The struggle to educate students in rural America

6 Jul

Moi has posted several articles about the struggle to provide children in rural America a quality education. In Rural schools, moi said:
A significant number of children attend rural schools. According to The Rural Assistance Center, the definition of a rural school is:

Question: What is the definition of a rural and/or small school?
Answer: According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the definition of rural schools was revised in 2006 after working with the Census Bureau to create a new locale classification system to capitalize on improved geocoding technology and the 2000 Office of Management and Budget definitions of metro areas that rely less on population size and county boundaries than proximity of an address to an urbanized area. Small schools do not necessarily mean rural, and rural does not mean small. A small school could be an urban school with a decreasing population. Rural schools can be large due to the center school concept where students are bused in to one school to save on costs. Some schools are considered small when compared to the mega-schools of several thousand that are common in some districts. A small school could be one designed to accommodate a specific population of students and their unique needs or a private school. Rural and/or small schools have similar needs and concerns.
According to The Condition of Education in Rural Schools (U.S. Department of Education, 1994), ‘few issues bedevil analysts and planners concerned with rural education more than the question of what actually constitutes “rural”.’ In the Federal Register published December 27, 2000, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced the Standards for Defining Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas. These new standards replace and supersede the 1990 standards for defining Metropolitan Areas. OMB announced definitions of areas based on the new standards and Census 2000 data in June 2003. The lack of a clear, accepted definition of “rural” has impeded research in the field of rural education. When defining the term rural, population and remoteness are important considerations as these factors influence school organization, availability of resources, and economic and social conditions.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the definition of “small rural schools” are those schools eligible to participate in the Small Rural School Achievement (SRSA) program. SRSA includes districts with average daily attendance of fewer than 600 students, or districts in which all schools are located in counties with a population density of fewer than 10 persons per square mile, AND all schools served by the districts are located in a rural area with a school locale code of 7 or 8.

Rural schools face unique challenges.
Sarah Carr of the Hechinger Report writes in the Time article, Plight of Rural Schools Laid Bare in Dying Delta Town:

One promising young teacher decided she wanted to start a family outside of the Mississippi Delta. A second teacher left abruptly in the middle of the first semester with little explanation. A third took one spin through town before the school year started and never came back.
Schools across the country struggle to attract and keep good teachers. In this fading Mississippi Delta town of 1,200, a place with a storied history and a slender chance of economic revival, it’s an epic quest. Some residents have even allegedly set their own homes on fire, hoping the insurance money will enable them to start over elsewhere.
“Experienced teachers who don’t live here say they have very little reason to come,” said Pauline Rhodes, the superintendent of Coahoma County School District, which includes Friars Point Elementary, a school of about 150 students–down from 200 two years ago–and the town’s only elementary school. “If you are a really good applicant, you can select what district you go to.”
All of the school’s students come from families living below the poverty level; 97% are African-American. Although the school, which runs from kindergarten through sixth grade, has made some academic gains, in 2011-12 less than half of the students scored proficient on the state’s standardized tests, according to figures from the Mississippi Department of Education. In a typical year, the school has to replace at least a third of its teachers; some years, it’s as many as half, said Sherry Coleman, the school’s hard-working principal. She will have to fill at least five of 13 teaching positions for the 2013-14 school year, and possibly more if some teachers make last-minute decisions to leave over the summer.
There are more rural schools in America than city or suburban ones: During the 2011-12 school year, the U.S. Department of Education reported 33,000 schools in rural locations, 28,000 in suburbs, and 27,000 in cities. But the current approach to school reform in America, which centers on getting the best teacher in front of each classroom, and then holding them accountable for student results, often neglects rural schools’ unique needs. It is rooted in corporate principles of competition and change: If a teacher fails to get the job done, replace him; if a school fails to meet its bottom line (defined by test scores), close it.
As Friars Point shows, this strategy, designed largely with struggling urban school districts in mind, breaks down in impoverished small towns. These are places with little civic or economic infrastructure and a shortage of educated professionals. There’s often no qualified teacher available to take the place of a colleague who does not make the cut, no charter school operator poised to swoop in and take the reins of a “failing” school, and little left to keep the community alive if the school closes outright….

