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NASBE’s Standard Explores Challenges Facing Rural Schools


Rural schools are the heart of community life, but they face significant challenges that the pandemic has only magnified. The January 2021 issue of NASBE’s State Education Standard explores many of these factors: a lack of resources, cultural and virtual isolation, poverty and demographic trends, educator recruitment and retention, and risks to student health and well-being.

In the opening article, researchers Mara Casey Tieken and MK Montgomery explore common misconceptions about rural America— namely, how it is much more diverse than it is usually made out to be, both demographically and economically. This diversity, they point out, is coupled with great inequity. Resources that were always limited have been stretched thinner by the pandemic. Education policy conversations must consider the unique, varied needs of rural communities.

Three articles offer a glimpse into the innovative, collaborative ways states can address challenges and build on rural assets. New America’s Melissa Tooley and Sabia Prescott write about an effort in Kentucky to provide professional development in Appalachian districts, a key component of which is microcredentials. The Colorado Rural Education Collaborative’s Kirk Banghart offers two case studies of districts combining forces to tailor problem-solving to rural schools: One brought together 15 rural superintendents to create a peer-driven accountability system, and another provides scholarships, mentoring, and a peer learning community to rural educators who teach concurrent enrollment classes in high schools across the state.

Ohio University’s Sara L. Hartman writes about the many ways in which the pandemic aggravates the threats to the well-being of many children in rural areas: childcare deserts and food insecurity, reliance on older family members who are at greatest risk for contracting COVID-19 as caregivers, and inhibited reporting of child maltreatment and domestic violence.

Reg Leichty of Foresight Law + Policy discusses one the biggest challenges to rural students’ digital learning: access to high-speed internet and a relative lack of devices. He explains federal efforts under way to close the “homework gap” and lays out steps state leaders can take to ensure more equitable access to digital instruction.

We also talk with three state board members from Maine, Nebraska, and Alaska who grew up and worked in rural districts. They agree that bringing the rural perspective to the board table is critical so that “decisions that negatively impact some areas or some students can be surfaced and addressed.”

Read and share the “rural issue” of The State Education Standard.

NASBE serves as the only membership organization for state boards of education. A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, NASBE elevates state board members’ voices in national and state policymaking, facilitates the exchange of informed ideas, and supports members in advancing equity and excellence in public education for students of all races, genders, and circumstances.

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