How School Choice Can Flourish in Rural America
In No Longer Forgotten: The Triumphs and Struggles of Rural Education in America, 13 authors deliver unique perspectives on a little-covered topic.
Although conversations on struggling schools often center on inner-city communities, rural schools face some of the same difficulties — and some different ones.
Rural schools face the same teacher-vacancy issues as urban schools, but those vacancies can be harder to fill. And although high school graduation rates are higher in rural areas, college enrollment is lower.
Students who seek to earn a degree often pursue greater economic opportunities elsewhere — a phenomenon often referred to as “brain drain.”
But although these struggles are common to rural areas across the nation, the authors represented in No Longer Forgotten are quick to point out that rural communities can be as different from each other as they are from urban communities.
For instance, Glenns Ferry School District in Idaho has turned to online classrooms to help supply its need for teachers. In Wilcox County, Alabama, however, many schools and homes are without internet access, and local libraries and museums are scarce.
Each region has its own needs, just as it has its own character. A solution to a problem in New England may be unworkable in the Central Valley of California. The uniqueness of each community’s situation, together with the independent spirit of many rural communities, makes local autonomy one of the most promising paths forward.
Not every location could support a charter school, for example, as Juliet Squire points out — but some rural charter schools have proved both viable and beneficial to their districts.
From Nat Malkus’ statistical overview in Chapter 1 to Squire’s analysis of charter schools’ potential in Chapter 8, the book’s dominant themes include rural communities’ resistance to outside governance and the compliance burden that outside regulations already place on small schools with only a few administrators.
To best serve the diverse needs of rural areas, lawmakers should establish more educational opportunities. At the same time, lawmakers need to trust the decision-making autonomy of local leaders and families in light of Andy Smarick and Mike McShane’s observation that “locally developed and locally led efforts in school reform are generally the best received.”
Moving forward, state and local policymakers should free up rural leaders and families to pursue education-choice options that would benefit rural communities.
More than 700 charter schools flourish in rural communities supporting Squire’s remark that “in the right place and at the right time, rural charter schools can provide valuable benefits.”
No Longer Forgotten reminds policymakers that the diverse and distinct communities woven into the fabric of rural America can benefit from school choice.
Instead of imposing broad, sweeping federal reforms or transplanting urban reform policies into rural communities, government officials should respect the historic autonomy in which rural communities take pride.
Given the independence, opportunity, and resources, rural families will embrace school-choice policies.
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