In Rural education: Dwindling after-school options, moi wrote:
Diette Courrégé writes in Education Week about the challenges rural educators face in the article, Rural After-School Efforts Must Stretch to Serve:

For after-school providers in rural communities, much like their urban counterparts, the economy is an ongoing challenge to their ability to provide high-quality programming to enough students, said Ms. Rinehart, citing recent studies.
“The indication is that rural communities seem to be right in line with the overall after-school picture, which is not optimistic,” she said.
A 2011 Harvard Family Research Project report found that out-of-school-time programs in rural areas had positive effects on students, but they face problems that urban and suburban programs did not.
The report, “Out-of-School Time Programs in Rural Areas,” highlighted high family poverty, low funding, lack of transportation, and a shortage of qualified workers as some of the biggest issues facing rural communities.
On funding, rural areas generally have smaller populations that limit financial resources. They receive less federal, state, and local money for after-school services compared with urban and suburban areas, according to the study.
Another report, “Uncertain Times 2012,” released this year by the Afterschool Alliance, found that nearly four out of 10 programs reported that their budgets were worse today than at the height of the recession in 2008.
That lack of money is huge for Sherry Comer, who has directed an after-school program in Camdenton, Mo., for 14 years. Her program was one of the original recipients of the federal 21st Century Community Learning Center grants, and it’s relied on a combination of sources, such as federal Title I and economic-stimulus money, to keep afloat since then….
Out-of-School Enrichment
Many rural communities rely on 21st Century Community Learning Center grants to serve their students. The program offers funding for centers that provide academic-enrichment opportunities during nonschool hours for children, especially those who are considered poor and attend low-performing schools.
The $1.2 billion program is formula-based and allows states to decide how to distribute the money. There’s no mandate for a rural set-aside, although some states award grant applicants more priority points if they are rural.
An estimated 8.5 million children are in after-school programs nationwide, and more than 1.5 million are in those funded by that pot of federal money, according to the Afterschool Alliance.
Sylvia Lyles, the director for academic improvement and teacher-quality programs in the U.S. Department of Education’s office of elementary and secondary education, which oversees the 21st Century grants, has rural areas on her agenda because they face so many difficulties. She has worked closely with some states on solutions…
In some communities, the lack of money can lead to a lack of access, which is troubling for rural after-school advocates. One national study found that 57 percent of rural parents who said their children didn’t participate in after-school programs cited the unavailability of such programs, compared with 37 percent of suburban parents and 36 percent of urban parents…
The isolation of rural communities can make transportation to and from out-of-school programs a costly and time-intensive prospect. Rural areas typically don’t have the public-transportation systems available in more-populated areas.
“It’s harder to keep the kids here and to get them home,” said Ms. Comer, the Missouri after-school provider. “Transportation is a huge barrier.”
Ms. Comer spends roughly 15 percent of her program’s budget on transportation, but that’s still not enough to be able to deliver students to their front doors. The program trimmed costs by creating drop-off points, and those work well until later in a given month, when parents run low on money, she said. When parents can’t afford the gas to get to work, much less pick up their child from a drop-off point, the child can’t stay after school, she said.
Finding the staff needed to run out-of-school programs can also be difficult. A smaller workforce, low education levels, and high poverty rates make it tough to recruit and retain employees.
In Wyoming, it’s hard to find employees who are willing to come in and work for two hours in the middle of the afternoon with no benefits, Ms. Barton of Lights on in Lander said.
Finding Success
It’s also hard to find money or time to offer additional training, and there’s no money set aside to provide for cost-of-living adjustments or raises, which Ms. Barton called a flaw in the federal 21st Century grant program.
“How do you run these programs effectively and meet the requirements that are becoming much more demanding in terms of expectations?” she said.

Here is the press release from Harvard:

Volume 6, March 2011
Research Update 6: Out-Of-School Time Programs In Rural Areas
Erin Harris, Helen Malone, Tai Sunnanon
Download a PDF of this publication (111 kb) | View all publications in this series

Article Information
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• Full Text (PDF: 111 kb)
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Inside this Research Update: The benefits, challenges, and successful strategies of OST programs in rural areas.
Out-of-school time (OST) programming can be a crucial asset to families in rural areas where resources to support children’s learning and development are often insufficient to meet the community’s needs. OST programs that offer youth in rural communities a safe and supportive adult-supervised environment—along with various growth-enhancing opportunities—can promote academic, personal, social, and recreational development. However, programs located in rural areas face a number of challenges in implementation and sustainability. This Research Update highlights findings from evaluations and research studies of nine programs located in rural areas, all of which have been profiled in HFRP’s OST Database.
The rural programs profiled in the OST database represent a diverse range of geographic locations across the U.S. These programs mainly serve elementary-age children, but some also serve middle school grades. Some of the programs focus on a specific demographic, such as Spanish-speaking children or struggling students, while other programs provide services to any interested child within the local community. They also provide a variety of program offerings, from academic supports to recreational activities.
This Research Update addresses the benefits, challenges, and successful strategies of OST programs in rural areas, based on data from the nine programs, and supplemented by other OST research examining programs in rural areas. In addition, the Appendix provides listings of all of the research and evaluations about rural OST programs that we are currently tracking in our OST bibliography.
About this Series
The Research Update series provides insight from the evaluations and research studies profiled in Harvard Family Research Project’s Out-of-School Time (OST) Program Research and Evaluation Database. Research Updates highlight new and innovative topics, methods, and findings in the increasingly sophisticated, growing field of OST research and evaluation.
Free. Available online only.

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