RPM Electronic Edition Volume 6, No. 2 (February 2004)

RPM Electronic Edition Volume 6, No. 2 (February 2004)

1. West Virginia Turns the Corner on Consolidation

2. Missouri Study: Small Schools Counter Poverty, Boost Achievement

3. Distance Learning Policies Show Little Consistency From State to State

4. Coming Soon: Rural Trust Guide for State School Facilities Programs

5. Legal Scholars Tackle the Needs of Rural Schools

6. Rural Schools Unfairly Targeted by Illinois Assessment Program

7. Devil in the Details of Adequate Yearly Progress

8. Kids Speak Out in Rural Arkansas

9. About Rural Policy Matters

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1. West Virginia Turns the Corner on Consolidation

Announcing two new appointments to the State Board of Education, West Virginia Governor Bob Wise may have launched the beginning of the end of school consolidation as a state policy. Wise said the appointments reflect his “commitment to preserving high quality small schools, maintaining them as vital parts of local communities and ensuring all students receive the best possible education.” Wise said schools affect every aspect of daily life in West Virginia communities.

These appointments parallel two appointments Wise made recently to the School Building Authority (SBA), the state agency that has fueled consolidation by channeling facilities construction funds toward larger schools. Those appointments are expected to soften the aggressiveness of the SBA.

Meantime, legislation is also being drafted that will alter the SBA’s funding guidelines, placing less emphasis on the “economy of scale” criterion that has encouraged larger schools. Bills to cap the length of bus rides and to allow the State Board of Education to waive provisions in the school funding formula that penalize small schools in sparsely settled areas are also expected to be introduced in this year’s legislative session.

And in the courts, a lawsuit filed to stop consolidations in Lincoln County is expected to go to trial in February with a former federal prosecutor representing rural parents.

These developments reflect the rapidly growing power of the rural small schools movement in West Virginia. They are a product of years of hard organizing work by Challenge West Virginia, a grassroots organization with chapters now in over 20 counties.

Challenge West Virginia’s executive director, Linda Martin, said the appointments and the Governor’s words are welcome, and that a corner has been turned in the battle to keep and improve West Virginia’s community schools. “But,” she said, “the road goes on past the corner, and we have a few miles to go before it is clear that West Virginia is committed heart and soul to good schools close to home for every child.”

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2. Missouri Study: Small Schools Counter Poverty, Boost Achievement

Smaller school districts in Missouri reduce the harmful effects of poverty on student achievement, according to the latest in a series of studies.

The study used test scores under the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) for eight grades tested in one or more of six subject areas—16 assessments in all—for every district in the state. All data were acquired from the Missouri Department of Education’s website.

Regression analysis was used to answer three questions:

  1. Is the level of academic achievement influenced by the level of poverty in the school district? Answer: Yes, poverty exerts a statistically significant negative impact on achievement on all 16 assessments. 
  2. Is the level of academic achievement influenced by the size (i.e., ¬student enrollment) of the district? Answer: Yes, on 15 of 16 assessments, there is a negative relationship between district size and scores—the larger the district, the lower the scores. Ten of the 15 were statistically significant. 
  3. Is the level of academic achieve¬ment influenced by the combined effects of poverty and size? Answer: Yes, the negative effects of poverty are intensified by larger districts and weakened by smaller ones.

Taken together, the answers boiled down to this: Any increase in the size of school districts in Missouri will likely result in lower test scores for students of all socio-economic levels, but most dramatically for the poorer students.

The study also compared pov¬erty’s power over achievement in two groups of districts—those that were larger than the median (600 average daily attendance) and those that were smaller. The findings were consistent with the pattern generally found in other states: poverty is a big factor in achievement in larger districts but has relatively little impact on achievement in smaller districts. In fact, in Mis¬souri’s smaller districts, poverty’s power over achievement was as weak as in any of the states studied so far.

For example, poverty accounted for 30 percent of the variance in scores among larger districts in Grade 10 Math, but only eight percent of the variance in scores among smaller districts on the same test. It accounted for 28 percent of the variance in larger districts on the grade 7 Communications Arts test, but only five percent of the variance in scores among smaller districts on that test. And it virtually disappeared as a factor among smaller districts on the Grade 9 Health/PE, Grade 4 Math, and Grade 4 Social Studies tests, where it accounted for only one percent of the variance in scores from district to district. Similar study results have been found using similar methodology in Alaska, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Texas, and West Virginia.

