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Rural Dropout Prevention Strategies to Be Focus of National Project

Fifteen states' rural dropout prevention efforts will be analyzed and studied as part of a new federally commissioned project.

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded a contract to the Manhattan Strategy Group to do the work over a two-year period.

The group has subcontracted with Clemson University's National Dropout Prevention Center/Network to analyze 15 states' dropout prevention needs and to develop solutions for states and districts. The Clemson, S.C.-based center works to increase high school graduation rates through research and evidenced-based solutions, and it serves as a clearinghouse of information on issues related to dropout prevention.

Clemson Broadcast Productions also won a subcontract to observe and film dropout prevention work in the states to produce 15 documentaries. Those films will be used by federal officials to train rural educators nationwide.

The overall goal is to help states in assisting rural middle and high schools to improve their graduation rates through efforts such as Web-based professional development or research on developing an early warning system. A series of webinars and technical assistance tools will be made available to rural educators nationwide.

The need for improved graduation rates is particularly acute in rural communities. Nearly 1 in 4 rural high school students won't graduate from high school. By virtue of their location and limited resources, rural schools often have less access to high-quality technical assistance. The federal department wanted to invest in this initiative to help fill that gap, according to an overview of the project.

Dropout prevention in rural areas is a significant issue on the national rural education landscape. Last year, the U.S. Department of Education and Jobs for the Future hosted a webinar on rural dropout prevention, and a recent white paper on rural dropouts highlighted the unique, location-related challenges facing schools, as well as the assets they could use to their advantage.

This new project will concentrate on states with a high percentage of schools in rural and remote areas: Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Shezad Habib, managing partner with the Manhattan Strategy Group, said the groups are in its initial stages of getting the project up and running, and they are in the process of finalizing due dates for the work. They have a tentative completion date of September 2014.

"The contract is quite exciting and caters to the rural universe from a dropout prevention lens," he said.

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