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Status of Education in Rural America
NCES 2007-040
June 2007

3.11. Difficulty hiring teachers


Public schools in rural areas in 2003–04 experienced the greatest difficulty filling vacancies in the fields of English as a second language (ESL) and foreign languages.

Nationally, 26 percent of public elementary and secondary schools during the 2003–04 school year reported stability in their teaching staff (i.e., having no teacher turnover or no new teaching positions that created a vacancy for which the school recruited and/or hired a new teacher). The percentage of public schools reporting stability in their teaching staff was higher in rural areas (31 percent) than in cities (25 percent) or suburban areas (22 percent), but was not measurably different from towns (29 percent) (data not shown).

The degree of difficulty experienced by public schools in filling a vacancy in a particular field varied extensively depending on the field and, to a lesser extent, on locale. During the 2003–04 school year, across all locales, 63 to 83 percent of public schools with a teaching vacancy in general elementary education or social studies reported that it was "easy" to fill the vacancy (table 3.11). Between 41 and 65 percent of public schools that had a teaching vacancy in English/language arts, music or art, or computer science reported that it was "easy" to fill the vacancy. Between 21 and 42 percent of public schools with a teaching vacancy in biology or life sciences, English as a second language (ESL), foreign languages, physical sciences, mathematics, special education, or vocational or technical education reported that it was "easy" to fill the vacancy.

Among these teaching fields, the hardest vacancies to fill in rural areas during the 2003–04 school year were vacancies in English as a second language (ESL) and in foreign languages. Some 37 percent of rural public schools reported that ESL vacancies were "very difficult" to fill, and an additional 5 percent reported that they could not fill their ESL vacancies (figure 3.11). Similarly, 35 percent of rural schools reported that foreign language vacancies were "very difficult" to fill, and an additional 8 percent reported that they could not fill their foreign languages vacancies.1

In rural areas, the percentage of public schools reporting that they could not fill teaching vacancies was higher for foreign languages (8 percent) than for computer science (3 percent), music or art (2 percent), physical sciences (2 percent), English/language arts (1 percent), biology or life sciences (1 percent), or general elementary (less than 1 percent), but not measurably different from the percentages that could not fill vacancies for vocational or technical education, ESL, special education, or mathematics.

The percentage of public schools reporting that it was "very difficult" to fill ESL teaching vacancies was higher in rural areas than in cities (37 vs. 24 percent). The percentage of public schools reporting that they could not fill these vacancies in rural areas was higher than in suburban areas (5 vs. 1 percent).

The percentage of public schools reporting that it was "very difficult" to fill foreign language teaching vacancies was higher in rural areas than in suburban areas (35 vs. 27 percent). The percentage of public schools that could not fill their foreign language vacancies was higher in rural areas than in suburbs and towns (8 vs. 2 percent for both).

In comparison with public schools in cities, a lower percentage of rural public schools reported that it was "very difficult" to fill vacancies in biology or life sciences (17 vs. 24 percent) while a higher percentage of rural public schools reported this level of difficulty filling vacancies in music or art (21 vs. 13 percent). A greater percentage of rural public schools reported that it was "very difficult" to fill vacancies in English/language arts (11 percent) than the percentages of town and suburban public schools (6 and 5 percent, respectively). The percentage of rural public schools reporting this level of difficulty in filling social studies vacancies (5 percent) was also greater than the percentage of suburban public schools (1 percent).

Apart from the previously mentioned differences in the foreign language and ESL fields, the percentage of public schools in rural areas that reported that they could not fill teaching vacancies in particular fields was not measurably different from the percentages in other locales.

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1 The apparent differences between these fields (ESL and foreign languages) and the field of physical science (27 percent reporting "very difficult") were not statistically significant due to large standard errors.

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