How do we entice great teachers to move to remote rural schools?

How do we get great teachers to move to rural areas? (Johnny Crawford,

How do we get great teachers to move to rural areas? (Johnny Crawford,

In the Sunday paper today, the AJC takes a look at rural schools in a well researched package

AJC reporter Jaime Sarrio spent time in Wilcox County and other rural school districts interviewing educators, officials and parents. She also extensively researched the subject, reviewing studies by state government and nonprofit experts. AJC data specialist Kelly Guckian gathered extensive data on test scores, remedial education and other measures of college readiness, then analyzed thousands of records to demonstrate the disparity between rural and non-rural schools. Sarrio used that analysis in reporting this story.

Among their discoveries:  In 2010, 23 percent of Georgia’s rural students needed remedial courses, compared to 19.9 percent of non-rural students. Those figures were more pronounced in extremely rural districts, where 30 percent needed remedial courses compared to 15.8 percent in large suburban districts. On SAT exams this year, rural students scored about 50 points lower than their peers in non-rural districts, according to an AJC analysis. This gap was wider between extremely rural districts, where the average score was 1,369, and large suburban areas, 1,486.

A few years ago, I spent two weeks visiting rural districts. I met a lot of dedicated people. I also interviewed reform-minded school chiefs who were encountering resistance to their efforts to shake up the status quo. In some districts, I saw two or even three generations of families employed in the schools. That is not surprising when the district is one of the county’s biggest employers.

A stubborn challenge is recruiting good teachers in rural areas with few of the amenities that appeal to 28-year-olds. I have interviewed national researchers on the question of luring good teachers to rural districts. One strategy they recommended was helping districts grow their own workforces by identifying potential candidates who lived or grew up in the local community.

Those mature adults were not shocked by the conditions of the school or the circumstances of their students’ homes, so they brought neither pity nor fear with them into the classroom.

I know that Georgia lawmakers contend that charter schools will bring more options to rural schools, but I spoke to an official with a for-profit charter management firm who said it was unlikely his company would look beyond metro areas, in part because of the hurdles that all schools face in hiring teachers in remote areas. He was being funny, but I understood his point when he said, “Twenty-somethings have to be within 10 minutes of a Starbucks at all times.”

Take a look at this piece.

Here is an excerpt.

Dixie Edalgo and Allyson Reyer both graduated first in their class in Georgia public schools. Both now attend in-state public colleges.

But for these valedictorians, the road to college was dramatically different.

Reyer, 18, graduated from Sprayberry High in Cobb County with a 4.578 grade point average and 39 hours of college credit through advanced placement courses. In her first year at the University of Georgia, she’s already a sophomore.

Edalgo, 19, graduated from Wilcox High in the South Georgia town of Rochelle, where budget cuts forced a four-day week, advanced placement courses are not offered and an estimated two-thirds of students don’t have Internet access at home. She graduated with a 4.0 but seldom had homework, and is now struggling with math as a freshman at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, where a 2.0 — a low C average — is required for entry.

The paths of these top students illustrate the uneven preparation for college provided by Georgia schools. The challenges of rural districts have been a long-standing concern, but an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis focused on college readiness. It found that rural students are more likely to need remedial help in college and to score lower on the SAT, a predictor of college success.

Reyer’s Sprayberry is an academically average suburban high school with abundant resources, while Edalgo’s Wilcox is typical of schools, often in rural areas, where students have less access to rigorous academic tracks considered good preparation for college.

“Sometimes I wonder to myself how I would have done at a school with people like that, ” Edalgo said of valedictorians from schools like Sprayberry. “I would have had to push myself harder.”

Most agree that money and location play a role in the disparities between Georgia schools. The AJC analysis specifically shows:

About 5 percent of students took advanced placement exams in extremely rural areas, compared to more than 20 percent in large suburban districts.

Rural districts spend about $400 less than others per student. Spending doesn’t guarantee success, but rural superintendents say they can’t afford educational extras that are standard in suburban schools.

Teachers don’t have the same opportunities for training and development. Those in smaller, poorer districts often face more demands and professional isolation, a barrier to improvement.

