Tag Archives: Rural schools

3 articles worth reading and debating

These three articles captured in my RSS feed reader caught my eye today. Perhaps they’ll interest you as well.

1. Is the Internet Changing Kids’ Minds?

In this excerpt from his book The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads, Daniel T. Willingham argues that the brain is always changing; there’s no reason to assume the Internet is damaging kids’ brains so they can’t concentrate.

What is problematic, Willingham says, is that using digital technologies of all types change users’ expectations: Users are impatient with boredom. They expect instant success with minimal effort.

That sounds like an education problem to me. What do you think?

2. In a Changing Rural America, What Can Charter Schools Offer?

I’ve seen many articles about how school choice championed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos won’t help — and may hurt — rural areas. This article by Terry Ryan and Paul Hill at Education Next suggests that charters, properly done, could be an alternative to school consolidations in sparsely populated areas.

If you live in a rural area, you ought to read their short piece.

3. Why do college students have 6th-grade writing skills?

That question was the headline over an e-Campus News report on a research study by peer-to-peer learning markeplace StudySoup. StudySoup’s own headline was “At Which U.S. Colleges do Students Write at a Middle School Level?”

Educators need to take a look at the StudySoup data: It’s the sort of “research” that will grab media attention and get discussed over coffee at the local diner.

A team from the business used the Hemingway app to analyze hundreds of written documents submitted to the StudySoup . The app evaluated the samples for clarity, readability, and calculated the reading level of the writing. The average reading level score was 12th-grade level. Student work was also given a second score based on how difficult individual sentences were to read. Of the 20 schools from which writing samples were analyzed, 12 were graded “poor.”

The app doesn’t look to see whether writers have anything to say; it looks just at their individual sentences.

Notice that StudySoup assumes that the higher the reading level score the better the writing is. Actually, the higher the reading level, the smaller the audience that will be able to understand it: Here’s StudySoup’s own explanation of Hemingway which supports that interpretation:

Hemingway provides two “readability” scores for each document. The first is the “grade level” of the content, which is determined using a readability algorithm. According to Hemingway, this score determines “the lowest education needed to understand your prose”.


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Maker movement makes rural life make sense

mountain forest with fog cover obscuring top half of photo
Rural America is a place where place-based learning and the maker movement can meet for economic development  when rural teachers take the lead.

A blog post by earlier this week by Leah Shaffer at MindShift begins by contrasting maker programs in cities with rural ones:

The maker movement has expanded greatly in recent years and much of the attention has focused on cities with high population density and large well-funded school districts. In rural districts, teachers are also developing maker projects to help students gain the benefits that come from hands-on experiences, while better understanding the needs of their communities.

Maker projects in Montana and Iowa

Shaffer reports on work by a students in a Montana community who built and programmed air sensors to monitor pollution from forest fires and wood smoke cause year-round air pollution, and one in which Iowa high school students analyze agricultural data they gather by flying drones over farm fields.

photo collage of drones in air surprinted "Drones gather data from farm fields, boost students' skills"

Shaffer’s sources note the need for teachers to anticipate skills students are likely to need a decade or more in the future and design projects that help them develop those skills.

Her sources also point out that schools can’t just equip a maker space and assume students will know what to do: Initial experiences must be structured.

Read the entire blog post.

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Rural triangle: School, community, economy

Curved arrows labeled Education, Economy, and Community chase one another in front of a green triangle.In November, 2015 I began posting a list of resources for folks who want to improve the relationship between rural schools and their communities for their mutual benefit.

It’s time to revisit the topic.

It’s still true that, as I wrote in 2015:

In rural communities, schools cannot be considered separate from economic development and community development. The vitality and policies of any one of the three impacts the other two.

And the 2015 description of rural brain drain still is largely accurate.

But rural America’s problems are getting more attention these days, most notably from rural Americans themselves who are stepping up try to reverse the decline of the rural American economy and prevent the loss of their communities and community schools.

I’ve shortened descriptions of resources I posted in 2015 and added dates for the resources so readers can quickly get a feel for the changes.

What’s happening in rural America?

(2009) The brightest students are leaving rural communities; job options for those who remain are diminishing.

(2012) The rural student population is getting larger, more diverse, and poorer.

(2013) Net migration isn’t offsetting the effects of brain drain.

Who is to blame for rural brain drain?

(2009) Schools and their communities each contribute to rural brain drain, setting the course for both to die. “Teachers, parents, and other influential adults cherry-pick the young people destined to leave and ignore the ones most likely to stay or return.”

