Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Obstacles to Enhancing Professional Development with Digital Tools in Rural Landscapes

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Obstacles to Enhancing Professional Development with Digital Tools in Rural Landscapes

Article excerpt

Rural schools continue to be an important part of the educational landscape of the United States. With more than half of all school districts (57%) located in rural areas, over 12 million students, or approximately 24% of our nation's schoolchildren, attend rural schools (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2013). According to the most recent data available, rural high schools have a graduation rate of 77.5% on average, as calculated using the Swanson model, which accounts for year-to-year retention of individual students (Strange, Johnson, Showalter, & Klein, 2012). Some states-including South Carolina, where this study took place-do not release figures that allow the Swanson index to be calculated. It is believed that inclusion of data from these states would likely lower the overall rural graduation rate calculated via the Swanson index (Strange et al., 2012).

Strange et al. (2012) note, "Rural education frustrates some who wish it would conform to its image of simplicity" (p. 21). In fact, rural districts are complex and diverse, serving an increasingly varied student population with growing numbers of English learners and students who are living in poverty (Johnson, Showalter, Klein, & Lester, 2014). Rural schools often have the advantage of smaller classes and a strong sense of community, but they also face issues of underfunding and a lack of resources (Bouck, 2004). Scholars have raised concerns about structural and social inequalities that may lead to continued challenges in rural schools (Lindahl, 2011; Roscigno, Tomaskovic-Devey, & Crowley, 2006), but these concerns have gone largely unnoticed in public discourse.

The difficulty of providing effective professional development for teachers compounds the distinct challenges facing rural schools. Barley and Beesley (2007) found effective professional development to be a main factor in the success of high-performing, high-needs rural schools, but more research is needed to understand how to provide such professional development to rural schools (Arnold, Newman, Gaddy, & Dean, 2005). Geographically dispersed schools and the varying and specific needs of rural teachers based on their unique contexts make providing professional development particularly perplexing (Peterson, 2012; Wilson & Ringstaff, 2010). No two rural districts, even within the same region, are the same. How can we offer effective professional development to teachers in these divergent, dispersed areas?

This article focuses on year one of a two-year study in which professional development addressed the implementation of the English language arts Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Approximately 60 hours of professional development, focusing on improving students' writing, were provided to three rural school districts in year one. This work was funded by the National Writing Project (NWP) through a U.S. Department of Education grant. The project was conceived as a way to offer effective professional development in writing to teachers in what are classified by the National Center for Educational Statistics as rural, low-income schools. Specifically, the professional development offers at least 90 hours of professional development over the course of two years as part of a partnership with a local NWP site. The NWP site was selected to provide professional development based on the following core NWP principles: teachers at every level are the agents of reform; writing should be taught at every grade level, and there is no single approach to teaching writing; professional development programs should provide ongoing opportunities for collaboration among teachers across content and grade levels, offering opportunities for teachers to write and to examine theory, research, and practice together systematically; and teachers who are well-informed and effective in their practice can be successful teachers of other teachers (NWP, 2010).

School districts in three rural locations in South Carolina were invited to participate in a professional development program focused on writing instruction and the implementation of the CCSS in English language arts classrooms. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.