Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: The Effect of Local Economic Conditions on Rural School Staffing

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 1:30 PM
Flamingo (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Sarah Cannon, University of Michigan
Rural communities often have difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers. Administrators from rural schools are more likely than average to report that they have difficulty filling vacancies, leading to concern about whether the teachers hired for those positions are the best teachers for the job. Incentive programs have been designed by the federal government, as well as some state governments, to attract teachers to rural communities. To better understand the effect of these programs it is useful to understand how other changes within these communities affect the local teacher labor market. In this study, I use seven rounds of data from the Schools and Staffing Survey to analyze how changes in local economic conditions affect the staffing of rural schools. I examine characteristics that a teacher brings to the job—including academic background, experience, and level of certification—as well as characteristics of the match between the teacher and the position—such as out-of-field teaching and having multiple teaching assignments.

A teacher’s decision to work in a community may be influenced by changes in local economic conditions through a variety of factors. These factors could include affecting funding for schools, changing the availability of other amenities that attract teachers to the community, or providing job opportunities for both teachers and their partners.

I use instrumental variable regressions to isolate the change in local economic conditions due to changes in the price of national commodities. I study teachers from farming-dependent communities across seven rounds of data from the Schools and Staffing Survey that begin with the 1988/89 school year and end with the 2011/12 school year. During this period the most dramatic change in commodity prices occurred for corn, driven in part by the federal policy mandating biofuel production. In order to ensure that the change in local economic conditions is due only to changes in the value of the crop, I use the community’s crop production from the 1980s to estimate the change in the value of the local agriculture bundle using annual commodity prices.

Preliminary results find that changes in local economic conditions affect school staffing both through changes in teachers’ resume characteristics and through changes in teaching assignments. Administrators hire teachers with stronger resume credentials when the price of the agriculture bundle is higher, with the largest effects showing an improvement in the selectivity of the undergraduate institution. Additionally, evidence suggests that administrators expand hard-to-staff subject areas when the price of the agriculture bundle is higher. During these periods, hard-to-staff subject areas also have increases in the share of new teachers and in the share of teachers holding temporary, emergency, or alternative certification. Finally, an increase in the price of the agriculture bundle leads to a decrease in the rate of new teachers with multiple teaching assignments. Having multiple assignments adds difficulty to a teaching placement, so this change may reflect administrators’ efforts to alleviate challenges early in a teacher’s career.