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The Faces of

Rural School Reform

Jeremy Price
A326 – School Reform: Curricular and Instructional Leadership
21 January 2003

Professor: Katherine K. Merseth

Teaching Fellow: Eric Toshalis
Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003

PREFACE: THE TAPESTRY ............................................................................................ II

THE CD-ROM.............................................................................................................. III


A SNAPSHOT OF THE NUMBERS ........................................................................................................... 1
BEYOND THE NUMBERS ........................................................................................................................ 2

ISSUES SURROUNDING RURAL SCHOOL REFORM ........................................................ 3

A BIFURCATION OF CONCEPTIONS ...................................................................................................... 3
SYSTEMIC ISSUES .................................................................................................................................. 8

SUGGESTIONS FOR RURAL SCHOOL REFORM ............................................................. 11

SCHOOL-COMMUNITY INTERDEPENDENCE ....................................................................................... 11
A PEDAGOGY OF PLACE...................................................................................................................... 12
A MULTI-CULTURAL APPROACH ....................................................................................................... 13
BUILDING BRIDGES WITH TECHNOLOGY ........................................................................................... 15

POSTSCRIPT: A BETTER PLACE TO BE ..................................................................... 17

APPENDIX ..................................................................................................................... 18

SOURCES ...................................................................................................................... 19

ART CREDITS ............................................................................................................... 21

Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003


“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”
– Muriel Rukeyser

My mother, having grown up in Brooklyn, never

liked living in the city. My father, the son of a Midwest
salesman, was used to moving around.

When I was eight, having just completed the third grade, my family moved from a small
college town of about fifteen thousand people to rural Lewis County, NY, not far from the Cana-
dian border. The county stretched from the rugged Adirondack Mountains westward to the Tug
Hill Plateau. Self-proclaimed as “God’s Country,” cows outnumbered people 4-to-1, and many
of the families still lived as dairy farmers, much as generations of their family had since settling
Northern New York after leaving their Western Massachusetts towns for more expansive farm-
land. Convoys of soldiers rumbled by our house year-round on their way to nearby Fort Drum,
and fighter jets from the Rome Air Force Base screamed overhead in mock aerial battle over a
landscape that resembled Central Europe.

In the winter, the arctic winds from the north would swoop down across Lake Ontario
unencumbered, gaining energy and moisture. Encountering its first barrier, the Tug Hill Pla-
teau, the cold air would drop massive amounts of snow, and then moved it around as if to test out
different landscape combinations. Snow drifts easily towered above six feet, serving as a winter
wonderland for a boy with a vivid imagination. We were occasionally invited by our Mennonite
farmer “neighbors” to share sugar-on-snow, hot freshly tapped maple syrup that became gooey
candy after being poured on cold snow. Summers were spent hiking through open cow pastures
and scrambling under barbed-wire fences to a nearby waterfall deep within our neighbors’ land,
hidden to all except us, our farmer neighbors, and the meandering cows.

Just two years later, we moved once again, to Columbia County, NY, further south with
more hospitable weather and a little less rural. Columbia County is an attractive region of New
York State1, just three hours from New York City and two hours-and-a-half hours from Boston,
nestled between the Hudson River and the Taconic/Berkshire Mountain Range. When we first
moved there, tourism was on the rise, but farms were still viable. That changed rapidly.

I attended public schools throughout my entire pre-college education, even though my

sixth-grade teacher tried her best to convince my parents to send me to a nearby private day
school. The Copake-Taconic Hills Central School District, my alma mater, stretched over five
towns, making it the 35th largest district area in New York State; I graduated with only 98 other

Learning about school reform is learning to hear the voices of those who are often
silenced or lost in the clamor. The voices of those who live in rural areas are yet more voices
deserving of an ear – followed by action.
The Nature Conservancy has named Columbia County one of the “Last Great Places” (see

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Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003


The CD-ROM included with this report contains this paper, the presentation
that was given in section on 15 January 2003, and two simple school change
simulations, one of a rural scenario and one of an urban scenario.

Getting Started

On a computer running a version of Microsoft Windows, the CD-ROM should

open the Introduction Program automatically. If the CD-ROM fails to begin
automatically on a Windows computer, open the CD-ROM and double-click on the
“INTRO.EXE” icon. If the CD-ROM is being used with a computer running a
version of Apple MacOS, open the CD-ROM and double-click on the “MACINTRO”
icon. The Introduction Program requires Macromedia Flash Player 6, available at
ShockwaveFlash&P5_Language=English or by clicking the icon labeled
“Macromedia Flash Player Download Center.”

Using the Introduction Program

The Introduction Program presents a very short slideshow. The main menu
is then presented. The options are:

Read Paper (Microsoft Word): Opens the Microsoft Word version of

this paper.
Read Paper (PDF): Opens the Adobe PDF version of this paper with
Adobe Acrobat.
View Rural Simulation: Opens the Rural Environment School Change
Simulation in a Web Browser (such as Microsoft Internet Explorer or
Netscape Navigator).
View Urban Simulation: Opens the Urban Environment School
Change Simulation in a Web Browser (such as Microsoft Internet
Explorer of Netscape Navigator).
View PowerPoint Presentation: Opens the PowerPoint presentation
delivered during section on 15 January 2003.
Exit: Quits the Introduction Program.