(2017) Rural schools are failing their communities. A college degree in rural America is now synonymous with leaving and having no way to sustainably come back. Rural schools must work with their communities, rather than seeing themselves as separate from the cycle of economic decline.

How could rural schools aid in community development?

(2011) Schools could address community problems around medical care, food access, etc. by acting as self-sustaining revenue facilities.

How could rural schools aid in economic development?

(2011) A class of high school students in the poorest county in North Carolina designed and built a much-needed farmer’s market pavilion for the area.

(2012) Add skill applications to high school courses.

(2012) Greenville, NY, High School created what was, in effect, a small business incubator within its facility, offering a business rent in exchange for hands-on work experience for its high school students.

(2012) Encourage entrepreneurship by showing students online training resources they can access, and (2014) teach students to look for problems that require solutions.

(2013) Place-based, scholarly research by rural students can have direct, positive impact on local economic development.

(2013) Students in Cody NE, population 154, built a a 3,300-sq. ft. straw-bale building to use as grocery store and run it themselves. Inside, lettering on the wall above the produce cooler reads “It’s more than a store. It’s our future.”

(2014)  Capture the imagination of students who don’t see college as a path for themselves by school programs that target local economic problems.

(2015) Pell Grant experiment needs needs rural  scrutiny to make sure its rules won’t keep some rural students out of courses that fit their needs and interests.

(2017) Offer students a combination of coursework, internships, and job shadowing experiences to enable them to make informed choices about higher education, work, and place of residence. Preparing students for a continuously changing mainstream economy can give them the opportunity to return home as entrepreneurs or participants in the online space.

(2017) Schools can support project-based learning on authentic local problems that challenge students. For example, in Ness City, KS, an industrial arts class elected to design and build a tiny house. Other classes helped with interior design and marketing, and a special education class is documenting the project in a book. The classes plan to market the home across the country.

(2017) A SCORE chapter in Massachusetts collaborated with PTOs to deliver a six week, after-school program to train students in grades 4 through 8 to run their own businesses. The 72 participants in the initial program launched 52 new businesses, some of which were partnerships complete with partnership agreements.

How can rural schools and communities collaborate?

(2017) Public charters may offer rural communities a way to retain local schools.

(2011) Help teens get ready for the world of work with good attitudes and good skills.

(2012) Let teens work alongside adults to contribute to their communities and to develop and apply real skills.

(2012) Require students to apply classroom knowledge to real world writing situations and offer hands-on learning of salable skills.

(2012) Schools can grow their future teachers who will also be their communities’ future leaders.

(2014) Offer teens after-school programs that do more than distract.

(2014) Integrate non-academic services to students, their families, and even the wider community into the academic program.

(2016) Communities and schools need to work collaboratively to generate educational opportunities and economic prosperity in places where the number of voters without a child in school is a majority. Downloadable PDF from Battelle for Kids.

(2016)  School personnel and community members need to change the mindset that every kid needs to go to college. Today’s career and technical education, or CTE, can lead to a decent-paying job, particularly in those fields where employers say they are trying to cope with a serious “skills gap.”

(2017) Rural schools and their communities need to work together to turn around neighborhoods and schools long before those schools—and all the significance and services they bring with them—disappear.

What about the “no college for me” kids?

(2013) Give Career and Technical Education (CTE) students the same degree of academic support given their college-bound counterparts so they can take advantage of educational opportunities they need for their careers.

(2012) Six ideas for businesses serving the business market that require no post-high school training.

(2015) The internet allows someone with determination to learn skills for a good-paying job without the expenses of a college degree.

(2016) For years, there’s been almost no assistance for CTE students seeking post-secondary training. Three recent developments suggest the tide may be turning: An experimental program to give  in financial aid to those in nontraditional programs (such as coding boot camps), a MOOC with a graded-paper option, and the introduction of a federal law to expand concurrent enrollment opportunities for CTE students.

Who is working on the three-pronged rural problem?

SaveYour.Town Two small-town Iowans offer webinars, toolkits, and online communities to help people learn, grow and take action to revitalize their communities.

The Rural School and Community Trust (ruraledu.org) has many resources, including Tools to fight rural school consolidation.

The Center for Rural Affairs (cfra.org) developed a series of articles on why rural schools need to be kept alive. The articles are available as a 6-page pdf document.

The Orton Family Foundation empowers people to shape the future of their communities by collective, collaborative activities focusing on their unique strengths.

Have I missed items that should be here? Give me a shout in the comments or @LindaAragoni on Twitter

Updated June 23, 2017; March 27, 2017.

