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New Consortium Hopes to Raise Profile of Rural Schools

An Idaho-based family foundation has launched a new consortium to identify best practices, support innovations, and research national trends in rural education.

The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation has funded the new Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho. According to the consortium, the nation's education reform movement has focused primarily on low-income urban students, and little has been done to advance the understanding of how to help rural schools' diverse populations.

"Rural schools educate almost as many children as big city schools, but they haven't received anything like the same level of attention from policymakers, the public, or educational innovators," said Paul Hill, who will chair the consortium's advisory group, in a statement. "I hope ROCI puts rural education on the map."

Hill is a research professor at the University of Washington and founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education. The advisory group will meet semi-annually to do research related to rural education.

The consortium has identified nine focus areas, and those include: rural education and federal policy; higher education access; school finance; innovations in technology; recruiting high-quality educators; policy and regulatory constraints; migration patterns and their effect; economic returns on investment in education; and rural charter schools.

The consortium plans to study rural Idaho programs that could be scaled nationally, but they also plan to reflect on rural issues nationwide. Its task force of nine education leaders from across the country will do its research.

"We believe rural schools can be a better place for innovation because of their close relationships with and support from the community, as well as their ability to mobilize and respond quickly to needs, but we want to know for sure," said Jamie MacMillan, executive director of the Albertson Foundation, in a statement. "Our foundation's board believes Idaho can be a national leader—a model in closing the achievement gap for students who might have disadvantaged backgrounds and circumstances."

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