College readiness is gaining fresh attention in part because of new policies making it harder for students to play catch-up after high school. Starting this past fall, students who need too much remedial help in reading, writing or math are not allowed to attend schools in the University System of Georgia. Students who need extensive remedial lessons are less likely to earn a degree.

Before the change, the state spent $55 million a year on remedial education.

Georgia has the nation’s third-largest rural enrollment and it’s among the poorest performing, according to the Rural School and Community Trust, a Washington nonprofit. While a few rural districts perform well, the study found overall Georgia’s rural students are among the lowest scorers on national exams and their graduation rate is the nation’s second-lowest, behind Louisiana.

The problem has statewide implications. Projections show about 60 percent of jobs by 2020 will require some education beyond high school. Now, 42 percent of Georgia’s adults have a college degree or certificate.

Taxpayer dollars from wealthier counties like Cobb are already used to subsidize rural districts with sparse local tax bases in an effort to even out inequities.

“The fabric of metro Atlanta’s economy is tightly interwoven with the fabric of rural Georgia’s economy, ” said Jeff Humphreys, director of the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth. “If a thread comes loose in one corner of rural Georgia, it will eventually unravel in metro Atlanta.”

The report includes a comparison on rural and non-rural schools. Among the comparisons:

Students from rural public school systems in the state averaged lower scores on the SAT test and tended to require more remedial coursework in college. The graduation rates in rural counties were higher than those in urban areas, but varied greatly from district to district.

Rural vs. Non-rural: How they compare by the numbers:

Average pupil spending:  Rural: $8,308, Non-rural $8,728

Receiving free or reduced lunch:  Rural 56.9%, Non-rural 57.7%

Taking advance placement tests:  Rural 10.0% , Non-rural 17.2%

Graduation rate:  Rural 72.6%, Non-Rural 67.0%

Average SAT score: Rural 1403, Non-Rural 1450

Needing college remedial courses: Rural 23.1%, Non-rural 19.9%

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

121 comments Add your comment

What's Best for Kids?

November 18th, 2012
9:59 am

Start with relocation allowance.


November 18th, 2012
10:08 am

And complete forgiveness of all student loans without jumping through so many administrative hoops

mountain man

November 18th, 2012
10:11 am

“She graduated with a 4.0 but seldom had homework, and is now struggling with math as a freshman”

There’s your answer to the homework post.


November 18th, 2012
10:12 am

Your stats are skewed — looks like you are focusing on the system as rural/non-rural. Remember the red and blue state maps — those gross generalizations covered the true extent of the divide — you gotta drill further down — compare district to district — then you see that income is the major difference. There are poor nonrural schools that underperform compared to wealthier rural schools.

William Casey

November 18th, 2012
10:23 am

The short answer is “you don’t” unless you spend significant money, which is unlikely.

Beverly Fraud

November 18th, 2012
10:27 am

So here’s what we are really asking:

How can we entice great drivers to drive Yugos on the Formula One circuit, so they can compete with Ferrari?

Sorry “fixing the teacher” might improve things, but it doesn’t fix the problem anymore than getting Michael Schumacher to drive a Yugo is going to suddenly make it a Formula One race car.


November 18th, 2012
10:27 am

Parents control/ decide where their children will be educated. Unless even more money is sent from suburban areas to rural areas, the rural areas will lag in scholastic statistics just like urban areas.

The parents who live in suburban areas do so mostly because the schools and better. They are willing to sacrifice via longer work commutes or country rural living.

Those comparative statistics at the end of the blog above don’t look that glaringly different, especially if the suburban portion were to be redacted from the “Non-rural”. We are not socialistic or communistic, so differences are going to be natural allowing parents to make choices for themselves and their children. Taxpayers are already subsidizing (both at the state and federal tax levels) poorer area schools, but under our current system they are not forced to be equal.


November 18th, 2012
10:28 am

Rewrite HB280…. Math and science teachers are great, but we have greater need in rural Georgia for great teachers in all areas.

drew (former teacher)

November 18th, 2012
10:29 am

The better question is “WHY should we entice teachers to move to rural areas?” To lower the graduation rate?