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Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003

Running the Simulations

The simulations are intended to demonstrate how rates and frequencies of

change can differ in rural versus urban areas simply due to differences in
population densities. The mini-blackboards ( ) in the simulation can represent
teachers, administrators, school districts, or a combination of the three – for the
purposes of the simulation it doesn’t matter. Mini-blackboards with red or green
chalk represent entities that wish to bring about change – again, for the purposes of
the simulation it doesn’t matter what the specific change is. Mini-blackboards with
gray chalk represent entities maintaining the status quo.

Mini-blackboards bringing change spread change through proximity – if one

is next to a status quo mini-blackboard, there is a chance that the status quo mini-
blackboard will change to a red or green mini-blackboard. However, all mini-
blackboards have tendency towards the status quo, and if there is not significant
enough reinforcement for change, all mini-blackboards will eventually return to the
status quo state.

It is recommended that the slider on the Slow-Fast Slide Bar be

positioned about ¾ of the way towards the Fast end. If this is too fast or too
slow, the slider can be adjusted at any point.

It is important to compare the Rural Environment Simulation with the

Urban Environment Simulation. Due to the low density of the Rural Environment,
there may be no change apparent whatsoever, and all mini-blackboards will return
to the status quo (gray chalk) state. Notice, however, that change occurs quickly
and with great frequency in the Urban Environment.

This is a very simple simulation – the real world is much complex.

Creating a more realistic simulation would be a project in itself. This simulation is
presented only to impress upon the reader that density can have an effect on
the rate and frequency of change in schools.

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Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003


A Snapshot of the Numbers

There is an emphasis on the change, reform, and betterment of the public school systems

in urban areas. Because of the tendency to keep wealth and interest in areas where there is al-

ready wealth and power, these schools, often large, and the communities they serve, frequently

high-poverty or high-minority populations, are deserving of the attention and study they receive.

However, it is important to realize that urban populations are not the only population at a signifi-

cant disadvantage when it comes to wealth, power, and, thus, education.

A rural area is classified as an area or town of 2,500 people or less. Roughly fourteen

percent of all Americans, or approximately 61,655,348 people, live in a rural area. Of the chil-

dren living in these rural areas, almost 17% are ethnic minorities and 18% live in poverty. The

ethnic minority breakdown generally mirrors the minority breakdown of the rest of the country.

However, rural areas tend to be poorer than urban areas on the whole – of the 250 poorest coun-

ties in the United States, 244 are rural (Beeson & Strange 2000). Further points of interest can

be found in the Appendix.

The Rural School and Community Trust conducted a broad-ranging survey of rural com-

munities and schools on a state-by-state basis (Beeson & Strange 2000). The results indicate that

on average, the rural teacher’s salary is about $6,124 less than their urban or suburban counter-

parts, 21.8% of rural schools scored below average on the Education Climate Index for the 1997-

1998 school year, and 28.8% of rural householders over the age of 18 have less than a 12th-grade

education. Combining indicators of importance (such as rural population, poverty levels, and

minority levels) with indicators of urgency (such as salary differentials, Education Climate Index

scores, and education levels), the Rural School and Community Trust has developed a ranking of

Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003

states’ needs for rural school reform. The states ranking highest in the importance and urgency

scales are found in the Deep South, Appalachia, and the northern Great Plains. A representative

overview of the various rankings of states providing a snapshot of the range of situations rural

communities may find themselves can be found in the Appendix.

Beyond the Numbers

Rural populations tend to be geographically distant from one another and culturally dis-

tinct from urban and suburban areas. In addition, rural communities are often distinct from one

another – a rural town in California looks very different than a rural town in West Virginia or

Massachusetts – contributing to the complexity of the situation (Beeson & Strange 2000). The

dispersion and diversity of rural communities make it difficult for a strong voice to emerge

championing the cause of rural schools and the education of rural children. Due to these factors,

rural schooling has largely been ignored in the national debate on education (Beeson & Strange

2000). These factors additionally make it difficult for national policy directives to introduce

meaningful change at a local rural community level (Kannapel 2000).

However, rural schools also tend to be small, with small student populations and low stu-

dent-to-teacher ratios (Dunn). Small schools have the potential to provide a sense of intimacy

and trust, leading to higher performance and a clearer sense of direction after graduation on the

part of the students (Noguera 2002).

It is hoped that the preceding pages have established a sense of urgency for examining

school reform in a rural context. In the following pages, the various qualitative issues impacting

rural school reform will be explored further in-depth. In addition, suggestions for starting the

long and arduous, yet extraordinarily important, journey toward changing rural schools in bene-

ficial and meaningful ways.

Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003


A Bifurcation of Conceptions

While 14% of the American population lives in what is defined as a rural area, this is a

small proportion of the general populace when compared against the number of people living in

urban or suburban areas. As such, many of the policy makers on the national and state levels fo-

cus much of the attention is away from rural schools. This can be seen as due to two different

types of misconceptions on the part of urbanites and suburbanites toward rural Americans: The

View of the World from 9th Avenue Syndrome and Prejudices and Stereotypes.

The View of the World from 9th Avenue Syndrome

The cover of the March 26, 1979, edition of the New

Yorker featured an illustration by Saul Steinberg (Figure 2),

depicting a view of ever condensing space as distance from

the vantage point on 9th Avenue increases (Arthur Ross Gal-

lery 1995). The Hudson River on the west side of Manhattan

is seen as impossibly far away, while the landmass between

the Hudson and the Pacific Ocean, the bulk of the United
Figure 1. Saul Steinberg's View of the
States, is seen as narrow and unimportant. This magazine World from 9th Avenue, cover of the March
26, 1979, issue of New Yorker magazine
cover has led to various modifications, such as “The Bosto-

nian’s View of the World,” often sold in tourist shops playing up the importance and centrality

of a particular city or locale.

In a similar fashion, educational reformers and policy makers, whether intentional or ac-

cidental, often experience a blind spot when it comes to rural schooling. State and federal edu-

cation departments are frequently located in cities, even in overwhelmingly rural states, away

Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003

from the realities and needs of the rural school. For the most part, officials, educational re-

searchers, and the public at large see that which is close by or similar to one’s own experience as

the most urgent order of business. The small populations, relative poverty, and decentralized

nature of rural areas have contributed to their perceived foreign nature and apparent unimpor-

tance compared to the majority of Americans living in or near population centers. As described

above in the previous section, the lack of a unified voice to champion the rural educational cause

has further confounded the issue.

American society is a culture fueled by economic progress, growth, and development.

This progress essentially reduces what is rural – any problems inherently rural will eventually go

away due to natural growth and development (Beeson & Strange 2000). Furthermore, there is a

general sense of obscurity when precisely defining what “rural” means to the average American.

As Beeson and Strange (2000: 1) state, “We are an urban society now, one that is pretty sure we

know what ‘urban’ is, but not at all sure what ‘rural’ is.”

All of the factors that fall under the “View of the World from 9th Avenue” Syndrome

have led to interesting implications in pedagogy and instruction. As the transition from a rural to

an urban American society greatly accelerated after World War II, the rural school

“…increasingly prepared students to leave the area as it inculcated them with urban values and

goals” (Edmondson 2001: 3).

This emphasis on learning and teaching the knowledge and skills necessary for students

to succeed in cities and population centers can be seen as “Reproductive.” Anyon (1981) defines

“Reproductive” as, “aspects of school knowledge that contribute directly to the legitimation and

perpetuation of ideologies, practices, and privileges constitutive of present economic and politi-

Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003

cal structures” (30). Rural students are not taught what will be “Nonreproductive,” in other

words, that knowledge necessary for transformation within a rural context (Anyon 1981).

In some respects, the experience of the rural student can be seen as similar to the experi-

ence of the working class student according to Anyon (1981). Anyon highlights two important

characteristics of working class students, that they are not taught their own history, nor were

these students, “…taught to value the interests which they share with others…” (1981: 31). This

form of ideological hegemony, according to Anyon, is engineered to maintain the social position

of the upper classes.

In a sense, teaching urban goals and values to rural students is perpetuating the urban

lifestyle at the expense of the rural one. With this recognition, Anyon’s recommendation on

their behalf rings as true for rural students as it does for the intended group, working-class stu-

dents: “What is important is to make available to working-class [or rural] students the cultural

and ideological tools to begin to transform perspicacity into power” (1981: 32).

Prejudices and Stereotypes

In an era of politically-correctness, where the language used to

describe groups of people is scrutinized and carefully considered, and

derogatory labels are largely condemned (rightly so), detrimental

stereotypes and prejudices still exist when it comes to rural Americans.

A survey of American popular media points to yet another bifurcation,

where the prejudices and stereotypes range from the overtly negative
Figure 2. Cletus the Slack-
and derogatory to the overly positive. Jawed Yokel, from the
animated television show The
Simpsons (source:
The first category, the overtly negative, is comprised of terms

such as redneck, hick, yokel, etc. For example, the television show The Simpsons, an animated

Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003

series not particularly known for its gentle handling of any topic, has a character named Cletus

the Slack-Jawed Yokel. Cletus, who speaks with an almost unintelligible Southern drawl, lives

in a shack in a swamp with a wife or girlfriend and 26 children. The character is portrayed as

backward, unsophisticated, unintelligent, and poor. While the statistics do point to the fact that

many Americans living in rural areas are poor, connecting these attributes together can serve to

reinforce misunderstandings and discrimination.

