- Rural school districts continue to struggle with a host of challenges, including a lack of necessary resources and difficulty in attracting and retaining teacher talent, according to a new report from the Rural School and Community Trust, examining the state of rural schools in the school year 2015-2016.
- More than one in four of the country’s schools are in rural areas, and one in six of the nation’s students attend a rural school. But there is still a lack of high-quality early childhood education and childcare, including Head Start programs, which the authors argue would save communities and states bigger costs years later.
- The report's authors considered the importance of rural education in each state, the diversity of the state’s rural students and families, the policy context that could impact these schools as well as rural students’ educational outcomes and college readiness.
In a recent conversation with Education Dive, Rural School and Community Trust chairman Alan Richard said policymakers are often removed from the specific issues facing rural schools and communities, which results in policy proposals which don't actually best serve the needs of students and educators. Richard pointed to a part of No Child Left Behind which mandated that educators needed to have majored in the subjects they are teaching, saying such a mandate is just not applicable to many small rural schools, where the same educator may be teaching multiple subjects. He acknowledged that since lawmakers often live in suburban or urban areas, it can be difficult to bridge that gap of understanding, and that gap could lead to policy proposals that may inadvertently hinder rural educators and administrators.
Rural schools face many of the same problems as their urban counterparts. It remains difficult for rural schools to staff special education teachers, ELL educators, as well as STEM, male teachers, teachers of color, foreign language educators and teachers for the arts. However, they often have smaller class sizes and tend to be supported by a community dedicated to education, which could help attract teachers and educators who are not predisposed to teaching in a big city.
Other options exist for addressing the gaps facing rural schools. For one thing, increased collaboration between districts and schools has helped to provide more services at a lower cost. And as online classes have grown in popularity in the K-12 sector, schools are seeing the benefits of an approach which allows a single teacher to provide instruction across a number of schools.