states, where rural students outperform their urban peers in high school, just 80 percent of rural Idaho students graduate from high school compared to 84 percent of students statewide, and just 51 percent of rural students enroll in college compared to 59 percent of all Idahoans. There are many factors that contribute to low college-going rates in rural Idaho, but one critical factor is the lack of the rigorous preparation needed to enable students for success in college and career. A key to addressing this deficiency is to increase rural students’ access to high-quality teaching, especially in college preparatory courses.

In Boosting Idaho Students’ College Prospects by Expanding Access to Great Teaching, Bryan Hassel, Shonaka Ellison, and Jeannette P. Cornier of Public Impact examine the challenges that prevent rural schools from accessing great teaching and present four strategies for increasing access to highly effective instruction in rural Idaho.

Use “grow-your-own” programs to recruit from within the community

One approach to expanding the pool of great teachers in rural communities lies in “growing your own” teachers, by identifying people that are committed to living in and serving the local community and preparing them to teach. Districts could provide these individuals—who are more likely to stay in the local community than those trained or raised elsewhere—with incentives, such as training opportunities and financial support to pursue teaching licensure in college-access courses. Grow-your-own programs could be delivered in rural areas using distance-learning options provided by higher education institutions and district-provided coaching and mentoring—giving prospective teachers greater access to high-quality training while remaining in their local community.

Create more effective strategies to recruit teachers to work in rural communities

Recruiting teachers who live elsewhere to work in rural communities can be difficult, but there are some promising options for increasing the rural talent pool. Developing a marketing strategy for open positions that publicizes the advantages of rural schools—smaller class sizes, lower student-teacher ratios, and lower stress levels—has the potential to attract experienced teachers interested in a new environment and new teachers not interested in larger settings. Even a well-designed website can help in recruitment by spotlighting the climate and the culture of a school and its community.

Use technology and other tools to extend the reach of excellent teachers in rural schools

New technologies and staffing strategies allow rural schools to increase the number of students receiving high-quality instruction, even when the supply of local teachers remains limited. For example, multi-classroom leadership initiatives allow teachers to support a team of their colleagues, facilitating collaboration and professional development. Additionally, remote instruction—made easier with wider broadband adoption and increasing network speeds—allows excellent teachers to lead instruction without being physically present.

Improve training and certification

Surveys of Idaho school and district leaders indicate that increasing the number of teachers with multiple endorsements could help to ease the burden caused by vacancies in hard-to-staff positions. Providing teachers with the training they need to lead additional, advanced, or college-access courses would mean that they would be better able to “wear many hats,” as rural teaching so often requires.