Rural school-community-economy development resources

Curved arrows labeled Education, Economy, and Community chase one another in front of a green triangle.In rural communities, schools cannot be considered separate from economic development and community development. The vitality and policies of any one of the three impacts the other two.

Over the last eight years, the relationships of schools with their communities has been a recurring theme in my blogging. While I was digging out some of my writing on the topic for #RuralEdChat on Twitter, I decided I ought to post a list of resources that others might find helpful. I began with my own writing, but I am starting to add resources from other individuals and organizations, adding annotations to draw attention to an unusual insight or feature.

What’s happening in rural America?

Hollowing Out the Middle, dustjacketThe changing face of rural schools The number of students in rural schools in America is growing, becoming more diverse, and a significant number of those students are poor.

The rural brain brain Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas study of rural America showed a hollowing out: a loss of its most talented young people at the same time the rural economy has been transformed for those who stay.

Will new blood cure rural brain drain? The net migration rates suggest not enough people are immigrating to rural areas to offset the losses caused by young people moving away for college and jobs.

Who is to blame for rural brain drain?

Schools are complicit in rural brain drain Researchers found rural schools and their communities groom their brightest students for jobs and lifestyles not available locally, while giving almost no support to students who remain in the local area.

How could rural schools aid in community development?

Communities as school revenue streams Thinking of school as “a self-sustaining revenue facility” is a way to address school budgetary problems as well as wider community problems around medical care, food access, and community programming.

How could rural schools aid in economic development?

Beating the brain drain Changes to the education system can help alleviate the rural brain drain in small-town America, experts say.

Could schools grow a local economy? Greenville (NY) High School created what is, in effect, a small business incubator within its facility, giving a business rent in exchange for hands-on work experience for its high school students.

Entrepreneurship as rural economic key Creating their own jobs is a way for rural students to remain in rural communities. The Internet makes it possible for them to get advanced training, often for little or no cost.

Add skill applications to high school courses When teachers insert the question, “What you can do with this skill?” in coursework across the curriculum, they encourage students to graduate high school with entrepreneurial mindsets.

Teens see challenges, build solutions, even make money Examples of teens who have looked around them and found problems they wanted to solve.

How can rural schools and communities collaborate?

The challenge of providing challenges to adolescents Schools, businesses, and communities need to give teens opportunities to work alongside adults, to contribute to their communities, and to develop and apply real skills.

Integrating life with school for adult high schoolers Adding non-academic services helps dropouts get on track to diplomas and jobs.

Expand learning at shrinking playground Let’s require students to apply classroom knowledge to real world writing situations and offer hands-on learning of salable skills. [corrected link 2017-01-26]

This school grows its future teachers A two-course program allows students considering a teaching career to find out what being a teacher entails. The program not only develops teachers, but helps prepare future school board members and business leaders knowledgeable about how to support schools.

Teen after school programs that do more than distract Communities have initiated a variety of programs modeled after adult continuing education courses, apprenticeships, internships, and businesses to give their young people opportunities to do work that’s valuable in their home communities while developing skills and a work ethic.

Helping teens get ready for work Many first jobs aren’t fun. Students need to be taught how to adjust their attitudes and their jobs to make them opportunities to find challenge, enjoyment, concentration, and deep involvement.

What about the “no college for me” kids?

Support for Rural Vo-Tech Kids Articulation agreements may handicap the career and technical education students’ chances of success as compared to the chances of their academically oriented peers.

Ideas for businesses that require no college Six ideas for businesses serving the business market that require no post-high school training.

Skill acquisition without schooling The internet allows someone with determination to learn skills for a good-paying job without the expenses of a college degree.

Building narratives and community from school outward  Place-based, scholarly research by rural students can have direct, positive impact on local economic development.

Who is working on the three-pronged rural problem?

Rural schools as community centers A grassroots movement in Canada that opposes rural school closures and consolidations is attempting to convince the government that in a rural landscape, education cannot be regarded as separate from health, economic development, or tourism.

The Rural School and Community Trust has compiled Tools to fight rural school consolidation.

The Center for Rural Affairs (cfra.org) developed a series of articles on why rural schools need to be kept alive. The articles are available as a 6-page pdf document.

The Orton Family Foundation empowers people to shape the future of their communities by collective, collaborative activities focusing on their unique strengths.

Policy won’t lead change; teachers must

Seen from above, graduate's black mortarboards.

A piece by Mary Alice McCarthy in The Atlantic last week has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention. McCarthy’s thesis is in her title: “America Needs to Get Over its Reverence for the Bachelor’s Degree.”

She uses the experiences of her two nephews to show two equally unacceptable options for students who don’t want to move from the high school classroom to the college classroom.

One of her nephews went into a culinary arts training program at at technical college. Then he went to New York City restaurants where he did well and got great experience.

All his training and experience afforded him no credit toward the college degree he’d need to work in management, where he’d earn more and which could lead to operating his own restaurant.

The other nephew went, reluctantly, to college, eventually graduated, but without having developed any true college-level skills. He’s unemployed, unqualified for white collar jobs, and untrained for blue-collar ones.

McCarthy points out that, unlike America, many other developed countries have career pathways that start with impressive vocational training programs.  She writes:

The issue isn’t that a career that starts with technical training can’t lead to more advanced learning and skills. It is that our higher-education policies simply don’t allow for it—and that’s just a failure of imagination.

I agree with McCarthy that America’s love affair with the bachelor’s degree is absurd.

I entirely agree with her that the traditional BA program makes no sense for millions of students who need experience to ground their academic study. I’ve had hundreds of them in my freshman composition classes.

I also can see how the “upside down” bachelor’s degree, which has the career training component  before the general education courses, would work for some students who are not classroom oriented.