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3. Distance Learning Policies Show Little Consistency From State to State

More than 80 percent of school districts currently use some form of distance learning (DL) in the top one-quarter of the states using DL technology, according to the 2003 State Distance Learning Policy Study done by the Rural School and Community Trust in conjunction with the State Technology Directors Association.

The study focused on the extent and type of distance learning technologies currently used and the role of state education agencies (SEAs) in establishing DL policies, rules and regulations. The study used a 10-page e-mail survey of technology directors from state education agencies in 34 states, representing more than 8,500 school districts.

Web-based (online) learning is the most common form of DL, reported in 97 percent of the states followed closely by two-way interactive TV, reported in 94 percent of the states. Less frequently used but still common DL technologies are instruction by satellite (77 percent of states), two-way audio (74 percent), CD-ROM (74 percent), and one-way video/two-way audio technologies (65 percent).

Advanced high school, advanced placement (AP), and dual-credit classes—the typical reasons given for use of distance learning technologies in rural schools—were reported as a purpose for use of DL technology in less than one-third of districts in the 34 states.

Although most state technology directors believe the opportunity for schools to implement distance learning technologies is high, they feel that state and local funding and access to technical support are major impediments to adoption. Availability of the broadband access that is crucial to widespread use of DL clearly differed from state to state. With respect to DL, the digital divide is by no means erased.

DL policies also differ greatly from state to state and more than one-quarter of state technology directors said that their agency had very limited or no authority to set DL policies.

  • Only one-third of directors reported that they evaluate, accredit, register or approve in-state DL courses 
  • Only 16 percent reported that their agency does so for out-of-state DL course providers. 
  • More than half of the states do not require that DL courses to be taught by a state certified teacher
  • In more than two-thirds of responding states, the SEA assumes no control over the DL course content of out-of-state providers. 
  • Only about one-quarter of the states require professional development training for in-state distance learning instructors 
  • Half of responding states said their agency assumes responsibility for soliciting or approving distance learning providers of supplemental education services under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Potentially, these findings reveal an opportunity among unscrupulous DL course providers for widespread access to unsuspecting schools and students.

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4. Coming Soon: Rural Trust Guide for State School Facilities Programs

Arkansas legislators were stunned when a task force of construction professionals recently told them it will cost $10 million just to evaluate the condition of the state’s 5,700 public school buildings and $109 million more just to avoid further building decay during the study. A 14-member legislative facilities committee must define an adequate school facility, estimate how much it will cost to make facilities adequate, and suggest how to pay for it.

It is all part of the response the legislature must make to an Arkansas Supreme Court ruling that the state’s school finance system is unconstitutional. While a lot of attention has ¬properly focused on teacher pay and curriculum needs, the legislature also must attend to the decaying and dilapidated school facilities that have plagued many poor and rural Arkansas districts for decades.

A growing number of states face the same issue. To help state policymakers as they weigh how to provide students with high quality school buildings, the Rural School and Community Trust is preparing a report on crucial policy issues that should be addressed in a state school facilities plan.

Among the report’s preliminary conclusions:

  1. Statewide school facilities plans are improved when local school districts are deeply involved in the planning process and when facility evaluations are based, in part, on self-assessments by local school districts.
  2. A state school facilities plan should ensure that schools, particularly those that are small and rural, have funds to cover costs for renovation, repair and maintenance of existing facilities.
  3. While construction consultants are often needed to assist in the facilities evaluation and planning process, they should not dominate or control the process.

Watch Rural Policy Matters and the Rural School and Community Trust’s website (www.ruraledu.org) for release of the report.

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5. Legal Scholars Tackle the Needs of Rural Schools

In the past 30 years, unfair and inadequate funding for rural schools has led rural advocates in many states to turn to the courts for help. In a number of school funding lawsuits, courts have played a pivotal role in directing state legislatures to improve funding for schools in both urban and rural settings.

Courts often rely on legal scholarship to shape their thinking on complex issues like these. But as courts have grappled with school finance issues, they have had to do so with very little scholarship supporting small and rural schools.

