Monday, November 17, 2014

Rural public education faces many obstacles far beyond insufficient funding

Recently the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled in favor of rural schools in a 21-year long court battle over education funding. While the South Carolina Supreme Court requires actions from the state legislature, they do not provide explicity parameters on what action is required. They must simply submit their plan to the justices within “reasonable time.”

This ruling provides South Carolina with a prime opportunity to address the shortfalls of the rural public education system – an issue that goes far beyond simply increasing funding. Not only do rural public schools experience problems similar to those of low-income, inner-city public schools, but they have a whole set of different issues specific to the fact that they are located in rural places. Moreover, this issue reaches far beyond South Carolina, and is an issue faced by many rural communities across America.

Rural communities often face teacher shortages. According to an article published in Education Week, 10 to 15 percent of teachers in rural communities are not licensed to teach the subjects they are teaching. This includes math, sciences, languages, and special education. Additionally, in some states, tenure laws and job protections make it difficult to fire teachers after just two years of being in the classroom, regardless of their performance. And even if states don’t have such protections, the shortage of teachers in rural areas makes it difficult to find a replacement, period.

Additionally, the lack of public transportation in rural communities makes it difficult for students to get to school, especially because of the expansiveness of rural space. Many schools are not located near student's homes, their families may not own a car, and effective school bus systems can be scarce. Moreover, it is not uncommon for states to charge public school students to ride the bus -- an additional burden for economically disadvantaged rural families. The Education Week article illustrate this issue through the story of a 17-year old boy named Raymond who lived in the Arkansas Delta and went to school fairly far from his home:
On stifling-hot days, he had a 10-minute walk down a rutted dirt path to the main road, where he caught the school bus. On days when the rain poured down, the ruts in the dirt path converged into an insurmountable river. Even if Raymond could have forded the river, odds were good the bus wouldn't make it down the main road anyway. Raymond couldn't ask his grandparents for a ride; they didn't have a car.

Finally, the school-to-prison-pipeline, traditionally seen as problematic for low-income, urban schools, is an issue facing rural communities, too. This refers to the phenomenon of pushing disadvantaged kids out of school and into the American justice system. The geography of rural communities makes it difficult for juvenile offenders to have access to rehabilitation and diversion programs because they are scarce and often widely dispersed. Thus, as pointed out by the Marshall Project, judges will sentences kids to detention facilities because they have treatment on-site.  Additionally, many rural states take an aggressive approach to minor infractions, such as school fights, truancy, violations of probation, and alcohol consumption. Moreover, mental health and substance abuse programs are often so far away, that rural youth cannot access them; as a result, rural youth experience high rates of incarceration.  


Ahva said...

Great topic. I really liked many of the solutions that the Education Week article mentioned: (1) allocating more resources to rural districts to allow them to pay their teachers higher salaries; (2) offering loan-forgiveness for teachers that take jobs at rural schools; (3) offering housing as part of a rural teacher's compensation package. These are practical solutions that directly address the problem of the teacher shortage in rural areas. As we discussed in class, offering housing as part of the compensation package has already proven successful in attracting teachers to rural districts.

David Gomez said...

This is a great first step to remedying a serious problem. I agree with the majority that funding alone will not fix the problem. The school districts need to ensure they have their priorities in line. Extra curricular activities like athletics are important, but should not funded disproportionally to education.

Tiffanie said...

My friend teaches at a high school in a rural area, and many of problems you pointed out from teacher shortages to the school-to-prison-pipeline ring very true. Another interesting problem that teachers in rural areas face is a lack of oversight, and this hurts both students and teachers. For example, my friend is a Spanish teacher in a rural, mostly Caucasian area, and the administration does not have the resources to truly understand what material the students are supposed to be learning in each level of Spanish; thus, the teachers are left to their own devises. Administration allows teachers to teach at whatever pace they see fit, and they fail to periodically evaluate the teachers. If one is a first year teacher, that means he/she does not have much guidance on what to teach the children, and the children may be falling behind unknowingly. If the school were located in a more urban area, perhaps the school would have greater access to resources to help both teachers and students.

Kate Hanley said...

If they do get bussing and the buses don't come due to weather conditions, is there any resource? (I mean, in some circumstances schools are required to provide another form of schooling if a certain amount of school is going to be missed. If there are enough school days missed because of school-provided transportation issues, are there at least available options for making up those missed lessons?)