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Askwith Essentials: Rural Promise

On Thursday, April 25, a panel will shine a spotlight on the collaborative innovations — in classrooms, communities, and state and district leadership — driving bold new approaches to rural education and student success.

Event details:
Thursday, April 25, 2019
5:30–7 p.m.
Longfellow Hall
13 Appian Way
Cambridge, MA 02138

This event will be live-streamed:

Rural education — and the distinct needs of rural students, educators, and families — has often taken a back seat in national conversations about improving education. But one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to addressing America’s education challenges; educators and policymakers are increasingly recognizing that rural schools have unique needs and strengths, creating a robust platform for new ways of thinking that build on current capacities.

On Thursday, April 25, Askwith Forums will join that conversation — hosting the panel, "Rural Promise: Innovating to Support Rural Students," to spotlight innovations happening in classrooms and communities in rural America. Paul Reville, former Massachusetts Secretary of Education and founding director of HGSE’s Education Redesign Lab, will moderate the discussion. Professor Thomas Kane, faculty director of the Center for Education Policy Research (CEPR); Sanford Johnson, co-founder and deputy director of advocacy at Mississippi First; and HGSE alumni Geoff Marietta, former director of the Pine Mountain Settlement School and Mara Tieken, author of Why Rural Schools Matter and associate professor of education at Bates College, will all serve as panelists. Their discussion will look toward the solutions to the many challenges faced by rural schools, such as:

Little research is focused on rural schools

Part of the challenge around addressing the needs of rural schools is that there isn’t a lot of research to draw from. “Because of their small sizes, rural school districts have too often been ignored by researchers and policy analysts. Yet more than 20 percent of students in the United States — nearly 10 million children — attend rural schools,” Kane has said.

In February, CEPR was awarded a $10 million dollar grant to support the newly formed National Center for Rural Education Research Networks (NCRERN), to be co-led by Kane, which will work to address issues such as chronic absenteeism, college readiness, and college enrollment in rural schools. NCRERN will establish and support a collaborative network of rural school districts in New York and Ohio, allowing districts to adopt the continuous improvement model pioneered by CEPR’s Proving Ground initiative — gaining new understanding their challenges and rapidly identifying and implementing solutions that work for their students, families, and schools.

Redesigning and integrating systems of education so students can thrive

Having been an advocate for rethinking the industrial education system, Reville’s work at the Education Redesign Lab has focused on cradle to career, wrap-around supports necessary to close the achievement gaps between students. Because existing research has largely overlooked rural communities, children in rural areas are particularly prone to falling through systemic cracks. The Education Redesign Lab is branching out into rural areas, wanting to make their models and techniques apply to all students.

“If we are determined to see all children succeed, we will have to build systems of support and enrichment that allow all our children to thrive,” Reville wrote. “It won't be easy or cheap, but if we want a thriving economy and an informed citizenry, we have no choice but to invent 21st-century systems of education and child development that finish the job of preparing all our children to be successful.”

Rural schools are often left out of education policy decisions and conversations

Despite the fact that rural districts across the country do serve a total of nearly 10 million children, education reform tends to focus on urban populations. However, rural schools are often sites of a vibrant culture and community and this cultural richness needs to be recognized.

Sustainable, resilient solutions are only going to come when they're actually based on the place in which they're trying to serve,” Marietta said in an interview with Harvard Business School. “If you're trying to come up with a new, unique instructional method, or you're trying to teach a very complicated concept, if you can connect that to where a child has grown up and their knowledge and their context, that has real staying power and a real, impactful influence on their learning.”

Indeed, Marietta’s own work at the Pine Mountain School Settlement has drawn on Appalachian culture and heritage as he worked to develop a school that incorporated environmental sustainability and farm work into the curriculum.

This culture and sense of community can also be key to attracting strong teachers, says Mississippi First’s Johnson. He advocates for public relations campaigns geared toward potential teachers, showcasing restaurants, parks, and other cultural highlights. “You can’t just sit back and wait for talented folk to come in,” he told the Hechinger Report.

Rural schools serve diverse populations

It is not often the rural communities are acknowledged for their diversity. But the mix of cultures represented in many rural communities can rival those of urban communities in their diversity. “When we do hear about these rural communities, they are often stereotyped, typecast through nostalgic portrayals of one-room schoolhouses or starkly negative portrayals of backwardness and provincialism,” Tieken said in a past interview with HGSE News. “They are also frequently assumed to be all-white, though nearly 20 percent of rural residents are non-white and this proportion is growing.”

Tieken has found in her work that schools can provide a place to bridge the gaps in rural, racially divided communities. As such, rural schools offer a tremendous amount of potential and should serve as sites of innovation and places for new approaches to age-old problems.