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Curriculum, Teachers, Enrollment: Top Three Issues In Rural Illinois

Developing a first-rate curriculum, attracting and retaining high-quality teachers, and addressing declining enrollment are the top three issues facing small, rural Illinois superintendents, according to a new study.

The results of "Issues Illinois Rural and Small Schools are Facing" are described in an article in The Pantagraph, a daily newspaper in Bloomington, Ill. The actual study doesn't appear to be online, but it was presented at the National Rural Education Association convention and research symposium in October and at the Illinois School Board Convention in November.

The study was led by three rural school superintendents with the goal of uniting their rural peers and giving them a voice. They asked 704 Illinois schools with enrollments of 2,500 or less to complete their survey, and 135 rural superintendents with an average of 666 students responded.

Twenty-one percent of rural respondents listed "curricular opportunities" as the top issue they faced, while 9 percent cited "quality staff" and 8 percent said "declining enrollment."

Here's some of what was said about the top three concerns:

Curriculum: "Small schools want to offer a variety of quality curriculum, including advanced placement classes, and high-level math, science, and English programs. But small class sizes and resource costs make it difficult. Sharing curriculum with other districts, especially in areas such as foreign language, music, special education, and college classes, was favored by 54 survey respondents," according to the article. The most remote districts have the most difficult time sharing resources, the survey also found.

Teachers: Rural schools need high-quality teachers who often can teach multiple and different courses, but it's difficult to attract and retain them. The article cited one school that's trying to find a replacement for a retiring high school teacher who teaches home economics, geography, and Spanish.

Enrollment: Because Illinois' funding formula is based on enrollment, declining student populations mean less money for smaller districts. And less money carries consequences. One school district cited in the article said some of the nearby residents are petitioning not to build a new elementary school because of decreasing enrollment and possible consolidation.

The research study's authors—Tami J. Roskamp, Mary N. Parker, and Gary DePatis—have applied for a $3 million, three-year federal grant to study new ways on how schools can share resources to teach students.

Other concerns that respondents ranked high included adequate funding; providing technology, transportation, and professional development; and the threat of consolidations.

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