The Challenges in Implementing School Improvement Grant Models in Rural High Schools
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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Policy Question Should the federal government modify the human resources requirement in the School Improvement Grant models to address the specific challenges facing rural high schools? Background The Obama Administration is pressuring Congress to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), legislation that significantly increased federal funding and accountability requirements for elementary and secondary education. As part of the effort to help schools meet accountability standards, Congress authorized School Improvement Grants (SIG) that provide funds to improve low-performing Title I schools. In order to be eligible to receive funds, schools must implement one of four school intervention models that are designed to induce radical and transformative change in the school. This report focuses on two models: the Turnaround and Transformation models. As part of these models, the Department of Education requires the mandatory replacement of the principal and, in the Turnaround model, 50% of the current staff as well. President Obama outlined a new goal for his proposal on ESEA reauthorization: every student should graduate from high school ready for college and career. This goal is ambitious considering high school students have made no progress on the National Assessment for Educational Progress over the last few decades while elementary and middle school students have made modest improvements. These results align with a common perception that high schools have historically been the most difficult schools to improve and are the most “impervious to change.” Rural high schools face additional challenges recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers and administrators due to relatively lower pay, geographic and social isolation, and subject area certification requirements. This report analyzes the feasibility of implementing the Turnaround and Transformation models in rural high schools. Nationwide Comparison of Staffing in Rural and Urban High Schools Using the 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Survey, I analyze teacher qualifications and recruitment data. While teachers in urban high schools have more years of experience, teachers in rural high schools remain in their current schools longer. Consequently, teacher turnover rates appear to be lower in rural high schools than urban ones. If low teacher turnover and the resulting stability has a positive effect on student achievement in rural high schools, SIG models would undercut that advantage. Much of the data, however, is too aggregated to be definitive. Qualitative data can offer suggestive evidence about their effect. North Carolina Case Study of Staffing in Rural and Urban High Schools To evaluate the feasibility of the Turnaround and Transformation models in rural high schools, I survey 13 principals in rural and urban districts across North Carolina. The sample includes a varied group of schools in terms of district and school size, student poverty, and student performance. While the sample is small and non-random, many of the findings correspond with current research in a number of areas including: the district’s recruiting capacity, the geography of teacher labor markets, and the role of the school system in a rural community. In developing the survey questions, I concentrated on the process for filling teaching vacancies with the intention of learning if and how hiring differs between rural and urban high schools. The surveys generated the following conclusions. A district’s student population determines the size, specialization, and involvement of the district office. In urban districts, the human resources department has the capacity to provide a variety of resources and recruitment methods which research suggests results in hiring more qualified teachers. Rural district offices, however, typically handle only an applicant’s processing and paperwork. Rural and urban principals identify similar patterns with respect to teacher shortages in science, mathematics, and special education. Nonetheless, urban principals can almost always fill a core subject vacancy due to the number of applicants in the centralized district recruiting system. In the current economy, even rural principals in low-income areas can typically fill their vacancies. Rural principals often rely on the community for recruiting, both to vet applicants and to ensure local connection. While teacher labor markets are usually localized, many newly hired teachers are from out-of-state as a result of the economy. To implement a SIG model, urban principals foresaw obstacles such as the school’s stigma of low-performance or considerable paperwork. Most rural principals indicated that replacing 50% of their staff would be “extremely difficult” or impossible. Their challenges included attracting new teachers and their families with a depressed local economy, implementing seniority-based hiring policies which result in losing effective teachers, and devastating a close-knit rural community. In many rural communities where the school system is the largest employer, losing 50% of high-school teachers would damage the local economy as well. Conclusions and Recommendations The federal government should modify the human resources requirement in the School Improvement Grant models to address the specific challenges facing rural high schools. Rural high schools are unlikely to have enough applicants to replace 50% of their staff because the applicant pool is not sufficient. For those few rural schools who could find the number of applicants, the quality would not be adequate, especially in hard-to-fill subject areas. Instead of requiring rural high schools to replace their administrators and teachers, the federal government should implement policies that support long-term human capital sustainability in rural areas. The federal government—potentially through state-administered grants— can help lower the costs of recruitment practices for rural districts. Some states have already implemented initiatives to help rural districts recruit high-quality teachers through statewide rural recruitment clearinghouses and “grow-your-own” teacher and administrator initiatives.
DepartmentThe Sanford School of Public Policy
CitationRosenberg, Sarah (2011). The Challenges in Implementing School Improvement Grant Models in Rural High Schools. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/3681.
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Rights for Collection: Sanford School Master of Public Policy (MPP) Program Master’s Projects