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Last Updated on March 2, 2022 by Anne-Sophie Reinhardt

The Institute for Educational Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education funded the National Research Center on Rural Education Support (NRCRES) in 2004. The center is situated at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Rural education in the United States has always been the focus of NRCRES’s extensive research program. Most American schools are located in rural areas, and 30 percent of all children are enrolled in these rural schools, many of which have single mothers.

What is the mission of the National Research Center on Rural Education Support? 

NRCRES conducted research and development to find solutions to the following problems in rural education: 

  • Competent instructors should be retained
  • Achievement and dropout rates among students
  • Advanced Placement courses must be available in which students can enroll in them if they qualify
  • Professional development training to help increase the overall quality of teachers

What are the research programs of NRCRES? 

A total of four research programs have been carried out by the NRCRES to assist in addressing the difficulties that affect rural education. The four research programs are Targeted Reading Intervention: A Rural Early Literacy Initiative, Rural Early Adolescent Learning Program, Distance Education Program, and Rural High School Aspirations Study.

Target reading intervention: A Rural Early Literacy Initiative

Targeted Reading Intervention (TRI) bridges the reading gap among young pupils who were unfortunately deprived of adequate resources to meet their educational needs. It is an intervention for both classroom teachers and struggling readers which aims to introduce efficient instructional strategies, to improve the content pedagogical knowledge of the educators, and to make progress in the reading proficiency of the learners. Beginning with one-on-one sessions before transitioning to small groups, teachers are tasked to closely monitor the readers on a daily basis using the evidence-based reading strategies which they refined with a diagnostic mindset. 

TRI is conducted in rural areas where young children struggle from establishing a solid foundation in literacy because of geographical segregation and poverty, which made the necessary resources inaccessible and expensive for them. The early stage of development of children is seen to be a crucial period of their educational success. Thus, TRI intends to accelerate their reading development. 

To help students become successful readers, teachers must be knowledgeable on the process of transferring information to them and of developing instructions based on their assessment. Children have to master the fundamental skills of reading which include phonological awareness, phonics knowledge, and sight word knowledge. These skills help with word recognition. After this phase, meanings will be attached to the words to improve their reading comprehension. 

The TRI content is introduced to the students and teachers during the TRI Summer Institute. As teachers implement the different reading development strategies, TRI consultants provide them with coaching sessions during the Weekly/Biweekly consultant visits. When the paradigm is established successfully, monthly professional development sessions would be held to review the effectiveness of the strategies and assess how they can be further developed to optimize the students’ reading growth. 

Rural Early Adolescent Learning Program

Rural Adolescent Learning Program aims to provide professional development programs among teachers who deal with adolescents who are at-risk of school adjustment difficulties. It is conducted in geographically isolated areas where such an institutional support is inadequate and unaffordable because of the location and the presence of poverty in the site. 

Professional development is critical to the educational success of the learners because it teachers are the primary facilitator of their learning progress. To create a conducive learning environment for them, the Supporting Early Adolescents’ Learning and Social Success (SEAL) is introduced. SEALS is an intervention program wherein teachers learn to use evidence-based approaches to improve classroom engagement and to motivate the establishment of good social relationships among the students. It is framed in three complementary perspectives to aid the adjustment and school adaptation process of the students: 

  • Stage-environment fit hypothesis: teachers learn to use classroom management strategies that structure the environment to hone students to become self-efficient and autonomous in their learning process. It also addresses the issues and the needs of the youth.
  • Developmental science: teachers provide interventions to assist the growth of the students as they go through their academic, behavioral, and social domains of adjustment. 
  • Ecological Intervention Framework: this shapes the environment to become a motivating site for the productivity and growth of the students as teachers employ different strategies to encourage the development of new skills, opportunities, and social roles.

The training components of the SEALS program include SEALS Summer Institute participation, on-site visitation by intervention staff, completion of online modules, and multiple directed consultation sessions via video conferencing with the intervention staff. 

 Distance Education

Distance education is an alternative effort to improve educational success in rural areas by providing a comprehensive curriculum and advanced courses through remotely feasible channels. It aims to overcome the challenges that hinder students from completing advanced courses, such as teacher shortage, low admission rate, and financial constraints. 

To enlighten the use of, the barriers to, and the improvement of distance education and online learning, the distance education program, along with the National Research Center on Rural Education Support, conducted a telephone survey among 400 small and low-income rural districts. The findings revealed that distance education is primarily used to provide advanced and enrichment courses such as Math, foreign language, and English. Several barriers to its implementation were identified. Nonetheless, the satisfaction of rural districts was noted in the survey. 

Students learn in online classes as much they do in face-to-face classes, however, they tend to have a higher dropout rate. In line with this, the Facilitator Preparation Program provide professional development training to facilitators and to aid the rural students in their learning process. As this program was evaluated, research showed the improvement of the course completion rate among students. Facilitators were critical in setting the learning climate in the classroom which is vital for their development. Students seem to learn better when there is engagement in direct instruction.

Rural High School Aspirations Study

The RHSA team conducted surveys among 8,794 rural high school students from 100,000 public schools across the United States to update the following information:

  • Their educational, vocational, and residential aspirations
  • Their preparatory planning and activities for post-secondary education, work, and adult life
  • Impact of school experiences, different socio-cultural factors, geographical location, and community characteristics on their aspirations and preparatory activities.

The findings of the study concluded that the majority of the students want to make further progress in their educational attainment and pursue various careers. More than 50% want to pursue college and 35% want to obtain an advanced degree. When asked about the residential area, only 15% of them confirmed that they want to live in another state. 72% of them want to remain in a small town while 42% of them would live in a rural community within their state.

Parents, and counselors, but mostly teachers, participated in the consultations of these aspirations. Despite the visions of the students for themselves, they can only obtain the opportunity to fulfill them if they’ll study in a larger school with college preparatory programs. Otherwise, taking part in a school-to-work transition program would become one of their struggles.

This lack of opportunity, along with their willingness to stay in their locale and to take part in its development, and their family hardships discouraged them from pursuing post-secondary education. On the other hand, students with parental expectations, with greater educational background, and with a more valuing perspective of education were more likely to advance their educational attainment. Interestingly, girls were more perceived to be more ambitious than boys when it comes to educational achievements and scholarships but it was boys who had more access to the opportunities to participate in school-to-work transition programs.

What happened during the Supporting Rural Schools and Communities Research Conference? 

In conjunction with the National Research Center on Rural Education Support, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill hosted a two-day research conference on November 5 and 6, 2009, to discuss rural education issues. Dr. Lynn Okagaki from the Institute for Educational Sciences at the United States Department of Education, Dr. Mark Greenberg from the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Pennsylvania State University, and Dr. Rachel Tompkins from the Rural School and Community Trust were the keynote speakers for this conference. Scholars from the National Rural Center for Rural Education and other prominent researchers in the field of rural education presented information and latest discoveries on the topics listed below.

  • Early Childhood & Elementary Education
  • Adolescent Intervention Programs
  • Supporting Rural Schools & Communities During Changing Times
  • Transition to Adulthood Issues
  • Teacher Preparation & Education Leadership
  • Distance Education and Technology
  • Writing & Literacy
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