Just looking at the numbers, I don’t see any great disparity between rural and non-rural. But wait…what if we cherry-pick a couple of valedictorians to make a case. If ONE rural valedictorian struggled while ONE non-rural valedictorian succeeded, there MUST BE A DISPARITY! Now we have a story!

Jeeeezzzz…I guess with all the time and effort the AJC and Ms. Sarrio spent collecting this data, it would be a shame to call it what it is…a non-story.

Maureen Downey

November 18th, 2012
10:34 am

@jd, How many wealthy rural districts are there in Georgia? While poverty may be more extreme in some, it appears from the Census data that most rural districts in this state — those that are not in proximity to metro job centers — are poor.


November 18th, 2012
10:51 am

How do we entice great teachers to move to rural schools? The same way we entice doctors to move their practice to rural areas.

In others words, we don’t, and we won’t.

mountain man

November 18th, 2012
10:52 am

I can pretty much guarantee you that if you sent the rural counties that extra $400 per student (5% by the way), that the results would still be the same. Money is not the cause. Look at APS spending, but yet they are on the bottom of the barrel. It is the quality of the student, and the parents, first and foremost.

mountain man

November 18th, 2012
10:54 am

The answer is to make them home-grown, of course!

But your part about enticing “great teachers” falls into the trap that the current opponents of public schools use – that the quality of the teachers is the only driving mechanism. And then you repeat the liberal mantra – “It is only about the money – give us enough and we will succeed. Both of these are wrong.

Geogia and education not compatible

November 18th, 2012
10:58 am

Maureen, this is the point that I have been reiterating all along. A friend of mine had a niece in Savannah who was the valedictorian but has had to take remedial classes. This was the exact same situation as Dixie Edalgo. The rural districts are suffering when they don’t have the local tax base to sustain their public school system. Our state elected officials are the problem.

Those prized SAT/ACT scores (which we vent or praise on this very blog) are compiled using 70% of graduating seniors. This 70% includes students who didn’t get homework, didn’t have dual enrollment or have AP opportunities to further their knowledge base.

There exists an inequity in education for Georgia students. But now that we must fund two school systems, Charter public schools and regular public schools, perhaps our prayers may be answered.

Bottom line, we are going to pay more tax dollars regardless, it’s going to be either more jails/police or more teachers/schools/instructional improvement.

We need better educated Georgians.

Georgia and education not compatible

November 18th, 2012
10:59 am

Sorry spelled my name wrong I meant “Georgia and education not compatible”

Atlanta Mom

November 18th, 2012
11:03 am

Drew, if you read the entire story in the AJC, you might have a better understanding of the disparity. Two thirds of the students in Wilcox county don’t have internet access (metro kids would have no idea how to research anything without the internet–but let’s not go there). Georgia is using the Core Curriculum this year. One Engish teacher teaches all four grades in HS, so he must revise all his classes this year. Drowning is the word I believe he used, trying to make sure he doesn’t miss anything in the new order of things. There is clearly a discrepancy in the education offered in metro and rurual school systems.


November 18th, 2012
11:25 am

I had the opportunity to make a site visit to THE middle school in Screven County. For those who don’t know, Screven County is separated by one county to the north from Richmond (Augusta) and one county to the south from Chatham (Savanah). We learned that students have to “field trip” out of the county to experience using an escalator, and the only elevator is in the bank in Sylvania, the county seat. Good teachers in an environment that by nature handicaps the students.


November 18th, 2012
11:28 am

Equality of results? Where have I seen that before? Nevergonnahappen.

For decades, there has been a “brain drain” from the rural areas. Valedictorian from Podunk, Ga goes off to the University, meets the love of his/her life, marries, and settles in an area in which they both can make the best use of their education. Simply put, they are not coming back to an area with no industry and no well paying jobs.

My two daughters are prime examples of that dynamic.

$400 and an imported teacher is not going to change that.


November 18th, 2012
11:28 am

@Indigo: “How do we entice great teachers to move to rural schools? The same way we entice doctors to move their practice to rural areas. In others words, we don’t, and we won’t.”

I live in a rural area. The doctors who move their practice here fall into two groups: those who grew up in the area and those who are attracted to the income-tax break they receive for setting up a rural practice. We have quite a few specialists..cardiac, cancer, etc. who set up shop once a week or a couple of times a month. I’m not sure if this allows them to claim the tax break.