On the other end of the spectrum are those depictions in the popular media that are overly

positive, typecasting rural Americans as “noble savages,” or as unencumbered by the complexi-

ties of modern society. The portrayals of rural Americans as “noble savages,” philosophers who

enjoy the simple the things in life, can be found in the now-defunct television show Northern

Exposure, which was about a fictional small town in Alaska. In one episode, a town meeting

concerning the placement of a stop sign became a lively debate about whether the issue was an

expression of Jeffersonian or Hamiltonian democracy. The “News from Lake Wobegon” seg-

ment of the radio show A Prairie Home Companion often depicts rural life in central Minnesota

as simple, predictable, and generally filled with good things. Garrison Keillor, the weekly crier

of the “News,” recently gave a more accurate and realistic portrayal of rural life for an article in

National Geographic. The writer, storyteller, and radio personality admitted, “…I had to invent

the town [Lake Wobegon] like the imaginary friend I had in the second grade, David, who

walked to school with me,” (Keillor 2000: 108).

As roughly 86% of Americans do not live in rural areas and often do not have personal

exposure to what life is like in a rural area, the media can be used to form conceptions. When

rural Americans are portrayed as backward or leading a simple life, these views have the poten-

tial of leading to the development of a paternalistic or patronizing attitude on the behalf of urban

Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003

and suburban Americans toward their rural counterparts. Even though it may be unintentional,

the adoption of such an attitude may lead to the development of a power structure in which the

urbanites and suburbanites have power, while the rural residents have no or little power. This

power structure is further compounded by low population densities, relatively high poverty, and

widespread ethnic and cultural diversity.

Delpit (1988), writing primarily about the power structure inherent between liberal, well

meaning White teachers and students of color, posits that power structures found in society are

played out in the classroom. Evidence of this is mentioned above as rural students are taught in

terms of urban values and goals (Edmondson 2001). Delpit further contends that a “culture of

power” exists where authority behavior is ritualized (those in power talk a certain way, write a

certain way, dress a certain way, interact a certain way), and those with power are able to create

these rituals and rules. Also inherent in her thesis is that those without power will have an easier

time acquiring power if the rules and rituals are made explicit. Lastly, a Catch-22 situation exists

in which those with power are least aware of – or least likely to acknowledge – the power struc-

ture in place, while those without power are the ones most keenly aware of the inequalities

(Delpit 1998: 283).

It should be further noted that Delpit (1988) makes specific mention of students living in

rural conditions in her work with Native Alaskans2. She describes the dichotomy between “Heri-

tage English” and “Formal English” – the former pertains to English spoken between Native

Alaskans in their small village, peppered with Athabaskan words and phraseology, while the

latter pertains to the English found in textbooks and spoken by non-Athabaskans. The teacher

described in the article embraced this dichotomy, and allowed and encouraged students to suc-

ceed in both modes of communication. Delpit asserts, “It is not they, the children, who must
Delpit’s article is the only article to specifically address rural concerns in the A326 course reader.

Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003

change, but the schools. To push children to do anything else is repressive and reactionary”

(1988: 291).

Cultural differences exist between rural Americans and urban and suburban Americans.

Due to sheer numbers and wealth, the cultural advantage lies with those living in larger popula-

tion centers. As the wealthy move away from the cities to the far suburbs and even rural areas,

they bring with them a transformation of the rural economy (the establishment of tourism, small

boutiques, and technology-based work conditions). This economic transformation will likely be

played out in the classroom as well (Dunn). It is important to critically examine any reform

movement for rural schools that had its genesis in the cities, suburbs, or due to the in-migration

of the rich to rural areas. The arguments posited by Delpit (1988) support the importance of this

critical examination and further provide essential benchmarks for judgment and improvement of

these school reform movements as they filter down to rural areas.

Systemic Issues

Not only are the people that inhabit rural areas culturally distinct, rural schools them-

selves are qualitatively different than their urban and suburban counterparts. A solution insti-

tuted with primarily urban or suburban schools in mind, even if successful, may not work at a

school or school district in a rural area (Kannapel 2000).

While there has recently been a push for smaller schools to improve education, rural

schools inherently tend to be small. This is despite a drive over the decades calling for the con-

solidation of schools and school districts in rural areas, to make rural schools more closely re-

semble the larger urban and suburban schools. The rural school often occupies the geographic

and social center of the community it serves; consolidation of rural school districts can be met

Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003

with great resistance3 (Dunn). Larger schools can be beneficial in terms of offering more

curricular choice to students (NASBE 1996). However, these advantages are often canceled out

by the loss of the benefits of small schools (intimacy, trust, and evidence of improved student

performance [Noguera 2002]) and by the increased costs of new specialized staff and the in-

creased maintenance of a larger facility (NASBE 1996). It is further likely that a new wave of

consolidation is waiting to break (Dunn).

The debate on standards is a reform effort that has been receiving widespread attention.

Now more than ever, school funding, as well as individual student success, are tied directly to

meeting standards, demonstrated by the administration of high-stakes standardized exams (U.S.

