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District Collaboration Key to Improving Rural Opportunities, Report Says

Rural school districts must attempt to collaborate to mitigate rural challenges, such as high costs and shrinking educational opportunities, according to a recent report.

More than 20 percent of students in the country attend rural schools, many of which are dealing with declining budgets and enrollment numbers.  Rural students are less likely to attend college and often suffer from severe teacher shortages and a lack of academically challenging course offerings like Advanced Placement and honors classes, which can help prepare students for college. A recent report found that although educational attainment levels have risen in rural areas, they still lag urban rates.

The Ohio-based nonprofit Battelle for Kids studied rural district collaborations across the country as well as academic studies to identify models for collaboration and the impact those partnerships have had. The report found that most districts that have partnered together prioritize the following strategies:

  •  Sharing resources: Some district collaboratives share technology, teachers and other staff members, and programs to ensure that all students have access to more opportunity. (Nationwide, rural schools have long relied on sharing teachers and other resources to save money, especially amid budget cuts that threaten courses.)
  •  Advocacy: Some rural districts that have partnered together publish press releases and policy briefs about issues that impact rural schools.
  •  Curriculum design: Some districts share assessments, curriculum, and professional development opportunities to help teachers roll out state standards and connect with other educators. The Northwest Rural Innovation and Student Engagement Network, for example, is made up of 18 rural districts in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho and offers frequent virtual and in-person professional development opportunities. 
  •  Preparing students for college and career: Several rural districts have partnered together with foundations or nonprofits and applied for grants to expand Advanced Placement courses, help students pay for dual enrollment courses, and offer college and career counseling to students. The Ohio Appalachian Collaborative, a group of 27 rural districts, has received several federal and private grants and has nearly doubled the number of teachers certified to teach dual enrollment between 2012 and 2015.

According to the report, these district collaboratives saw a wide range of outcomes, including an increase in graduation rates, college enrollment rates, and ACT scores. Rural districts also reported an increase in collaboration between teachers and success in influencing rural education policies at the state level.

For specific examples of collaboratives, check out the full report here.

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