Archives for category: Rural Schools

I endorse Paul Theobald for Congress in Nebraska. Paul is a professor, a farmer, and a historian of rural America. He would bring heart, soul, and brains to a Congress in need of them.

Arnold Hillman is co-founder of the South Carolina Organization for Rural Schools, with his wife Carol. They retired as educators in Pennsylvania and moved to Hilton Head, South Carolina. But instead of relaxing, taking long walks, and fishing, they found themselves drawn to a new mission: helping the state’s underfunded rural schools. This is a good “retirement.” Some locals were amazed, seeing this couple throw themselves into helping local children and schools as volunteers.

They did not not fit the stereotype of retired Yankees,as a local wrote:

“Here’s the popular stereotype: they move here but for a long time still drive around with car tags from Ohio, Pennsylvania and such. They don’t change their cell phone numbers from 614, 309 or 315 to 843, 803 or 864. They walk around with sweatshirts from Ohio State and Michigan, not Clemson or USC…

“Well, I’d like to tell you about two Yankees I recently met and what they are doing here in South Carolina. In 2015, Carol and Arnold Hillman moved from Pennsylvania and re-located to the Sun City Retirement Community at Hilton Head. But unlike the stereotypes of newcomers who spend all their time playing golf and complaining with their fellow transplants about the locals, the Hillmans began to travel around the Lowcountry.

“One day they found themselves in Jasper County where they struck up a conversation with some folks about the schools – they had both been in education in Pennsylvania. One thing led to another and after some conversations with Dr. Vashti Washington, former Superintendent of Schools, they began volunteering at Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School mentoring students.

“One can imagine the culture shock that followed. The nearly 100% African American students couldn’t understand why these old white folks from some place they had never heard of were hanging around asking questions. And the Hillman’s couldn’t understand the ‘cultural folk ways’ of teenagers in rural Jasper county – you get the picture.

“But the Hillmans were committed, “We didn’t care if the kids were good students or even if they were well behaved; all we wanted was to work with students.”

“Carol was soon meeting with a group of 10 girls. They talked about everything from the difference between credit and debit cards to how to choose a good college and the benefits of going into the military. They met right after the students ate lunch and Carol provided snacks. “Sometimes we weren’t sure if they came for the milk and cookies or to learn something, but we figured, ‘whatever works,” Hillman laughed.

“Carol’s story about one girl is truly inspiring. “Lauren (not her real name) explained that she was 16, had a baby with cerebral palsy and was living with her grandmother who had raised her. Grandma had cancer and Lauren was trying to take care of her, care for her baby and go to school. By now she was crying. It seems her greatest desire was to graduate with her class in June 2017, but she had missed so many days in the past year that she was failing too many classes.”

“All summer long Lauren and Carol stayed in touch by email as Lauren did not have a cell phone. “When she was down, I would remind her that she was smart and capable and that we would both be ecstatic when she graduated on time. When she was happy, I’d celebrate with her and remind her of how proud I was of her. She passed both of her summer school classes! Here it is, October of her senior year and so far, she is coming to school on a regular basis. I’m delighted to report that Lauren is on track to reach her goal of graduating on time.”

“Meanwhile, Arnold set up a program called Jasper Gentleman, 10 senior young men who could use some mentoring and who in turn helped younger students in fourth and fifth grade. Arnold explains, “Each of the young men were enthusiastic about doing the mentoring. They were also very interested in what was happening in the world and how they might achieve their goals. We spent months talking about colleges, the military, job possibilities, community happenings and how they might improve the high school. We took a trip to the branch campus of the University of South Carolina in Bluffton, arranged for an etiquette lunch (which turned out to be lunch without etiquette) and concentrated on the next steps in their lives.”

“Carol and I attended 11 basketball games, both home and away. A number of the Gents were on the team, but it was the community that encouraged us to go to the games and later on to community events. You see, rural people have been taken advantage of so many times across our country and are naturally suspicious of outsiders. Sometimes, Carol and I were the only snowflakes in the gymnasium. We became fixtures and the folks seemed to welcome us. Sometimes, at away games, they even saved seats for us. They are wonderful people, as are their children.”

“The Hillmans met with State Superintendent Molly Spearman about how their work in Jasper could be spread to other rural districts around the state. Spearman was encouraging to the Hillmans and they have since established the South Carolina Organization of Rural Schools to help others learn from their experiences. Go to their website and see how you can get involved.”

Are the Hillmans amazing or what?

As I read the story above out loud, I started crying. Why? I was moved by their goodness. Just two educators helping kids.

Arnold writes here about the misguided national narrative of teacher-bashing and public school-bashing.

He emphasizes the crucial role that public schools play in the lives of the state’s poorest children.

“Public schools are for everyone. They do not have the capacity, as to private schools and now even some “public”charter schools, to throw children out for whatever reason. They must deal with whoever walks through those school doors. Their job goes on even in the face of governmental obstruction, mass shootings, or the reduction of funding.

