On March 22nd, CASDA co- hosted the research symposium “Rural Schools, Community Well-Being and Implications for Policy” with the Northeast Rural Districts Research Alliance at REL Northeast & Islands at EDC. The conference brought together educators and researchers from across New York and New England to examine research on complex issues such as rural community out-migration. Working with REL Northeast & Islands, funded by the Institute of Education Sciences within the U.S. Department of Education, CASDA demonstrates commitment to facilitating collaborations that identify promising practices to better serve students and communities.
The morning centered on the keynote address of Dr. Kai Schafft, Associate Professor of Education Policy Studies at Penn State University. Dr. Schafft began by exploring popular conceptions of rural life in America’s social consciousness and the increasingly diverse demography of non-metropolitan spaces. He offered clear statistical evidence of growth in minority and English Language Learner student populations and challenged the widespread notion that rural districts are homogenous spaces.
Emphasizing the diversity of rural spaces, Dr. Schafft situated shifts in rural schooling within the context of a larger movement towards a globalized political economy. He cited the rural outmigration phenomenon known as “brain drain” in which the most talented students leave their rural hometowns to seek higher education and employment opportunities. The globalized post-industrial economy dictates that jobs for college-educated workers are not found metropolitan centers. Consequently, intelligent, educated and skilled young people rarely move back to their rural communities after graduation. Outmigration exacerbates the marginalization of a population already in the midst of significant economic, social and ecological turmoil. Dr. Schafft’s investigation of a diverse, plural rural population, rapid, technologically mediated social change and harsh economic realities provided robust support for his call to explore inclusive, coherent ideas in rural education policy.
Also during the conference, a number of other presenters and panels shared programs and best practices striving to improve outcomes for rural students. Dr. Mara Tieken discussed her experiences researching for her seminal work Why Rural Schools Matter, in which she explores racial dynamics and community identity in two school districts in rural Arkansas. CASDA and University at Albany’s Dr. Lynn Macan explored the dynamics of Systems Thinking in rural schools and Dr. Michelle Tine of Dartmouth College shared “The Unique Cognitive and Academic Consequences of Rural Poverty.” Diverse perspectives on academic, social and economic issues impacting rural schools, their students, families and communities were presented with compelling thoughtfulness and passion.
The afternoon concluded with a “Practitioner Panel” comprised of current and former rural school superintendents who confront these challenges on a daily basis. Mark Brand from Indian Lake, Andrew Cook of Hartford and Lynn Macan, formerly of Cobleskill-Richmondville, all CASDA affiliates, brought a local perspective to the day’s issues while Jerry White shared his experience leading the remote Maine Island Schools. They discussed problems of administrative stewardship, challenges faced by rural educators and the potential for research to inspire creative solutions and practices to drive school improvement and provide students with greater learning opportunities.
CASDA’s Dr. Jerry Steele captured the spirit of the conference:
“We have to ask large, difficult questions. To what extent has legislative policy played a role in expediting outmigration of rural students from their communities? What does this mean for the places they leave behind? Our mission at CASDA is to bring together educators who confront this reality on a daily basis with scholars, researchers and institutions in the hope that we can spark fruitful discussion, inquiry and collaboration leading to meaningful and sustainable progress for these schools and communities.”