- Challenges facing rural schools are receiving increased attention, and now the Institute for Education Sciences (IES) – the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education – is funding two university research centers to help education leaders in rural communities use “high-quality, scientific research to improve student outcomes,” IES announced Wednesday.
- The University of Missouri will receive almost $10 million to house The National Center for Rural School Mental Health, which will focus on mental health screening and support for schools. In addition, Harvard University has received $9.9 million to operate the National Center for Rural Education Research Networks, which will work with 50 rural districts — 30 in New York and 30 in Ohio — on using data to improve student outcomes.
- In addition, IES is also providing $5 million to create the Writing Research to Improve Teaching and Evaluation (WRITE) Center at the University of California, Irvine, which will focus on writing at the secondary level.
Many rural districts — and school leaders in rural areas — are finding that they can accomplish more by partnering with neighboring districts and participating in networks in which they share curriculum resources, professional development and other areas of expertise.
The California Rural Education Network, for example, provides members with information and professional development materials targeted specifically to schools in rural areas. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has also shifted its education funding priorities to focus on how schools can improve outcomes for students, particularly at the secondary level, by participating in networks.
"Because of their small size, rural school districts have too often been ignored by researchers and policy analysts," Thomas J. Kane, who directs Harvard's Center for Education Policy Research, said in a news release. "Yet more than 20% of students in the United States—nearly 10 million children—attend rural schools." He added that the new center "will be working with rural educators to learn what’s working and what’s not in their own setting. We hope to gain important insights into the challenges rural schools are facing and to build the capacity of rural schools to use their own data for improvement."
In 2018, Columbia University’s Center for Public Research and Leadership released a paper identifying some of the elements that contribute to successful school improvement networks. These include access to stable funding, clear goals and "problems of practice” that are relevant to schools’ needs, and trusting relationships that allow educators to share their challenges and accept “the benefit of each other’s expertise."