Academic journal article Issues in Teacher Education

Rural School-Community Partnerships: The Case of Science Education1

Academic journal article Issues in Teacher Education

Rural School-Community Partnerships: The Case of Science Education1

Article excerpt

Partnerships as a strategy for education reform have recently taken on increased national importance. The No Child Left Behind Act [NCLB] (2001) promotes an agenda for the development of partnerships with particular emphasis on mathematics and science. A number of federal agencies have responded to the NCLB legislation through the development of grant programs that focus on leveraging resources through school-community partnerships to improve education. For example, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has established the Mathematics and Science Partnership program, which "recommends that partnerships among educational entities, especially [those that bring] together the preK-12 community with scientists, mathematicians, and engineers from institutions of higher education, should ... improve preK-12 teaching and learning in mathematics and science for all children" (National Science Foundation [NSF], 2002, p. 5). Similarly, the U. S. Department of Education (USDOE, 2004) administers a formula grant program to states that is

intended to increase the academic achievement of students in mathematics and science by enhancing the content knowledge and teaching skills of classroom teachers. Partnerships between high-need school districts and the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) faculty in institutions of higher education are at the core of these improvement efforts, (n.p.)

These programs articulate the President's priority of using partnering to close the achievement gap in math and science between majority and minority and/or dis advantaged students in order to keep the United States competitive in international markets. However, in rural communities, the infrastructure for developing these partnerships (i.e., nearby institutions of higher education, stable economic base, human resources) is often not available. In this article we explore how, within the context of a previous national educational reform effort-the National Science Foundation's Rural Systemic Initiative (RSI)-rural communities overcame these obstacles to form viable and meaningful partnerships that strengthened both their schools and communities. This information offers a number of lessons learned about how partnerships are, or are not, formed in the rural community context, which can inform the work of the current Math and Science Partnership efforts.

The Reform Context

The National Center for Education Statistics [NCES] (1997) defines a rural location as "outside urbanized areas in open country, or in communities with less than 2,500 inhabitants, or where the population density is less than 1,000 inhabitants per square mile" (p. 3). As of 1994, 46 percent of the public school districts in the United States were rural, and the poverty rate for rural children ages 5-17 was 20.8 percent (National Center for Education Statistics, 1997). Of the eight geographic location categories used by the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate in rural areas was the third highest, preceded only by large and small inner city rates of 30.5 percent and 22 percent, respectively. These statistics indicate that our rural communities hold a significant number of disadvantaged children, which the NSF directly targeted with its Rural Systemic Initiative (RSI) program.

From 1994 to 2003, the NSF administered the RSI with a focus on science, mathematics, and technology education. This program was designed to ensure that rural districts and schools became a part of the reform efforts underway in the 1990s to improve student achievement. The RSI aimed to promote systemic education reform, namely in economically disadvantaged locales, which, until then, had limited access to services provided by other NSF projects. The rural areas identified by NSF as RSI sites typically served school districts in which greater than 30 percent of the school-aged children lived in poverty (NSF, 2002). The RSIs included diverse geographical areas, often comprising multiple states or consortia of counties within a state. …

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