From the heartland: A struggle to improve education for all

Sometimes it feels like the issues of large, urban school districts get all the attention.  It’s one reason why The Hechinger Report was captivated by news of a study that appeared in the American Association of School Administrators journal, one that looked at how small towns are educating — and retaining — their high schoolers.  Turns out, there is much work to be done to keep the best and the brightest from fleeing.

What will it take to improve education in rural, middle America?

Between 1980 and 2000 more than 700 non-metro counties lost at least 10 percent of their population, and between 2000 and 2005 more than half of all such counties have had more deaths than births, writes Rutgers University sociologists  Patrick Carr and Maria Kefalas.

The story includes findings of the time they spent researching their book on education in a small Iowa town, “Hollowing out the Middle.”

“Though young people always have left small towns to seek their fortunes elsewhere, these losses are more debilitating now because of the economic transformations that have profoundly restructured opportunities for those who stay in these communities that have so long depended on vulnerable manufacturing and agricultural sectors,”  the story noted. “Put simply, a generation ago, the loss of educated young people was not as devastating because of the opportunities in the mid-20th-century economy that sustained those who stayed in or returned to small towns through work in factories or on family farms,” the article notes.

The authors’ MacArthur Foundation sponsored study of young adults in 21st-century America allowed them “to learn how young people coming of age in the countryside compared to their metropolitan peers in Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York and San Diego.”

What they found did not bode well for the future of small towns, so the husband and wife team came up with plenty of recommendations as a result of their work, from taking better steps to prepare young people for jobs in shortage areas to partnerships with local community colleges to training and internship programs that link employers to high school students.

“Rethinking education is perhaps the key to arresting the decline and building for the future, ”  they note.

— Liz Willen

POSTED BY ON May 24, 2010