To remedy this deficiency, the Rural School and Community Trust recently sponsored a series of articles on key rural education topics written by leading legal scholars and observers. These articles have been compiled in a special edition of the Nebraska Law Review released in December 2003. Topics addressed by scholars include:

  • Providing equitable and adequate funding for rural schools; 
  • The impact of litigation on rural schools from free textbooks to school consolidation; 
  • The power of small schools to achieve academic success and democratic citizenship; 
  • Meeting the needs of rural schools 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education in the era of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Copies of the Nebraska Law Review may be obtained by contacting: William S. Hein & Co., 1285 Main St. Buffalo, NY 14209. In the near future, the Rural Trust also plans to post some articles on its website at: www.ruraledu.org. For more information contact Greg Malhoit, Director, Rural Education Finance Center, 3344 Hillsborough St., Suite 302, Raleigh, NC 27607, (919) 833-4541, gmalhoit@ruraledu.org.

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6. Rural Schools Unfairly Targeted by Illinois Assessment Program

According the authors of a recently released study, the method Illinois plans to use to classify schools according to student performance on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test is “little more than a suspect racial classification.”

Researchers Beck, Shoffstall and Rau from Illinois State University examined the relationship between performance on the state achievement tests and socioeconomic factors that are beyond the control of schools. They found that 11 percent of students in schools in the top performance category (“Exceeding Expectations”) are poor and 4.3 percent are African American. By contrast, 95 percent of those in schools in the lowest category (“Academic Watch”) are poor and 90 percent are African American.

The research also shows that rural schools outperform non rural schools when scores are adjusted to account for socioeconomic factors. But a high percentage of rural schools will be designated as not meeting standards under the Illinois Assessment Plan, which like other states’ systems, does not take such factors into account.

Under the Illinois system, high performing, mainly white and generally wealthy suburban schools will be eligible for regulatory waivers, cash awards, and public recognition, while low performing schools will be subject to various sanctions such as the removal of the school board, reassignment of administrators and audits.

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7. Devil in the Details of Adequate Yearly Progress

Just released online is a new report on how state policies can best implement the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in rural schools. Devil in the Details: Rural-Sensitive Best Practices Accountability Under No Child Left Behind describes the policy areas in which states have some leeway in defining Adequate Yearly Progress as mandated by NCLB. The paper identifies the most rural-sensitive position for each policy area and examines policy choices made in 15 leading rural states. The report is now available as a PDF file on the Trust’s website at www.ruraledu.org. We’ll highlight it in the next RPM.

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8. Kids Speak Out in Rural Arkansas

More than 800 students from about 60 small, rural schools came to Arkansas’ state capitol with 2,200 adults in tow to rally for education reform and to parti¬cipate in a Democracy Workshop featuring many leading legislators, community organizers, educators, and local government officials. The students in an Advanced Placement Government class at Valley Springs High School captured it all in photographs and notes, and went home to publish a newspaper describing the day, what they learned, and how it felt to be part of what Representative Don House from Walnut Ridge, Arkansas called “the biggest interactive civics class I’ve ever seen.” The paper’s name is Regnant Populus, or for those of us not lucky enough to have had an education in a place like Valley Springs, The People Rule.

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9. About Rural Policy Matters

This newsletter is available both electronically and in print. We'd be happy to send you print copies at your request. Please let us know. You can view back issues at http://www.ruraledu.org/rpm.htm

RPM Volume 5, No. 12 (December 2003)
Rural Policy Matters is published by the Rural School and Community Trust.

The Rural School and Community Trust (Rural Trust) is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to enlarging student learning and improving community life by strengthening relationships between rural schools and communities and engaging students in community-based public work. Through advocacy, research, and outreach, the Rural Trust strives to create a more favorable environment for rural schooling, for student work with a public audience and use, and for more active community participation in schooling. Founded as the Annenberg Rural Challenge in 1995, the Rural Trust today works with more than 700 rural elementary and secondary schools in 35 states.

The Policy Program of the Rural Trust seeks to understand complex issues affecting rural schools and communities; to inform the public debate over rural education policy; and to help rural communities act on education policy issues affecting them.

Comments, questions, and contributions for Rural Policy Matters should be sent to:

Rural School and Community Trust
Policy Program
2 South Main Street
P.O. Box 68
Randolph, VT 05060

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