One in five students in the United States—19.4 percent—attends a public elementary or secondary school designated as rural. The view outside the classroom window for some of these students is “one of scenic fields, pasture lands, or forests nestled at the base of mountains.” But variations across rural America can be stunning. But what rural places have in common is the challenge to provide a quality education to ensure the success of some 10 million students. This challenge often comes with difficult odds—inadequate financing, teacher shortages, and inaccessible or unaffordable services for children and families. The partnerships and approach of “full-service community schools” may hold the greatest potential for addressing rural education’s challenges and ensuring that every child has at least a near-equal opportunity to succeed.
One suggestion for improvement is that states and rural districts should develop a rural teacher recruitment strategy that emphasizes the benefits of teaching in a community school. An important aspect of state rural recruitment strategies could be permitting local school boards to implement community educator certification programs. This would allow school districts to place highly skilled and knowledgeable community members in classrooms under the supervision of highly qualified, highly effective teachers of record. This type of program can facilitate the movement of parent and community volunteers into the teaching profession in understaffed areas, particularly when combined with emerging “grow-your-own” teacher recruitment and retention strategies.
Full-service community schools may well provide the greatest opportunity for quality education and success in rural communities where resources are few. Community schools offer a much-needed alternative to traditional schooling models even in rural communities that are not economically stressed.
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