Enticing teachers to a rural district…especially a struggling district…will require a gift basket filled with incentives. Why?

Because while an individual teacher may be willing to work in a low-performing school, he/she is not willing to place their own children in a low-performing school.

Who can blame them?

bootney farnsworth

November 18th, 2012
11:42 am

it actually should be very easy, but we get in our own way with petty administrative crap.

-better quality of life
-better quality of students
-employment assistance for spouses
-relocation assistance
-competitive salary
-housing stipend if possible.

if you can focus on the quality of life outside of the hell hole known as metro Atlanta, offer competitive pay, and the promise of less administrative crap, it should be easy

bootney farnsworth

November 18th, 2012
11:44 am

exemption from Ga. taxes for 5 years might be a good start.

bootney farnsworth

November 18th, 2012
11:47 am

Lee is dead on.
you want better teachers to places like Sparta, Handcock, Turner, ect?
industry first. if you can employ them, teachers will follow

NW GA Math/Science Teacher

November 18th, 2012
12:04 pm

You should further consider what happens to them when you do attract them out here. I moved out of Alpharetta six years ago – back home to the sticks from whence I once emerged. I’m still looking for a rural school out here that’s interested in rigorous education – I do know of a few, but they don’t have the openings yet. For the schools that I’ve poured heart and soul into so far – well, they just aren’t interested. “Bubba don’t need THAT much book learnin’!” “You’re rocking the boat too much.” And, from a principal – now superintendent: “Your standards are too high for this school. These kids aren’t going to college.”


November 18th, 2012
12:20 pm

How do you entice an established engineer to a rural location?
How do you entice an established doctor to a rural hospital?
How do you entice an established assembly line worker to a rural location?
Ad infinitum…

You pay them more than they are currently making.
Isn’t that basic economics 101?

Thomas Ray

November 18th, 2012
12:48 pm

Unfortunately, having a great teacher in a rural Georgia school is not the only issue impacting our kids’ ability to learn.

In 2001, Ohio University completed a 5-state study – and yes – GA was one of the 5. I know how cranky I can get on my commute to work but I’m an adult and can adjust. I can’t imagine how our kids can be physically or intellectually prepared to learn – after a 1 hour + morning School Bus ride.

In addition, with budget cuts and the fear that some school bus drivers have that they may lose their jobs if they report bus safety or maintenance issues (per AJC articles RE: Cobb County school bus drivers), bus break downs are happening more often than any of us know.

Do you know when your child’s school bus was inspected last? If you don’t, find out.

It took me almost 6 months to get Morgan County Schools (a rural system) to train some school employees on how to ID and report suspected Child Abuse. Yes, 6 months…for training that is State-mandated for school system employees…and now…mandated for school volunteers.

Too bad they fired a dedicated school bus driver – just after she reported suspected Child Abuse to her Supervisor. She had never received the State Mandated Reporter training but still reported anyway. Soon after she was terminated, a 911 call was made from the child’s home.

If rural school Administrationators can’t train their own employees on a 1-hour, STATE-MANDATED training – I’m not sure the best Teacher available can make a difference. A GREAT Teacher can’t stay great – if the school system’s foundation is not solid enough to support her/him.

If interested, “The Rural School Bus Ride” study can be found @ the link below. Take some time to review the impact to minority children in these rural towns.–studies.html

Twitter: @ThomasConcerned


November 18th, 2012
1:19 pm

Give up my job teaching for crappy pay in metro Atlanta and move to Podunkville, GA for even crappier pay and no city center….no thank you.

seen it all

November 18th, 2012
1:38 pm

You know what will entice people to teach in rural areas? JOBS. The base pay for ALL teachers in the state of Georgia is the same. The local supplement is different among systems. But I think that the biggest determining factor in employment among regions is the availability of jobs. Urban and suburban school systems tend to have a higher number of vacancies, thus more openings. It is hard to find a job in a rural school system. In addition you have the “good ole boy/girl” network closing the door to finding a job in these areas. With today’s economy and the number of out of work teachers, I am sure you could fill any openings that exist in any “rural” school in Georgia. You have teachers going overseas just to get a job.

