Richard Ingersoll reveals surprising causes of rural teacher shortage

November 27, 2023

In a revealing study published in Kappan magazine, Richard M. Ingersoll, a professor in Penn GSE's Policy, Organizations, Leadership, and Systems Division, with his colleague Henry Tran from the University of South Carolina, has brought new insights into the teacher shortage crisis in rural schools across the United States. Contradicting common beliefs, their research points to high teacher turnover driven by job dissatisfaction as the primary issue, rather than a mere lack of new teachers entering the field.

Ingersoll’s study, utilizing extensive data from the U.S. Department of Education, uncovers that rural teachers are leaving their jobs for reasons beyond the commonly cited salary issues. Key factors of discontent include limited classroom autonomy and a feeling of being sidelined in school decision-making processes. 

This revelation is particularly striking as it shifts attention from urban to rural educational challenges, which have historically received less focus. The study contradicts the expected narrative — the problem in rural schools is not an aging teacher workforce or growing student populations, but rather a "revolving door" of teachers seeking opportunities elsewhere.

This research has profound implications for policy and school management. Ingersoll suggests a holistic approach addressing both recruitment and retention of teachers. He proposes that improving working conditions and granting more autonomy to teachers in rural schools could be more effective than increasing salaries or reducing class sizes.

Read more at Phi Delta Kappan.