Learning hubs could evolve from a pragmatic solution in a pandemic to a sandbox for educational innovation.
Uncovering the Productivity Promise of Rural Education
The Council of Chief State Schools Officers is meeting this week to discuss rural education. While worries about America’s public education system often focus on large cities, rural districts educate millions of American students, and they do so with less support and attention than their urban and suburban counterparts. CCSSO deserves praise for providing a forum to discuss the unique needs of rural schools and districts.
As the rural chiefs meet, it is likely that the conversation will turn to the challenges faced by rural educators and administrators. Rural schools, like their urban and suburban counterparts, are being asked to stretch their dollars further. But they are more likely to face limited economies of scale, difficult teacher labor markets, and inadequate access to time- and money-saving technologies. While these challenges are important, they may obscure the productivity promise of rural education. As documented in a series of essays co-edited by us and released in May by the Building State Capacity and Productivity Center, many rural schools and districts are innovative in how they deliver services and reimagining how they recruit teachers, use technology, and serve special populations. States have a key role to play in helping more rural schools and districts to follow in the path of these trailblazers and much more effectively leverage existing talent and leadership. Where can rural chiefs and those that support them start?
- Don’t ignore rural educators and administrators: As Tessie Bailey and Rebecca Zumeta discuss, understanding the issues rural communities face can significantly increase the effectiveness of supports and technical assistance that state education agencies provide. And yet, rural educators and administrators often lack access to the channels of communication and influence their urban counterparts can leverage.
- Learn from those “beating the odds”: As Marguerite Roza shows, some rural schools are delivering better than expected results without the high per-pupil price tag. States can help by building the information systems that enable identification of these schools and allow other schools, including their urban peers, to learn from their practice.
- Support innovation: As detailed by the work of the Rural Education and Technology Consensus Panel, rural schools and districts are leveraging innovation in ways that range from mobile study halls on school buses to remote professional development for teachers to virtual learning models that give students access to a full complement of courses. States need to ensure that rural schools have flexibility to repurpose resources to support these efforts.
- Reduce the burdens of compliance: Compliance demands affect even the largest of school systems, but rural districts face the same paperwork requirements with a much leaner set of administrative supports. As one rural superintendent told Paul Hill, a contributor to the volume, “I’m it! I don’t have any support staff like the guys running the large districts … I have to turn in the same reports as they do.” While the tools that can support streamlining compliance reporting are still in their infancy, investments in this area can free rural superintendents to work on other, more pressing issues.
Together, these essays suggest how state education agencies can tailor their offerings to best support the work of rural educators. We encourage those seeking to learn more to read the full volume, available here.
Schools in our study have found that several technologies—some unexpectedly—have helped them customize outreach and engagement with families.
Weeks away from the end of the school year, it’s still unclear whether assessment data will play a role in shaping academic and social-emotional intervention strategies for 2021–22.