Another Prof

November 18th, 2012
1:43 pm

It is NOT all about the teachers! This is a truth regarding K-12 AND post-secondary. A truly wonderful teacher will be hamstrung by a provincial school board and superintendent. When a great high school teacher gets into trouble for teaching evolutionary theory in science class, the problem isn’t the teachers or the students. It’s the parents (who elect the school board that hires the superintendent)!

What's Best for Kids?

November 18th, 2012
1:45 pm

I would move in a minute if I could sellmy house.
I would love to raise my kids in a more rural setting; too bad my house won’t sell.
If I were offered a way to relocate without losing money in the process, I would be o.u.t. of the metro area.

Charter Here we Come

November 18th, 2012
2:10 pm

No problem charter schools will fix everything. Remember we voted a few weeks ago and now the Governors cronies will make everything right.

Beverly Fraud

November 18th, 2012
2:13 pm

It is NOT all about the teachers!

You’re wrong @anotherprof. You put a great driver like Michael Schumacher in a Yugo, he’ll make it go just as fast as a Ferrari.

What this state needs to do is offer Michelle Rhee ten million dollars to train teachers to be great. Just because no documentation exists to verify her claims about the progress her students made, doesn’t mean they gains weren’t real.

Long Time Teacher

November 18th, 2012
3:05 pm

All the great teachers are leaving the profession. Either retiring or just walking out the door. Teaching in Georgia is not enticing.


November 18th, 2012
3:10 pm

I would go to a rural school in a heart beat if I could be sure I would have a job starting year 2. Now with all the cuts it is to scary to leave a school where you know you will have a job the next year to a school where maybe you would have a job for year 2. Working in a rural school after years of inner city would have to be a easy road.


November 18th, 2012
3:19 pm

I think the question will soon become- How do you entice great teachers to any school?
The profession is becoming so dreadful with hours of paperwork, repetitive documentation, endless testing, incompetent administrators, undisciplined students, unreasonable parents, poor curriculum implementation procedures, furloughs, absence of pay raise in years (for me it has been at least 8 years!) and the constantly changing criteria on teacher evaluation procedures. In addition, teachers have become solely “accountable” for everything in education despite that the fact that we have no voice in the field of education. Teachers are simply told how, what and when to their jobs (of course when it fails, we need to more rules and regulations of those teachers!). Finally, the continuance of people (legislators, superintendents, administrators, department of education, society, etc.) that ignore the effects of poverty, domestic abuse, lack of food, lack of sleep, transiency, drug abuse and other societal ills, thus, expecting teachers through the use of test scores and pay for performance to solve these “ills” is illogical. So the problem will very soon become why would a great teacher (whom has other career options) subject themselves to such absurd profession?


November 18th, 2012
3:20 pm

As a (former) teacher in a rural system, but with MUCH more rural systems all around I can tell you there are lots of impediments.

- Having paid into Social Security all my life, I’ll be darned if I would give it up to work in a system that isn’t participating in Social Security
- A number of small systems fire, er don’t renew the contracts, before their fourth contract so they aren’t tenured and the system thus has few high-priced experienced teachers
- And yes Virginia, there’s a lot of “That ain’t the way we do it around here” too.

All of that AND you’re asking them to move to the sticks.

Probably the best idea to help is to identify college prospects, where ever they are from, and pay their college tuition in exchange for a certain number of years under contract. Also, offering pay to college students doing their student teaching in a system might entice them to stay after they are certified.


November 18th, 2012
3:21 pm

@Long Time Teacher-
(To complete your sentence) … at all. The only teachers sticking around are maybe some of those in areas a bit more supportive of education. To commit to education, is committing to bad health due to stress and low income. This concern is very similar to the urban school concern. Teach fo America, etc. was the answer to this but those teachers leave as soon as they fulfill their time, paying off debt or attending grad school while teaching. This will also not happen because no money will be placed there, or support.

English Teacher

November 18th, 2012
3:29 pm

I spent my first year teaching in the tiny town of Stem, NC because it was the only school hiring. However, there were no jobs nearby for my husband, so when he finished grad school, we left. I was sad to go, and now the I teach in the suburbs, I honestly miss my rural students. They were much more pleasant and appreciative.


