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Retaining Rural Science & Math Teachers

Professor pointing at college student with hand raised in classroom. Student raising a hand with a question for the teacher. Lecturer teaching in class while girl have a question to do during a math lesson.
Cultivating a high-quality science and math teacher workforce in rural Illinois
  • Client
    National Science Foundation
  • Dates
    2024 – 2027


Teacher shortages are endemic in many rural schools.

Rural school districts experience teacher shortages that exceed the national average, deeply impacting student learning. Secondary science and math classrooms have the most serious issues with unfilled or underfilled positions compared with other subject areas (Ingersoll & Tran, 2023). These shortages can lead to course cancelations or the recruitment of non-licensed teachers for math and science. Identifying and implementing practices that help retain high-quality teachers is vital to reversing that trend. However, most research addressing teacher retention focuses on urban settings. The National Science Foundation (NSF) seeks to understand how rural districts and school leaders can create positive working conditions and community connections to retain science and math teachers (SMTs) in high-needs rural school districts in Illinois. 


NORC and partners will identify which district- and school-level approaches and community-level characteristics promote SMT retention in rural Illinois. 

NORC and its partner, the Illinois Workforce & Education Research Collaborative (IWERC), received a grant from the NSF (Award #2344942) to examine factors and working conditions that encourage rural teachers to remain in their schools. Together, they will conduct a mixed-methods study that examines:

  • What organizational and community characteristics are associated with rural SMT retention and effectiveness; and 

  • What school and district policies, strategies, and practices contribute to rural SMT retention and effectiveness.

The quantitative components of our work will include a landscape analysis of high-needs rural districts using administrative data at the school and district levels and a web-based survey of all middle and high school SMTs in rural high-needs districts in Illinois. 

The qualitative component will be a case study that includes five high-needs rural districts with positive trends in teacher retention to better understand variations in geographic and district/school community contexts. 


Our study findings will help address rural teacher shortages by sharing effective approaches for retaining SMTs.

This study will identify factors that can be modified to positively impact rural SMT retention, providing a “blueprint” for other high-needs rural districts across the state of Illinois and nationally. 

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