© 2017 Linda G. Aragoni

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Better together: rural schools and small towns

Tuesday evening’s #RuralEdChat was about Place-Based Learning. Guest “chatter” for the evening was Gary Funk, executive director of the Rural Schools Collaborative.
The Rural Schools Collaborative (@Rural_Schools for those on Twitter) is a new, multi-state nonprofit committed to the belief that rural schools and small towns get better together.


Since the chat was well-attended and likely, the transcript is lengthy. I’m going to curate excerpts to give a snapshot of what was said.

What is placed-based learning?

Is PBL implementation easier in rural schools?

What content can it be used with?

How does PBL fit with existing  programs?

Are your grants geographically limited?

The entire #RuralEdChat is archived here.

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Challenges of first-time rural superintendents

I’m used to reading about the challenges faced by first-time teachers, and I’ve seen several articles about the challenges faced by first-time principals.

The first article I’ve come across about the challenges of first-time rural school superintendents, however, is Cari L. Wrysinski-Guden’s piece at the School Superintendents Association website.

screen capture shows title and publishing info for article about first-time rural superintendents

The article includes four profiles of four rural Wisconsin superintendents.  It’s well worth reading, and it’s actually readable, not a boring piece with 1,000-word paragraphs full of academic jargon.

Wrysinski-Guden’s first experience as a superintendent was in a 600-student school district in central Wisconsin. She did her doctoral dissertation on the roles and challenges that other first-time rural superintendents had.

A sample from Wrysinski-Guden’s article is this quote from Justin Jerson, who was promoted to superintendent from being high school principal:

Many times [school board members] went to school and graduated from high school, so they’re an expert. I’ve tried, over the years, to inform them, but they’ve lived in the rural town for 60 years and they’ve been involved with the schools since age 5, as a student or a parent or now a board member for 20 years. How can an outsider to our district tell me differently?


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Rural school-community-economy development resources

Curved arrows labeled Education, Economy, and Community chase one another in front of a green triangle.In rural communities, schools cannot be considered separate from economic development and community development. The vitality and policies of any one of the three impacts the other two.

Over the last eight years, the relationships of schools with their communities has been a recurring theme in my blogging. While I was digging out some of my writing on the topic for #RuralEdChat on Twitter, I decided I ought to post a list of resources that others might find helpful. I began with my own writing, but I am starting to add resources from other individuals and organizations, adding annotations to draw attention to an unusual insight or feature.

What’s happening in rural America?

Hollowing Out the Middle, dustjacketThe changing face of rural schools The number of students in rural schools in America is growing, becoming more diverse, and a significant number of those students are poor.

The rural brain brain Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas study of rural America showed a hollowing out: a loss of its most talented young people at the same time the rural economy has been transformed for those who stay.

Will new blood cure rural brain drain? The net migration rates suggest not enough people are immigrating to rural areas to offset the losses caused by young people moving away for college and jobs.

Who is to blame for rural brain drain?

Schools are complicit in rural brain drain Researchers found rural schools and their communities groom their brightest students for jobs and lifestyles not available locally, while giving almost no support to students who remain in the local area.

How could rural schools aid in community development?

Communities as school revenue streams Thinking of school as “a self-sustaining revenue facility” is a way to address school budgetary problems as well as wider community problems around medical care, food access, and community programming.

How could rural schools aid in economic development?

Beating the brain drain Changes to the education system can help alleviate the rural brain drain in small-town America, experts say.

Could schools grow a local economy? Greenville (NY) High School created what is, in effect, a small business incubator within its facility, giving a business rent in exchange for hands-on work experience for its high school students.

Entrepreneurship as rural economic key Creating their own jobs is a way for rural students to remain in rural communities. The Internet makes it possible for them to get advanced training, often for little or no cost.

Add skill applications to high school courses When teachers insert the question, “What you can do with this skill?” in coursework across the curriculum, they encourage students to graduate high school with entrepreneurial mindsets.

Teens see challenges, build solutions, even make money Examples of teens who have looked around them and found problems they wanted to solve.

How can rural schools and communities collaborate?

The challenge of providing challenges to adolescents Schools, businesses, and communities need to give teens opportunities to work alongside adults, to contribute to their communities, and to develop and apply real skills.

Integrating life with school for adult high schoolers Adding non-academic services helps dropouts get on track to diplomas and jobs.

Expand learning at shrinking playground Let’s require students to apply classroom knowledge to real world writing situations and offer hands-on learning of salable skills. [corrected link 2017-01-26]

This school grows its future teachers A two-course program allows students considering a teaching career to find out what being a teacher entails. The program not only develops teachers, but helps prepare future school board members and business leaders knowledgeable about how to support schools.