November 18th, 2012
3:30 pm

@Teacher2—you’ve got it right.


November 18th, 2012
3:42 pm

I am so exhausted from jumping through certification hoops, which includes settling for substitute teaching to meet the experience requirement for certification in my state rather than an assistant teaching position, which pays more but does not count. Unfortunately, when looking for a teaching job, schools want you to have already been a classroom teacher in your certification area before they hire you. So, neither of those experiences would help anyway. If you are willing to take a good teacher without the prior teacher title, then I am sure you can find many folks who would be willing to work in the sticks. If you are willing to hire a teacher to teach two grades instead of four, that would help, too. Four grade levels can be daunting when you are talking about a core course. Two is more the norm.


November 18th, 2012
3:44 pm

More good teachers will be attracted to Georgia’s hinterlands when more people living there are not intolerant, prejudiced, and resentful of higher learning. I know some do not fit this description but way too many do. Conservative politics dumbs-down people and condones ignorance. Anti-evolution climate deniers and worse. For an educated person what’s to like among these rustics?


November 18th, 2012
3:48 pm

Another Prof – 1:43 (It’s the parents who elect the school board)

This is precisely why Georgia Republican politicians were so anxious to get that charter school ammendment passed. Now, they can pander to their base, fundamentalist Christians, and let them elect school boards who will demand teachers push creationism, a 6,000 years old earth, the unerring truth of The New Testament, science is bad, etc. etc. etc.

jake brake

November 18th, 2012
4:30 pm

Have no fear Charter will put GA schools on top.


November 18th, 2012
5:14 pm

They have teachers it is not the in south Georgia it is simply South Georgia country dumb

Ron F.

November 18th, 2012
5:22 pm

I’m with What’s best: And to that end I’m planning to rent my house if need be and move further out. The supposed “nice” suburban district where I live has all manner of management issues, so I chose to teach one county down in a more rural setting, with one middle and one high school in the system. The challenge we face is the low income and education level of the families we serve. But make no mistake, we’re working far harder than the suburban schools who seem to always have enough kids above passing to make their numbers work. Scores come down to a handful of kids who we all know and can help in many cases. We can’t make up for what they lack at home, but if they’re interested in college, we’ll get them there, even if they have to take a few remedial courses. That’s nothing when often they are the first in their family to even go to college.

You want better teachers in the rural districts, then you have to pay them more to go there and make sure the schools have the technology and ability to offer advanced courses the kids need. The austerity cuts have hit really hard in the rural counties.


November 18th, 2012
6:09 pm

Who in the HELL would want to live in rural Georgia??

Hillbilly D

November 18th, 2012
6:15 pm

You put a great driver like Michael Schumacher in a Yugo, he’ll make it go just as fast as a Ferrari.

Never spent any time around race tracks, I take it. Even the greatest race driver is limited by his equipment.

To the topic at hand, I think the best situation is to try to get some of the local kids to go into teaching. They’re more likely to care about their community and stick with it.

Old timer

November 18th, 2012
6:16 pm

I taught a few years in a very rural TN high school. I LOVED it after 32 years in metro Atlanta. The kids were wonderful and parents supportive and it was mostly low income and Hispanics. They all wanted more for their kids. It would certainly be a good community to raise children. They all really took care of each other in bad times. But, that being said…..the school system was a friends and family employer. If someone well known has a child who graduates as a teacher….someone else will not have tenure….

joe taxpayer

November 18th, 2012
6:18 pm

What austerity cuts. We spend more every year on education. If there is any cuts which I doubt is it the Democrats in Washington or the Republicans in the state house. None. Get rid of all of the educationcrats and bureaucrats.

Old timer

November 18th, 2012
6:18 pm

And many here are correct…best source of teachers are local folks who come back home .


November 18th, 2012
6:22 pm

@hillbilly. That may be the root of the problem. the local kids coming back to teach could be the cause of three generations teaching in the system. The rural schools become mired in mediocrity, unable to see outside the small community. Couple that with disfunctional boards and vocation requirements for a teaching degree and you have the recipe for the status quo to remain entrenched. Much to the detriment of Georgia’s children.