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Whitepaper Offers Guidance on 'Making Rural Education Work'

Achieving rural prosperity can be boiled down to a three-part formula: map the territory, make the connections, and mobilize for rapid and sustainable scale, according to a new whitepaper.

"Making Rural Education Work for Our Children and Our Future" was put together by the Rural Education National Forum and Battelle for Kids. It was informed by dialogue at the late October forum in Columbus, Ohio, as well as feedback from education, economic-development, and civic-engagement officials who are focused on rural revitalization. Representatives came from Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, among other places.

"A strategy of 'leveling the playing field' across urban, suburban, and rural schools has been pursued for a long time with limited results," according to the whitepaper. "Somehow, we need to change the narrative. Somehow, we must remake rural education a vital part of the overall American education system."

The paper offers a three-step process that communities nationwide can use to pursue a "rural-ready agenda." The formula is straightforward and simple, but putting it into action likely would be more complicated and challenging. The steps are:

  • Map the territory: This step involves helping local, state, and national leaders craft and execute integrated rural education, economic, and community development strategies. That includes: assessing the resources that are available for reshaping rural education. The paper has four questions on impact, sustainability, scale, and leadership to help groups identify how they can advance rural prosperity.
  • Make the connections: This part of the process has five components, including: mobilizing, engaging, and empowering all stakeholders; commiting to specific outcomes; crafting a place-based and evidence-based approach; focusing on strengths; and accountability.
  • Mobilize for rapid and sustainable scale: The final suggestion involves a "test at scale" approach, which is the support for the stage between the pilot phase and widespread adoption phase. The paper points to Race to the Top states with large rural populations, such as Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee, that have built a "collaborative leadership ecosystem from the bottom up around an integrated education, economic and community development strategy."

The paper also highlights some of the struggles that are found in rural communities, such as school consolidation, funding disparities (think the distribution of Title I funds), teacher recruitment and retention, lower teacher salaries, and lack of capacity of districts to compete for federal money.

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