NASBE Report: Rural Schools Need Flexibility, Tech Help

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

The National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) has published a report on its website that examines the challenges of rural education.

Titled "Educating Students in Rural America: Capitalizing on Strengths, Overcoming Barriers," the report builds on a 2004 release of a State Education Standard that took a hard look at the challenges and issues encountered by rural schools. Ten years later, NASBE led a group that focused on rural education and reviewed what was different now and what new hurdles needed to be addressed by state education policymakers.

The NASBE report discusses the Rural Education Group's recommendations on how to meet the challenges facing non-urban education.

The report says that one-third of the United States' approximately 100,000 public schools are in rural locations and are educating almost 12 million students, a quarter of the entire student population in America. All rural schools are not the same, and defining what these schools need and how successful they are is not an easy task.

Members of the group were, however, able to identify factors that made rural schools different from urban and suburban schools. First was the fact that rural areas still have problems with accessing broadband. On top of that, many instructors in schools far from large cities need professional training to be able to leverage technological tools at maximum capacity.

Individual states need to assist rural communities in forming partnerships with local businesses and organizations to develop economic and community strategies for success.

Education reforms are often designed for urban and suburban schools with larger numbers of teachers. Rural areas need for states to provide more funding, flexibility, and incentives to assist districts in forming stronger connections with each other and with service providers to increase teacher capacity in these schools and to save money.

Like many schools in large cities and towns, rural schools suffer from a lack of highly capable teachers and school administrators. Individual states can create strategies to train, recruit, and retain teachers, support staff, and principals.

The report explains that instead of focusing on deficits in rural schools, education policies should be designed to enhance the number of teachers so that all students are prepared for college, careers, and civic life.

America's rural schools embody the culture of the communities that surround them. The schools are primarily a place where students are educated, but what makes them different from urban and suburban schools is that they are also venues where adults gather to discuss their community's status and future.

People in rural communities also know each other and are connected through their mutual loyalty and shared identity. These concepts are assets that make schools a place where everyone's time and talent are welcomed.

State policymakers need to capitalize on these assets, the report says, which are exemplified in the actions taken by a principal who led his school's instruction, but also drove the school bus. And teachers who cover multiple subject areas and grade levels are also illustrations of the creativity used in areas where funds needed for educating students and hiring teachers are just not available.

The job that rural schools need for state lawmakers to take on is to provide resources such as:

"… broadband technology, encouraging regional partnerships, adding administrative flexibility and support in funding, and helping educational staff develop additional skills to meet the needs of their students. There are characteristics of rural schools that are unique to them, but their aspiration is not different from that of other schools. Students, parents, educators, and community members in rural areas all seek the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to succeed in college, careers, and civic life. Through considering and enacting policies recommended by our study group, we believe this aspiration will become reality for significantly more students."

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