Teen after school programs that do more than distract Communities have initiated a variety of programs modeled after adult continuing education courses, apprenticeships, internships, and businesses to give their young people opportunities to do work that’s valuable in their home communities while developing skills and a work ethic.

Helping teens get ready for work Many first jobs aren’t fun. Students need to be taught how to adjust their attitudes and their jobs to make them opportunities to find challenge, enjoyment, concentration, and deep involvement.

What about the “no college for me” kids?

Support for Rural Vo-Tech Kids Articulation agreements may handicap the career and technical education students’ chances of success as compared to the chances of their academically oriented peers.

Ideas for businesses that require no college Six ideas for businesses serving the business market that require no post-high school training.

Skill acquisition without schooling The internet allows someone with determination to learn skills for a good-paying job without the expenses of a college degree.

Building narratives and community from school outward  Place-based, scholarly research by rural students can have direct, positive impact on local economic development.

Who is working on the three-pronged rural problem?

Rural schools as community centers A grassroots movement in Canada that opposes rural school closures and consolidations is attempting to convince the government that in a rural landscape, education cannot be regarded as separate from health, economic development, or tourism.

The Rural School and Community Trust has compiled Tools to fight rural school consolidation.

The Center for Rural Affairs (cfra.org) developed a series of articles on why rural schools need to be kept alive. The articles are available as a 6-page pdf document.

The Orton Family Foundation empowers people to shape the future of their communities by collective, collaborative activities focusing on their unique strengths.

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The rural school-economy-community triangle

The 2015 Rural Education National Forum was held this week, drawing attention to the challenges faced not only by rural schools but also by their communities.

BattelleforKids.org, which partnered with the Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia departments of education in sponsoring the conference, wrote this on the organization’s website:

If we are to transform educational and economic opportunities across rural America, then rural schools must become much more than a place—they must become the driving force where things take place.

Battelle recognizes that rural areas are different from urban and suburban areas in more than just population density, but rural America has the same need for meaningful and adequately reimbursed work as more densely populated areas.

Cover of white paper "Making Rural Education Work for out Children and Our Future" shows straight path into far distanceBattelle says rural areas need to create a “collaborative leadership ecosystem from the bottom up around an integrated education, economic, and community development strategy.”

If you’re one of the subscribers to this blog, you know the intertwined problems of rural schools, rural economies, and rural communities are one of my soapbox issues.

Making Rural Education Work for Our Children and Our Future, a free 12-page white paper from Battelle sketches the problems of integrating the three aspects of rural life. It also outlines a framework for developing solutions that solve local problems in ways that are both sustainable and scalable.  I recommend you download and read the 12-page PDF.

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Will New Blood Cure Rural Brain Drain?

Teaching, learning, and scratching out a living in America’s rural areas is not terribly different from the problems of teaching, learning, and scratching out a living in America’s inner cities except for one thing: There are significantly fewer people in rural areas.

We know from observation as well as from research that America’s rural communities are shriveling. Kids selected as the brightest and best are encouraged to go to college and then to where the good jobs are.

And rural America is not where the jobs are.

To see how population shifts are effecting where you live, visit the Net Migrations website.  The site provides reliable estimates of net migration broken down by age, race, Hispanic-origin, and sex for all U.S. counties each decade from 1950 to 2010. You can select your state and up to three counties to compare.The graph below shows the migration rates in my local area during that 60 year period. graph showing declining immigration in 3 New York State countiesCommunity and school leaders might do well to look at the NetMigration data to see what messages it holds for them.

Other blog posts I’ve written about life and learning in rural America include:

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Support for Rural Vo-Tech Kids

In my last two posts,  I wrote about the rural brain drain as described by researchers Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas in their book Hollowing Out the Middle.

Hollowing Out the Middle, dustjacketCarr and Kefalas link the decline of rural communities to the fact that rural areas across America are losing their college-educated young people while retaining those vocational students with bleak economic prospects.

They believe rural communities are committing suicide by pushing the brightest young people to leave while practically ignoring those who choose to stay or who return after finding life elsewhere was not for them.

At the same time I was reading Hollowing Out the Middle, I was taking a course in data-driven journalism sponsored by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

In the course, I began roughing out an idea for a data journalism project. It would investigate costs and benefits to local taxpayers of subsidizing, through dual enrollment courses, students going on to four-year colleges and compare them with the costs and benefits of subsidizing students in vocational/technical training who remain in the local area.

In the process, I stumbled on on some local information that gives credence to the thesis of Hollowing Out the Middle.

