Cultivating Rural Education: A People-Focused Approach for States
reviewed by Kathleen Randolph - November 29, 2021
Title: Cultivating Rural Education: A People-Focused Approach for States
Author(s): Caitlin Howley & Sam Redding
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1648024696, Pages: 176, Year: 2021
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About 19% of the U.S. population lives in rural areas. Given this, rural education is typically undervalued in K12 education conversations. Though rural areas might be vast and have fewer students than their urban counterparts, the discussion often skews to the negatives about rural life and the education provided in rural areas. This is most certainly not the case. Rural areas, and rural schools, provide numerous benefits to the residents, community, and the students. In this book, editors Caitlin Howley and Sam Redding, along with the authors of each chapter, highlight the realities of rural living along with the benefits, diversity, challenges, assets, and value of those living in rural areas.
This book begins by providing readers with an overview of rural education, along with the themes found in the book. The first theme reminds the reader that rural areas are not one size fits all; rather, rural areas are diverse in all contexts. The second theme includes the fact that rurality is not a problem, rather it is a set of circumstantial conditions that are as influential on the individuals that live within them as those that live in urban areas. The third theme of the book emphasizes the benefits that rural life offers its residents and education specifically. The fourth theme brings the divestment of rural communities, which greatly reduces tax revenues and directly impacts the education system, to the forefront. The fifth theme focuses on the assets of rural life and education, and emphasizes equitable educational opportunities.
The overarching theme of the book is that not all rural areas are the same, and a one size fits all approach to rural education is not appropriate. The definition of rural is somewhat contentious, and the federal definition of rurality has changed over decades. Rural can be considered a geographic and community definition, and schools are just one part of the consideration. Rural areas vary in experience, commerce, and environment. The book aims to frame rural communities and schools from an asset-based perspective, and thus frames the challenges rural communities face as strengths upon which to build, rather than negatives or deficits. Specific emphasis is on the rural education system, but also on retaining students, or encouraging them to return after leaving for education or other opportunities so that the local area still contains competent individuals who work in the schools or local industry.
The book highlights educational access issues, specifically student access to higher-level coursework (e.g., Advanced Placement, or AP), because the coursework must be delivered by specifically licensed educators (e.g., Masters degree) who are qualified to teach those courses. Teacher recruitment, retention, and training are issues of concern that are exacerbated in rural communities. Its important to recognize that under-resourced school districts typically hire inexperienced teachers, sometimes whom are not certified, and those teachers often work with children of color in higher-poverty rural areas. Teachers in these communities are often the only one in their content area, struggle to get professional development and coaching, and feel isolated due to this. Universityrural school partnerships are emphasized to reduce geographic isolation and lack of qualified teachers. A universityrural school partnership that exposes teacher candidates to rural schools may increase their desire to work in rural areas and provides targeted professional development opportunities to teachers in the rural areas. Additionally, teachers may benefit from mentoring relationships, whether within their district or with a neighboring district, which provides them with a mentor in the same content area who can provide support that those in their own district may not. Non-traditional approaches discussed include grow-your-own, alternate licensure, and teacher residency programs that could include the teacher workforce in the rural areas and allow them to earn credentials as they teach.
The book highlights exemplary offerings within rural schools that benefit both students and the community in the long run. This includes career and technical education, programs focused on science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM), and social and emotional learning (SEL) opportunities. Expanding career and technical education in rural communities provides employment opportunities for students and highly qualified employees within the community; these students leave school making decent wages, and with skills to walk right into a profession. This emphasis on students who may not be interested in college helps to reduce high school dropout rates in rural communities and provide skilled labor to the community. An expanded STEAM program helps to both expand the curriculum and provide rigorous academic experiences to students in rural communities. Emphasizing SEL in the community and school helps to dispel myths of mistrusting health professionals, brings SEL to the forefront, where student mental health can be a focus, and provides access to mental health supports in schools.
The book concludes with descriptions of successful partnerships and practices, and a call to action. These descriptions mention the ways community organizations come together to show students a wide range of opportunities. They exemplify the ways rural communities embrace their members, young and old. The final chapter provides a framework with strategies and guidelines for rural community members to gather and look at the education system in their community. The authors provide reflection prompts and evaluation examples to drive the process, along with suggestions for team members from the state to the local level.
Overall, I found this book to be an asset-based discussion of the rural education system. This was a refreshing, well-rounded book, with a variety of authors with varying expertise areas who provided honest discourse and suggestions to improve the rural education system. This book could easily be infused into a field experience class at the university level, designed to expose students to the benefits of living and teaching in rural areas. The movie and book list at the end of the book provide additional resources to individuals interested in further exploring rural education and life.
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