Department of Education 2002). As educational thinkers and researchers attempt to reconcile the

currently strong standards movement with theories of learning – such as balancing state policy

and local control and standardized exams and public exhibitions (Sizer & Rogers 1993), and ex-

amining student growth over time as way to meet the standards (Wolf & White 2000) – and

teachers and administrators struggle to determine the impact of the new stringent regulations on

their classrooms and districts, rural schools are placed in a unique position. Researchers and ru-

ral education advocates see the purposes of rural schools in part to be the preservation of the en-

dangered rural lifestyle and communities and the teaching of knowledge within a rural context.

The generic nature of the standards movement can be seen as a way of undermining these pur-

poses (Kannapel 2000).

The school district I attended from the 6th-grade through the 12th-grade, the Copake-Taconic Hills Central School District, was
formed by the merger of two smaller rural districts. Numerous attempts were made over three decades to construct a new campus
that would adequately accommodate the larger student population, each time defeated because district constituents were loathe to
give up the feeling that they were still a small a localized district (Price 2003). Even consolidated, the Copake-Taconic Hills
District, the 35th largest in terms of area in New York State encompassing five towns, served fewer than 1,500 students K-12. A
new K-12 campus was eventually constructed, winning several design and architectural awards and citations (see, and doing the community proud (although it was well
after I graduated from college).

Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003

Fullan (1999) posits that in order for change to be transferred from one district to another,

it is more important to transfer the circumstances in which the change took place than to transfer

the change itself. In other words, while larger schools and statewide standards may serve some

schools well and may in fact create pockets of success, these reform efforts may or may not work

in a rural context. In Fullan’s view, the schools that are best served by such broad-reaching re-

form efforts are those schools that are ready to embrace those reform efforts. It is therefore im-

portant to include a, “…theory of action (e.g. a set of strategies for addressing local conditions)

as well as a theory of education” (emphasis added) in school reform proposals (Fullan 1999: 64-

5). Rural schools, with their special circumstances and needs, would especially benefit from

such consideration.

Rural schools are also unique in that they represent and serve a low population density

and geographically far-flung communities. The simulations on the CD-ROM included with this

report demonstrate that change has the opportunity to occur much more quickly and with greater

frequency as density increases and distance decreases. These findings emphasize the necessity

of having the changes themselves come from the institutions most affected by the change (the

rural school districts themselves), and this change over a wide scale may occur slowly, with ad-

justments necessary for each different community. The silver lining in all of this, however, may

be found in a paradox: rural school districts, in all their diversity and geographic diffusion,

which can cause widespread change to occur slowly, may be very receptive to change, as a sys-

tem in chaos tends to gravitate towards equilibrium (Kushman & Barnhardt 2001). The condi-

tions for change to occur, as Fullan puts it, may exist, waiting for a system of change that in-

cludes a theory of action that firmly situates reform within rural contexts.

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Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003


The Annenberg Rural Challenge has published a statement

regarding “Genuinely Good Schools Serving and Served by Rural

Communities.” They developed a list of three characteristics that exemplify good rural schools

(Leo-Nyquist 2001)4:

They are in reciprocal relationships with their communities, recognizing their interdepend-
ence and their larger educational purposes;
They are developing a pedagogy of place;
They are accepting responsibility to be bi-cultural institutions, allowing students to succeed
in different environments, both rural and urban.

Each characteristic will be explored in the following pages, as well as an additional suggestion,

utilizing technology to bridge rural communities together.

School-Community Interdependence

Frequently, the school is the social center of the rural community (Dunn); in lieu of

community centers and cultural institutions, the school serves as a gathering point for members

of the community (Kushman & Barnhardt 2001). Any attempt at change or reform of a rural

school district or districts, should be keenly aware of this fact, and embrace it. Unlike in urban

districts, which often grapple with the dilemmas of busing students out of their neighborhoods to

different schools, there is often only one school serving one or several towns. The surrounding

community has a true opportunity to become an integral part of the educational process,

especially when considering the fact that, “in many rural communities there is… an essential

connection between education, economic vitality, and community health” (Kushman &

Barnhardt 2001: 13).

It is interesting to note that these characteristics, especially the first two, roughly mirror the ideas related in my
personal Purpose of Schooling (Price 2002). I did not come across the Annenberg characteristics until after the
purpose paper had been handed in. It goes to show you that you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t
take the country out of the boy.

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Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003

Therefore, rural schools and communities should be encouraged to work together toward

the common goals of student learning and community preservation. Local businesses and

employers can become a part of the process by sponsoring the showcasing of local student

academic and artistic accomplishments.

The community can also become a part of a larger movement to elevate the social and

economic status of teachers. The most academically successful students tend to leave rural areas

for higher education, and tend to stay away due to the lack of jobs (Haas 1992). By providing

social and economic incentives for these people to return to rural areas after university or

graduate study as a teacher, this is likely to not only improve the quality of teaching in rural

areas, but also allowing students to connect better with teachers who have many of the same

experiences and background.

