In an effort to improve schools in rural communities in New York and Ohio, the U.S. Department of Education awarded $10 million to Harvard University to launch the National Center for Rural Education Research Networks. The NCRERN will be advised by Cornell Prof. John Sipple, development sociology.
Cornell will continue its research on New York’s districts to aid in this effort and will administer programs in schools to assess college readiness, absenteeism and student participation.
Despite the fact that more than 46 million Americans live in nonmetropolitan areas, rural students and schools receive little attention in either policy or academia, Sipple said. Sipple runs the Cornell-housed New York State Center for Rural Schools.
While poverty is often associated with urban areas, rural America actually faces impoverishment at higher rates than metropolitan districts. Currently, approximately 64 percent of rural counties have high rates of child poverty, as compared to 47 percent of urban counties, according to a study published by Center for Public Education.
The money from the grant will instead be allotted to 60 rural school districts in Ohio and New York and will implement programs to increase educational access to students within the broader community. The programs will serve the 650,000 students attending rural schools within the two states.
These interventions will hopefully encourage students to explore potential colleges and career paths, consider the benefits of attending college and even identify important courses to take, according to Sipple.
Sipple said that the research will reveal “exactly how to provide incentives and motivation in instructional change” in rural areas. He hopes that this research will “create a school environment that will motivate students to attend and take the harder courses, and for schools to offer those courses.”
The center currently increases community access to such data by “democratizing” it, according to Sipple.
“We try to take data and put it in the hands of local educators, board members, superintendents, teachers, so they can make more important decisions,” Sipple told the Sun.
Cornell partnered with Harvard last year to access these rural schools for the study, Sipple said, and Harvard will run the center for the next five years until the study’s completion. “One thing the center provides is a way to capitalize and tie together so much of the work my colleagues and I have done over the last 20 years,” Sipple said.
Eighteen different analysts will also analyze the data from all 60 districts in an effort to research the evolution of the impact, or the weekly progress made to the study.
“Over five years we will have an extraordinary amount of data that will create a constant feedback loop to the educators in these communities,” Sipple said.
Sipple will incorporate the findings into his teaching, such as data analysis and something he calls “the social and political context of schooling.”
“My classes will certainly be hearing many stories about these interventions and taking a careful look at the data,” he said.
Although Cornell plays a large role in this research, Ithaca will not participate as the district does not qualify as rural according to federal rules.
However, Sipple hopes “that [local schools] will benefit from what we learn because they do have rural students from rural communities attending their schools.”