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Report Outlines Ways to Transform Rural South

The quality of education offered in rural communities has implications for those communities' economic well-being, and a report released on Tuesday says rural leaders should consider addressing six priority areas in efforts to improve their schools.

"Transforming the Rural South: A Roadmap to Improving Rural Education" was released by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, which hosted a Southeast Regional Rural Education Summit in Nashville last month.

The recommendations are based on research, best practices, and input from those who attended the conference, as well as those who participated in a pre-conference listening tour hosted by SCORE. I attended the conference, and the report covers some of the issues and solutions discussed.

Other partners on board with the report's release include the Ayers Foundation, Niswonger Foundation, Rural School and Community Trust, and the Tennessee School Boards Association.

The six priority areas cited in the six-page report include:
• highlighting the connection between education and economic development;
• offering schools and districts more flexibility;
• forming a pipeline of effective teachers;
• using technology to meet instructional needs;
• creating professional learning communities for administrators; and
• forming partnerships to enhance educational opportunities.

The report includes 34 action items that are tied to the six priority areas, and those weren't limited to schools and districts. It calls on leaders from post-secondary institutions, state Departments of Education, policy makers, philanthropists, and businesses to play a role in facilitating improvement.

Some of the action items were more general (i.e. state policy makers and local leaders should take a leadership role in stressing the connection between education and jobs), but others were more specific and interesting.

For example, under the priority area of forming a pipeline of effective teachers, the report recommended state departments of education require schools and districts to form post-secondary partnerships in the school improvement process to create a pool of teachers who are interested in teaching in rural areas.

The report also suggested state policy makers require the post-secondary community to enhance teacher preparation programs by exposing would-be teachers to rural schools to both improve teacher effectiveness and recruitment.

Those seem like solid ideas, and I wonder whether either is happening in the South, or elsewhere, for that matter.

For those interested in the guidance offered to local schools and districts, some action items included:
• Expect that all students will graduate from high school and go on to post-secondary education or a career;
• Partner with nearby districts to recruit and retain highly effective teaching candidates who can serve as content specialists in critical subjects like reading and math; and
• Form regional partnerships with other school districts to go after philanthropic and federal grants to advance school reform efforts.

It's probably worth mentioning that the report targets the South because it has more rural communities that are chronically poor and a greater percentage of under-performing rural schools. Both result in a greater challenge to improve student achievement.

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