A Pedagogy of Place

Much of a rural economy is based on resources situated within a specific geographic

context (Dunn), such as farming, mining, tourism, and eco-tourism. Similarly, rural schools

should be encouraged to draw from their locale, both in terms of content and in terms of goals.

Keeping pedagogy and curriculum within a local context, “…tends to deepen

knowledge through the larger understandings of the familiar and accessible. It clearly increases

student understanding and often gives a stronger impetus to apply problem-solving skills”

(Raymer 2001). Many rural areas are rich in terms of environmental and science resources in

general, as well as possessing rich local histories, waiting to be explored. Low population

densities often result in large areas of open space, providing a wealth of hands-on experience in

terms of scientific testing (water and air quality, for example), a chance to learn about a large

variety of ecosystems often not possible in urban or suburban settings, and the opportunity to

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Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003

observe first-hand the impact of humans on local animal populations and the environment at-

large. Local history, legends, and myths are struggling to survive as textbooks increasingly

emphasize the importance of cities, while the early rural character of America, and the

supporting roles rural areas have played in the development of urban America (by providing

building resources, labor, and food), have fallen to the wayside. This presents rural students the

possibility to document local history and stories through a variety of media, such as writing,

video interviews, and the creation of local history Web sites.

In addition to content, schools should be encouraged to look to the local community to

assist in setting overarching goals. By incorporating aspects of the local economy into the

curriculum, such as requiring students to take a course in agriculture, geology, or some other

trade-based course, as well as a course in local history, the goals of the community are given

credence and are set as an institutional priority by the school (Haas 1992). This further grants

students the cultural capital (Anyon 1981) required for true choice. While students can choose to

leave the rural area, presenting remaining in the rural area as a viable option allows rural

Americans to cause transformation from within in a meaningful way.

A Multicultural Approach

As mentioned earlier, Delpit (1988) relates the story of Athabaskan Alaskans

communicating in two different languages: “Heritage English” and “Formal English.” The

teacher described in study states, “We have to feel a little sorry for them because they have only

one way to talk. We’re going to learn two ways to say things. Isn’t that better?” (Delpit 1988:

293). Just as the language of those who live in rural areas may be qualitatively different from

those who live in urban or suburban areas, their culture, mores, and traditions may be different as

well. These differences should be recognized and embraced; however, just as necessary is the

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Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003

recognition that there is a wider world, much of it urban, and it is necessary to prepare rural

students to participate in it (Haas 1992). As progress in the United States is essentially defined

as urban (Beeson & Strange, 2000), these bicultural5 skills are essential. Intertwined with this

idea is the necessity of embracing a multicultural mindset in general, recognizing the existence

of diversity within the local rural community – non-White ethnic groups can account for upwards

of 85% of the rural population in states in the Deep South and Southwest (Beeson & Strange

2000) – as well as the global community at large.

For improving bicultural learning, there is the possibility that by exploring one’s own

(rural) heritage, the rural student will become enamored by the learning process in general and

become more receptive to learning to operate in other cultural settings (Oliver & Howley 1992),

such as an urban lifestyle. Teaching local history and local economic skills, and emphasizing

local cultural capital are paramount to this process. If localizing the curriculum does indeed

impact critical thinking in a positive manner (Raymer 2001), then schools should be encouraged

to help students transfer these skills to a broader range of applications, such as those which may

be found in an urban setting.

One way to improve multicultural learning is to increase the exposure of students to

external cultures (Oliver & Howley 1992). This increased exposure can occur by hiring from

outside of the rural area or utilizing staff from such programs as Teach for America; while this

seems to contradict the earlier recommendation of hiring from a local talent pool, achieving a

balance would be the goal. Curricular changes (such as using utilizing ethnic holidays as the

basis for lessons and school assemblies), field trips to museums or cultural festivals, or inviting

guest speakers can also expose students to variety of worldviews in a more formal way. Rural

communities must also look inside themselves to recognize their own diversity and how they
Rural culture and urban culture

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Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003

react to it, which can be a painful growing experience – schools have the opportunity to engage

students in this pursuit, and support students to encourage the community at large to do the same.

Building Bridges with Technology

Much has been written about the promise of computers in schools; one thing is for

certain, however, technology is not a magic bullet, nor will it revolutionize education by itself

(Cuban 2001). However, when the hype, which is the natural byproduct of the promotion of any

reform movement, is set aside, there are advantages that technology can offer to rural schools.

One of the critiques of small schools, which most rural districts tend to represent, is the

lack of curricular choice (NASBE 1996). Forming regional or national consortiums of rural

schools in order to offer online courses is one way of expanding the scope of instruction at these

small districts. Teachers can be encouraged to teach focused online courses that highly interest

them, or on which they have specialized knowledge. While sufficient student interest may not be

found to support within the confines of a small local rural school, when expanding the reach to a

regional or national level, there may be more than enough student interest. Drawing upon

existing teaching talent can renew an interest in teaching a particular subject area, possibly the

subject area in which the teacher specialized. A disproportionately high percentage of rural

teachers are being required to teach out-of-field (Beeson & Strange 2000), which, according to

some accounts, is contributing to the qualified teacher attrition rate (Fordham Foundation 1999).

