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Appalachia Center Offers Research for Rural Districts to Build Capacity

Want to know what the research says about recruiting and retaining teachers in a rural context? Or what about how to implement best practices in a rural setting? A new publication might be able to help.

The Rural Working Group at the Appalachia Regional Comprehensive Center has published a new annotated bibliography that summarizes relevant research on four issues associated with building rural school districts' capacity. The 14-page publication explains what the research says on the two previously mentioned areas, as well as developing policy, building partnerships, fiscal capacity, and increasing economies of scale.

Caitlin Howley, associate director for the Charleston, W. Va.-based center, said its mission is to provide help to state departments of education to build their capacity to undertake key initiatives and support local school districts. The four states it serves—Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia—are implementing complex reforms, such as moving to new curriculum standards, and all have a considerable number of rural districts.

"Serving areas smaller, more sparsely populated, and often poorer than urban or suburban districts, rural districts must do all the work of educating their students, implementing new initiatives, and complying with state and federal policies that other districts must—but with fewer resources, including staff and budgets," she said. "So, in this context, we hoped to summarize some research about ways that states could enhance the capacity of their local districts to roll out new efforts while still addressing their other continuing responsibilities."

They picked the four areas based on presentations that were made by rural education experts this summer to the Rural Working Group, which includes state department of education staff. The full presentations are available online.

Howley said the center chose research based on its relevance to the four focus areas and its applicability to the center's states.

The next steps for the group will be to review strategies and choose one or two to pilot in their states. The center will facilitate meetings, provide information, and help evaluate how their plans worked.

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