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Can Better Marketing Improve Rural Teacher Retention?

A recent story in Slate posed an interesting potential solution to teacher recruitment challenges in rural schools, and it all has to do with marketing. The article focused on what many perceive to be the unique benefits of rural schools, such as the potential for impact, freedom in the classroom, and close relationships with students. Despite those benefits, researchers at the University of Arkansas who studied 50 rural school districts' websites, found that only one advertised "nonmaterialistic incentives," according to Slate.

That school, a charter school in rural Arkansas, emphasized on its website that teachers could have a profound impact on children at the school. Robert Maranto, the 21st century chairman in leadership at the University of Arkansas' Department of Education Reform said that rural schools could attract more teachers with similar messaging and by recruiting "almost like the military." Those schools could advertise a similar mission, he said: "You can go to a place. Have an impact."

Still, some rural administrators hesitate to ramp up such marketing techniques. The story in Slate focuses on two rural schools in Montana that approached the 2013-14 year with half of its staff positions open. Teachers in the district are eligible for several incentives, including a housing subsidy and student loan forgiveness. Principal Sam Bruner said in the article that it's been challenging to lure teachers, especially after they learn how rural the schools are. And, Bruner added, he doesn't want to lure teachers to rural Montana and downplay the job's challenges or recruit teachers only looking for a short teaching stint.

Nationwide, rural districts have turned to a host of solutions to better recruit and retain teachers. In Alaska, district human resources staff members often travel to other states to find new or inexperienced teachers. States like South Carolina have considered ramping up material incentives, like teacher pay and loan forgiveness. Other states have focused on addressing housing shortages in rural areas or  are attempting to "grow their own" teachers by helping local residents transition into teaching positions. 

In my reporting, I've come across a few schools that are creating videos to share their work in the hopes of attracting great teachers. Here's one from the rural Quitman County Elementary School in the Mississippi Delta, which I've been following this year as the school transitions to the new common-core standards.



What do you think? Could better or more marketing be a teacher recruitment tool for rural schools? Comment and weigh in below.

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