National organizations, such as Maynard, MA-based Virtual High School, exist to

facilitate this process. A survey of Virtual High School’s Web site (

shows that some rural districts are taking full advantage of this opportunity to share: Anna High

School in Anna, OH, offers “Democracy in America?,” the West Rutland School in Rutland

County, VT, offers “Creating Art History,” Rigby High School in Rigby, ID, offers “Exploring

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Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003

the International Business World,” Ackerman High School in Choctaw County, MS, offers

“Anatomy and Physiology,” and Monroe Senior High School in Lower Peachtree, AL, offers “To

Kill A Mockingbird: Maycomb – Microcosm to the World.” This is an exciting array of courses

that could supplement the core courses and electives offered at any one rural school.

In the rural tradition of looking within, however, it is also suggested that rural regions

could themselves form consortiums. Regional vocational technology centers have often

expanded their roles to include providing information infrastructure support (Questar III). These

regional organizations can work to empower the teachers and districts in rural areas to teach

interesting and innovative online courses to students throughout the region. This type of activity

serves to provide an interesting topic to the teacher, and helps to expand the possibilities and

options of the students.

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Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003


“…’Cause I know I’m going nowhere, and anywhere’s a better place to be.”
– Harry Chapin, “A Better Place To Be”6

“But didn’t it work out well for you?” The

question was posed by my wife, a native of the
sprawling Northern California suburbs, as I was
telling her about my ideas for this report. She is
generally skeptical when I reminisce about my
rural upbringing, and made me promise that we
would never live anywhere we would have to plug
our cars in overnight, as my family did in Lewis
County to keep the engines from freezing. “Haven’t
you done well despite the fact that your rural
schooling was instilled with urban values and
goals?” I could only answer that, yes, it has worked out well for me despite all that.
I’m attending perhaps the most widely recognized university in the world, and we
just bought a house in suburban Boston. How can I complain?

I’m not sure if I’ll ever move back, there just aren’t enough opportunities – I
guess I’ve progressed, in the (urban) American sense of the word. Some of the best
and the brightest leave and don’t come back. Many more in rural America are left
undiscovered because school doesn’t fit them, and doesn’t provide them with the
options that will help them develop into who they want to be. I wonder what would
happen if things were different, if we looked inward and outward the same; I wonder
what would happen if school, curriculum, and community were closely

This song takes place in Watertown, NY, the nearest city (population 26,705) for us when we lived in Lewis
County, NY. Harry Chapin often introduced the song with, “This song takes place in Watertown, NY. I spent a
week there one afternoon….”

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Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003


Combined rural school reform Importance and Urgency Scales by state. Red indicates the most
importance and urgency for rural school reform, followed by dark orange, light orange, yellow, light green,
and then dark green, indicating the least importance and urgency for rural school reform (adapted from
Beeson & Strange 2000).

Rural Importance Gauge Rural Urgency Gauge

Difference in salary Percent of rural Percent of rural
Percent of Percent of minority Percentage of between rural schools scoring below householders with
State Population in Rural
Number of People
Living in Rural Areas
students enrolled in
rural schools
Rural Children in
teachers and non-
rural teachers
average on Education
Climate Index (97-98)
less than 12th-
grade education
Massachusetts 15.7% 946,822 3.8% 7.7% $904 0.0% 16.1%
New York 15.7% 2,826,408 4.6% 12.0% $6,111 0.6% 25.6%
California 7.4% 2,188,700 29.7% 16.4% $5,686 8.9% 16.9%
Ohio 25.9% 2,807,706 1.9% 14.1% $3,015 11.0% 28.5%
Iowa 39.4% 1,093,690 2.2% 12.9% $5,014 4.8% 24.5%
Wyoming 35.0% 158,953 9.9% 17.8% $2,554 7.1% 23.0%
Alaska 32.5% 178,808 69.3% 15.7% $1,307 19.8% 28.2%
Maine 55.4% 680,104 2.2% 14.3% $3,770 6.2% 23.4%
Georgia 36.8% 2,380,877 26.8% 19.9% $2,241 43.9% 41.8%
New Mexico 27.0% 409,418 62.9% 37.4% $370 34.8% 34.3%
Mississippi 52.9% 1,362,487 49.7% 33.7% $1,923 63.0% 47.5%
North Dakota 46.7% 298,461 10.5% 21.4% $3,863 30.2% 35.3%
West Virginia 63.9% 1,145,293 2.6% 28.5% $2,352 47.9% 44.1%

United States
(average for
all 50 states) 24.8% 61,655,348 (total) 16.4% 18.0% $6,124 21.8% 28.8%

Representative overview of rural community and rural school statistics based on importance and urgency
ranking categories (from Beeson & Strange 2000). The colors correspond to the color scheme of the map above.