My local school district in upstate New York provides vocational training through a regional educational services agency, the DCMO BOCES. Articulation agreements between the BOCES and specific higher education providers (usually community colleges) allow graduates of the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Programs to get college credit for courses taken at the high school level.

Articulation agreements with selected post-secondary schools are set on a program-specific basis. So if Josh is studying automotive technology, the post-secondary schools at which he could apply his college credits may be limited to two or three community colleges in the state.

I did not realize that the articulation agreements typically do not allow  students to apply for the college credits until they have completed a semester —12 hours — with a average of 80%.

Assuming the students’ high school background is good enough that they don’t need to take remedial courses (a big assumption) during that first semester,  students would be taking primarily general education courses, like English composition, math, and history.

For most vocationally-oriented students, those general education requirements are likely to be the most difficult courses of their post-secondary work.   Sending those students off to cope with general education courses on their own — sometimes without so much as one course in their chosen field to keep them engaged — is handicapping them from the start.

Side note: The state Board of Regents is sufficiently concerned about the academic readiness of CTE graduates that it is looking at options for helping CTE students with the academic component of their high school program.

By comparison, the typical dual-enrollment programs for students headed to four-year schools focus primarily on general education courses.  Often those college courses are taught to students in their home high school either via distance learning technology or by a high school teacher with adjunct status at the college.  In small, rural high schools, those alternatives mean the academically talented kids, unlike their peers in CTE programs,  get the benefit of high school support for those transition-to-college general education courses.

Because general education courses are pretty much the same anywhere they’re given, academically talented students  can apply their credits at most two- and -four-year colleges anywhere in the nation immediately on enrollment, without having to prove they are up to the rigors of college during that first traumatic college semester.

I’ve not had time to do more than take a quick look at the articulation agreements, but what I’ve seen so far suggests some interesting stories are buried in the data compiled by local educational agencies.

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How Rural Schools Undermine Their Home Communities

Hollowing Out the Middle, dustjacketAmerica’s small towns are in decline.

Most of the reasons for the decline, like technological changes and increasingly interdependent world economies, are largely beyond local control.

Local schools, however, play a significant role in the destruction of their own communities.

Teachers, parents, and other influential adults cherry-pick the young people destined to leave and ignore the ones most likely to stay or return.

In a genuine desire to see their young people succeed, schools encourage the bright kids not only to do well in classes but also to participate in the extra activities that colleges look for in applicants.

Achievers start with advantages

Researchers Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas found the kids most likely to succeed began kindergarten with advantages denied the others :

  •  parents who value education
  • parents who attended college themselves
  • parents who can get along without their teen’s paycheck from after-school work.

Photos Carr and KefalasPushing those kids doesn’t require a huge amount of effort from the school.

Underachievers begin behind

By contrast, schools put little effort into the students who require the most effort: the kids whose parents are didn’t attend college themselves and don’t  value education. Those students enter kindergarten without experiences that allow them to fit easily into a learning environment.

As economist James L. Heckman argues in a New York Times piece, good pre-kindergarten experiences don’t just develop cognitive skills: They also  develop character skills such as self-control, planning, persistence, openness, willingness to engage with others.

Without those character skills, kids get to kindergarten already a half lap behind their peer group. It’s no wonder schools prefer giving their attention to kids who led the race in kindergarten.

Drop out or pushed out?

For their book Hollowing out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America, Carr and Kefalas interviewed students who attended a rural Iowa high school in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

One young man they interviewed tells how, as soon as he got his driver’s license, he began working 35 hours a week. Dave had two study halls before a class he disliked, so he found it convenient to skip that class to get to work on time.

One day when he did show up for class, but without his homework done, the teacher took Dave aside and told him he should drop out of school and stop wasting everyone’s time.

Without identifying the student by name, Carr and Kefalas asked the teacher about the incident.  “He was silent for a while, then said, ‘I’m not sure which student you mean. There are a couple; those sorts of things happened.’ ”

Those sorts of things do happen to a couple of students in schools everywhere.

But rural schools can least afford to have them happen.

Unfortunately, ignoring their own suicidal impulses is often rural school policy.

Suicidal school policies

When Carr and Kefalas shared their findings with the local school board, telling them they were practically ensuring that their best young people will leave the community,  they expected people to be defensive. Instead the school board just shrugged.  The only person who responded was the school principal who said, “This is the job we set out to do.”

The effects of the school doing what it sees as its job — educating the best of its young people to go elsewhere — are evident in a declining tax base, aging populations, and in communities struggling to find medical professionals, business owners, and teachers.

Young people are now rural America’s most precious declining resource.

Related posts

[Links updated 30-Mar-2014]


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