Rural Schools: The New Inequity in Education?

February 28, 2010 at 2:59 pm Leave a comment

I’ve been pondering some comments I recently heard at a meeting attended by Superintendent of Schools.  At the heart of the discussion was the idea of leveraging technology to expand educational offerings and to share exemplary teachers/resources between and among districts.  As you might imagine, there are many challenges to making this happen, not the least of which is the variety of bell schedules.

However, the idea for sharing resources was not the take away for me.  For me, I had a new appreciation for the vast difference in educational experience for students in very small rural schools when compared to their counterparts in more populated areas.  I’m not suggesting that teaching practices are better in one setting or the other.  Rather, I’m pointing to the limited  educational opportunities (classroom and extracurricular) which is a function of not enough students.  Oh, some will argue that it’s about money, and certainly money plays a role, but even if you had an open pocket book, you could never replicate the offerings available in larger schools in a small school setting, because at some point, you run out of students to take advantage of the offerings.

One superintendent made a very passionate plea to the group and even offered a note of condemnation when he added, “Shame on us for allowing this to happen!”  The jist of his message was that educational practices and the systemic design under which education currently operates has created an environment in which the quality and breadth  educational experience is not equal for all students.  He further editorialized that a child’s educational experience should not be dependent upon who your parents are, where you live, or how much money your family makes.  But the reality continues to persist.  All of these factors continue to impact the educational opportunities. In fact, a recent news story indicated that Beverly Hills’ schools in California have decided to deny access to any student not living within the legal district boundaries despite past practices which allowed ‘outsiders’ to seek special permission to attend.  I’m jumping to conclusions, but it is my guess that the parents who live outside the Beverly Hill’s District Boundaries, believe their kids have greater opportunities in those schools operated in more ‘affluent neighborhoods.’

So what is the answer.  First of all, it’s the wrong question.  As we have done so often in education, we are looking for the single right answer–the silver bullet.  The reality is, there are likely multiple solutions, each of which should be applied judiciously to the factors at hand.   Leveraging technology to share resources is one obvious potential solution.  As politically incorrect as it is to write, the dreaded “C” word, (consolidation) is probably the most appropriate option in situations where schools are small ‘by choice’ not by geographical factors beyond their control.  Additionally, it may be time to rethink the whole role of education.  In this information rich world, should schools continue to be the ‘givers of knowledge and information,’ or should the role be morphed into ‘facilitators of learning’ and/or ‘validators of learning.’  I suspect the answer is ‘both/and.’

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