Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Rural schools left behind federal mandate

Check out the entire report: "Some Perspectives from Rural School Districts on The No Child Left Behind Act" -Patricia

Federal mandate impossible to meet

Scott Stephens | Plain Dealer Reporter
June 11, 2008

Fresh air. Wide-open spaces. Inexpensive housing. Little crime.

The bucolic lures of teaching in a rural school district are considerable.

But there can be a down side: low salaries, larger class sizes and a greater likelihood of teaching a subject other than the one you were trained to teach.

The six-year-old federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires reading and math proficiency for all students by 2012 and a highly qualified teacher in every classroom, has had scant influence on the nation's rural schools, according to a report released today.

The report is significant in developing policy in states such as Ohio, which has the fifth-largest rural student population in the nation. It's also significant because enrollment in rural schools nationally is up 15 percent, including a 55 percent increase in rural minority students.

Even so, rural schools seem to get less attention than urban schools, which are in big media centers, and affluent suburban districts, which have vocal parent support.

And because they tend to be smaller, less racially and ethnically diverse, and generally post better test scores than urban districts, they are less influenced by the federal law.

"Rural districts do have problems," said Jack Jennings, president of the Center for Education Policy, the public school advocacy group that issued the report. "But the problems are quieter."

Among the report's findings:

Federal highly qualified requirements have little impact on teacher recruitment and retention in rural districts. Often because their salaries are not competitive, rural districts have trouble keeping good teachers, especially in hard-to-fill areas such as math and science.

Rural schools are struggling with academic achievement gaps between students from low-income households - as well as disabled students - and their peers.

Rural school leaders rated their own policies and programs more significant than No Child Left Behind regulations in raising student achievement. One exception: Reading First, the federally funded program designed to get children reading well by the end of third grade.

Not all rural school districts agreed with the report's findings. Maxwell Shoff, superintendent of the Firelands Local School District, said teachers in his district are highly qualified and often spend their entire careers in the southern Lorain County system.

"I don't agree with the notion that rural schools can't attract good teachers," Shoff said. "We're not losing them - they stay."

Others have struggled. George Wood, principal of Federal Hocking High School in Stewart, Ohio, said rural schools are often unable to pay the competitive salaries needed to retain the good teachers the federal law requires.

Wood's own district, in the tax-depleted Appalachian hills of southeast Ohio, is on the state's fiscal emergency list. The starting salary in the district is $26,000, and the top salary is $53,000 - even for teachers who have been there 30 years.

Wood said he lost one of his best, young science teachers last year because the teacher's debt from student loans was twice what he was making.

"The problem with No Child Left Behind is that it suddenly demanded highly qualified teachers, but didn't put any support in place to make that happen," Wood said.

Still, every senior at Federal Hocking who graduated this spring and who wanted to go to college was accepted. And the graduating class grossed about $900,000 in scholarships.

"Nothing in No Child Left Behind has helped us with the success of our students," Wood said.

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