Monday, February 15, 2016

Rural education collaboratives can help solve many problems of educational opportunity in rural communities

Complete report
Over the last year, Battelle for Kids (BFK) has studied the most promising rural education collaboratives (RECs) across the country. 

The background: 

More than 40 percent of all American schools are in rural areas, and close to one third of all students in the country attend rural schools. One in four of these students lives in poverty, but it is not uncommon for the child poverty rate to exceed 50 percent in rural communities. Eighty-five percent of the 353 persistently poor counties in the U.S. are rural (Cohen, 2014). Twenty-eight percent of rural people without a high school diploma live in poverty as compared to 23 percent nationally (United States Census Bureau, 2007; Brown & Schafft, 2011). The college enrollment rate for rural 18–25 year-olds is 27 percent—lower than the rate for any other locale (Provasnik et al., 2007)

Despite overall out-migration of population in rural places, we have seen an increase of four million rural students since 1999 (Strange et al., 2012). Eighty- three percent of rural population growth in the first decade of the 21st century came from racial and ethnic minority populations (Johnson, 2012). Simultaneously, populations in rural America are aging, and there has been a corresponding erosion of support for local schools.
Many rural places face a long-term cycle of underinvestment and underdevelopment (Corbett, 2010; Woodrum, 2004). There are significant structural disadvantages, such as limited administrative and operational capacity to meet federal education policy and student achievement goals, that often do not align with rural aspirations and realities. Some of these policies have disembedded rural schools from their communities. Research suggests that strong rural school and community ties can increase housing values, employment rates, and entrepreneurship, and decrease income inequality (Brasington, 2004; Lyson, 2002; Sell & Leistritz, 1997).

Key findings on the success of rural collaboratives to  combat these problems:

  • The most commonly reported outcome across the collaboratives is an increase in graduation rates.
  • Other measures of success include: increases in college enrollment rates, ACT scores and in elementary math achievement, and a decrease in dropout rates. 
  • Collaboratives also reported increasing school-community partnerships, changing instructional practices, increasing teacher collaboration, and influencing state rural education policies.

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