Salient Points About Rural America

An African-American is more likely to live in poverty in a rural area than in

an inner city (Beeson & Strange 2000).
Rural teens are more likely to use and abuse substances ranging from tobacco
and alcohol to marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine, and crack cocaine (Rouk
The rural teenage pregnancy rate (38 births per 1,000 rural teenagers) is
higher than the urban teenage pregnancy rate (29 births per 1,000 urban
teenagers) (Rouk 2001).
Rural youth gangs have increased triple-fold by some accounts in recent
years (Rouk 2001).

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Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003

Anyon, J. (1981). Social Class and Social Knowledge. Curriculum Inquiry, 11(1), 3-41.

Arthur Ross Gallery. (1995). Saul Steinberg Exhibit at Arthur Ross Gallery.
<>. Retrieved 13 January 2003.

Beeson, E. and M. Strange. (2000). Why Rural Matters: The Need for Every State to Take Ac-
tion on Rural Education. The Rural School and Community Trust.
<>. Retrieved 12 January 2003.

Cuban, L. (2001). Oversold & Underused: Computers in the Classroom. Cambridge: Harvard
University Press.

Delpit, L. (1988). The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s
Children. Harvard Education Review, 58(3), 280-298.

Dunn, R. (Date Unknown). The Rural Education Dichotomy: Disadvantaged Systems and
School Strengths. The North Central Educational Laboratory.
<>. Retrieved 12 January 2003.

Edmondson, J. (2001). Prairie Town: Rural Life and Literacies. Journal of Research in Rural
Education, 17(1), 3-11.

Fordham Foundation. (1999). The teachers we need and how to get more of them: A manifesto
(pp. 1-18). In M. Kanstoroom & C. Finn, Jr., (Eds.) Better Teachers, Better Schools.
Washington, D.C.: Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

Fullan, M. (1999). Change Forces: The Sequel. Philadelphia: Palmer Press.

Haas, T. (1992). What Can I Become: Educational Aspirations of Students in Rural America.
ERIC Digest (ED345931).
<>. Retrieved
12 January 2003.

Kannapel, P. (2000). Standards-Based Reform and Rural School Improvement: Similarities,

Differences, Prospects for the Future. Rural Education Issue Digest.
<>. Retrieved 13 January 2003.

Keillor, G. (2000). In Search of Lake Wobegon. National Geographic, 198(6), 86-109.

Kushman, J. & Barnhardt, R. Reforming Education from the Inside-Out: A Study of Commu-
nity Engagement and Educational Reform in Rural Alaska. Journal of Research in Rural
Education, 17(1), 12-26.

Leo-Nyquist, D. Recovering a Tradition of Rural Progressivism in American Public Education.

Journal of Research in Rural Education, 17(1) 27-40.

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Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003

National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE). (1996). Rural Education: What’s
Down the Road for Schools.
<>. Retrieved
14 January 2003.

Noguera, P. (2002). Beyond Size: The Challenge of High School Reform. Educational Lead-
ership, 59(5), 60-63.

Oliver, J. & Howley, C. Charting New Maps: Multicultural Education in Rural Schools. ERIC
Digest (ED348196). <>.
Retrieved 12 January 2003.

Price, J. (2002). Purpose of Schooling. Unpublished paper, Harvard Graduate School of Edu-
cation, A-326b, Section 7.

Price, T. (2003). Telephone interview with the author. 5 January 2003.

Questar III. (Date Unknown). Organization Profile.

<>. Retrieved 16 January 2003.

Raymer, A. (2001). Pedagogy of place facilitation guide: a workshop for cultivating and
promoting place-based education. University of Kentucky Appalachian Center and the
Appalachian Rural Education Network.
Retrieved 16 January 2003.

Rouk, Ü. (2001). When Rural Traditions Really Count. SEDL Letter 13(1): Changes and
Challenges for Rural Schools. <>. Re-
trieved 13 January 2003.

Sizer, T. & Rogers, B. (1993). Designing Standards: Achieving the delicate balance. Educa-
tional Leadership. Feb. 1993, pp. 24-26.

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<>. Retrieved
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Wolf, D. & White, A. (2000). What do we mean by results: Charting the course of student
growth. Educational Leadership, 57(5), 6-11.

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Jeremy Price The Faces of Rural School Reform 21 January 2003

Art Credits
Cover: “The Country School,” Winslow Homer (1871),

p. i: “Two Roads in a Yellow Wood,” taken by the author, in Canaan, NY.

p. 3: “School Scene,” J. C. Huntington (early 20th-century),


p. 11: “Snap the Whip,” Winslow Homer (1872), the

whip I.jpg.

p. 17: “Shellsburg,” Arnold Pyle (1934),


Music on CD-ROM: “Fanfare for the Common Man,” composed by Aaron Copeland, performed
by the United States of America Air Force Heritage of America Band

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