I just don’t see it working for sufficient numbers of students.

I think there are just too many students for whom traditional general education courses remain unconnected to their vocational interests. The bulk of students I’ve had wouldn’t see any more value in college composition after completing two years of vocational training than they would have seen their first semester of college.

I don’t disagree with McCarthy’s point that American education policy is out of whack; however, I don’t believe policy changes alone are the answer.

Policy changes don’t necessarily result in practice changes necessary for successful implementation of the policies. The whole Common Core debacle is testimony to that.

No matter where the academic  gen ed courses fall in students’ post-secondary training, if post-secondary teachers are not equipped to teach the masses of students who need a college degree solely for the financial reasons McCarthy describes, conditions are not going to improve any time soon.

Post-secondary teachers in America are split between “vocational types” and “academic types.”  Both types would need experiences to enable them—collaboratively, if not individually—to craft assignments that guide students to discover connections between general education and their careers.

When such assignments are given today, it’s mainly by accident.

Unless academic faculty are encouraged (encouraged is the politically correct term for required) to build assignments for the career and technical education students, those assignments won’t be created.

Unless vocational faculty collaborate with them, the academics will make a mess of the assignments.

And if all faculty don’t create assignments that encourage (that PC term!) students to figure out how the career courses and the gen ed courses complement each other, students won’t see any connection between the two.

Even without policy changes, an imaginative faculty could begin the process of collaborating on new assignments that give career oriented students a basis on which to learn more advanced skills and develop new interest areas in the future.

Such collaborative experience might even spark  significant changes for students, faculty, and their institutions.

Photo Credit, David Niblack, Imagebase.net.

Dual enrollment courses: How students may benefit

I’ve been thinking about dual enrollment courses lately.

My musing was prompted partially by the Obama proposal to give high school graduates two free years of community college, partially by a new report from the Education Commission of the States, and partially by an item in my local school district newsletter about its program’s success.

Dual enrollment or concurrent courses are classes taken by high school students for which they receive both high school and college credit.

Usually the higher education institution is a community college. Less often it is either a public or private college or a proprietary school.

In most cases, the college courses are taught at the students’ home schools instead of on the colleges’ campuses.

Financial benefits for students

hs-tcs graphicIn view of the high costs of college, dual enrollment courses are an attractive option for students and their families. The post-secondary institution doesn’t charge students tuition.

Ambitious students whose home high schools offer the courses they need through concurrent enrollment can graduate high school with two years’ worth of college  credits for which they did not have to pay.

There are other savings as well. Students don’t have to pay some of the fees students enrolled for only college credit must shoulder.

They don’t live on campus, so they save on dormitory costs.

And, since in most cases the instruction is delivered on the high school campus, students save on transportation costs.

Students who graduate high school at age 18 with two years of college credits could have their bachelor’s degree at age 20 with only a fraction of the outstanding debt of those who take four years to go through college.

Academic benefits for students

The academic area is where things get murky.

Publicity materials for concurrent enrollment programs emphasize that that being able to take remedial work in the familiar environment of their home school is helpful for students with skill deficits. They make a similar argument in favor of home-school advantage for students who don’t have people in their home circle who have attended college.

It is certainly a fact that the more remediation students need at the post-secondary level the less likely they are to succeed in college. I’m not sure, however, that a remedial course at the home school will be any more beneficial than remedial course in a college classroom. (I’ve had students in my first year college composition classes who had taken remedial English on campus; they were still not ready for college composition.)

The value to be derived from of acclimating disadvantaged students to the college environment by seating them in high school classrooms also strikes me as suspect.  Even if the course in the high school setting is every bit as good as the one on the college campus, students still are not having a college experience.

Classes that meet on a less-than-daily schedule and classes that meet for longer time sessions are college features that students typically don’t experience on a high school campus.

More important is that the high school environment rarely provides the diversity of a college campus, even if the two are in the same city. The experience of working with people different from yourself is one of the key experiences of college.

The final academic question is whether the courses taught at the high schools are every bit as good as the ones on campus.

That is a tough question to answer.

Nationally, only 11 percent of academically-oriented courses and 14 percent of career-technology education courses are taught by college faculty, according to the National Center on Education Statistics. The vast majority of the concurrent enrollment courses (61 percent of academic and 67 percent of CTE courses) are taught by high school faculty.

That does not mean the high school teachers don’t know their material or are not good teachers.

It does, however, raise some questions about whether they can teach high school students at the college level.

TC3

My local school district gets its college credits through  Tompkins Cortland Community College, TC3.  Here’s how the process works, according to the TC3 website.

A local school teacher applies to the college for authorization to teach specific courses at his/her home school. The college’s website says:

Many instructors find that courses they teach, or hope to teach, can be adapted to align with TC3 courses. For example, many 12th grade Honors English teachers offer ENGL101 and even ENGL102, Regents chemistry may be aligned with CHEM101 and 102, and a government class may be adapted to meet POSC103 expectations.

If accepted—the college has a list of minimum teacher requirements for each course—teachers must follow a master template for the course. Here’s a link to the mater template for the first half of TC3 first year English, ENGL100.

TC3 requires faculty to file copies of their course outlines with the college. It also assigns faculty liaisons observations to assist concurrent faculty. (I’m assuming someone other than John Updike does the English course observations; he’s not on the TC3 staff roster.)

I’ve just touched the surface of aspects of the concurrent courses that need some more investigation.

I’ll hold that for another day.

If you’re interested in this topic, I recommend Jennifer Dounay Zinth’s 2015 report written for the Education Commission of the States: http://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/01/17/16/11716.pdf


[corrected broken link 12-Nov-2015; corrected broken link 2016-01-22]