“Public schools still turn out the overwhelming number of American Nobel Prize winners. While other countries select their most talented to take international tests, we include everyone, and suffer for it. While media make fun of public schools by having characters say, “You’ll have to excuse me, I went to public school,” public schools still turn out the best and brightest.

“Public schools have taken generations of immigrants to this country and have taught them to be contributing citizens. When you hear a critic say, “Why didn’t the schools teach these kids . . .,” you might step back and ask, how many more things do you want the public schools to teach?

“Having traveled around South Carolina to visit our rural schools over the past 2 years, we have seen how educators are coping with the burdens put on them. There is not a moment in their day that they don’t put forth massive effort to help their students reach their potential. If you have not seen that effort, then you have not been in one of our rural schools.

“For all of their Herculean efforts, they do not complain. Once in a great while, you might see them stand up, as they did in the Abbeville case, or pleading with the legislature to provide them with the proper resources for their students. However, their primary goal is to teach the children and they do that so well.”

These two good people are definitely on the blog honor roll.

The National Grange, which represents rural communities across America, released this resolution. The Grange moves deliberately and thoughtfully before it takes a position. Its resolutions are initiated locally, then reviewed at the state and national levels before adoption.

The resolution says:

WHEREAS, our nation’s future well-being relies on a high-quality public education system that prepares all students for college, careers, citizenship and lifelong learning, and strengthens the nation’s social and economic well-being; and

WHEREAS, our nation’s school systems have been spending growing amounts of time, money and energy on high-stakes standardized testing, in which student performance on standardized tests is used to make major decisions affecting individual students, educators and schools; and

WHEREAS, the over-reliance on high-stakes standardized testing in state and federal accountability systems is undermining educational quality and equity in U.S. public schools by hampering educators’ efforts to focus on the broad range of learning experiences that promote the innovation, creativity, problem solving, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and deep subject-matter knowledge that will allow students to thrive in democracy and an increasingly global society and economy; and

WHEREAS, it is widely recognized that standardized testing is an inadequate and often unreliable measure of both student learning and educator effectiveness; and

WHEREAS, the over-emphasis on standardized testing has caused considerable collateral damage in too many schools, including narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, reducing love of learning, pushing students out of school, driving excellent teachers out of the profession and undermining school climate; and

WHEREAS, high-stakes standardized testing has negative effects for students from all backgrounds, and especially for low-income students, English language learners, children of color, and those with disabilities; and

WHEREAS, the culture and structure of the systems in which students learn must change in order to foster engaging school experiences that promote joy in learning, depth of thought and breadth of knowledge for students; therefore be it

RESOLVED, that the National Grange lobby the U.S. Congress and administration to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as the “Every Child Succeeds Act”), reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality in accountability, and not mandate any fixed role for the use of student test scores in evaluating educators.

CBS News aired a great segment on the importance of rural public schools. They are the heart of the community. CBS News went to an impoverished community in Appalachia and interviewed students and the principal, who is also the school bus driver. The small rural public school in Letcher County doesn’t need competition. Most of its students live below the poverty line, yet the school is one of the best in the state.

Nine million children across the nation attend rural schools.

Why does Betsy DeVos want to destroy them?

Hello, Senator Mitch McConnell. These are your constituents!

In the South, rural schools tend to be neglected, impoverished, and forgotten. A group of educators have created a new organization to advocate on behalf of rural schools.

It is called the South Carolina Organization of Rural Schools. If you live in the state, reach out and learn more or get involved.

Gary VanDeaver is a conservative member of the House of Representatives in Texas. On most of the hot-button social issues, he is a hardline conservative.

But Representative VanDeaver of New Boston, Texas, opposes vouchers.

He is well informed and he is looking out for the best interests of his constituents. What the story does not mention is that Rep. VanDeaver, before he ran for office, was a teacher, a principal, and superintendent of schools in his home town, New Boston. He understands what it means to offer “school choice” in a small rural community.

“When it comes to one centerpiece conservative initiative – allowing tax-subsidized vouchers for students to enroll in private schools – VanDeaver says absolutely no way.

“In my district, public school is the community,” said VanDeaver, of New Boston, a town about 25 miles from the Arkansas border where the Lions high school football stadium has 3,500 seats, nearly enough for every resident.

“If we do anything to pull those students away, then we’re harming those communities,” said VanDeaver, 58, after joining an overwhelming majority of the GOP-dominated state House this month to reject school vouchers…”

Rural Republicans have helped to sink vouchers in every legislative session, despite the support they get from the Governor, Greg Abbott, and the Lt. Governor, Dan Patrick.

The combination of rural Republicans and urban Democrats has blocked vouchers again and again. They get passed in the state Senate, and they never come to a vote in the House.

That, plus the vigorous activity of Pastors for Texas Children, has prevented the voucher movement from succeeding in Texas.

Alabama has a solid Republican majority in its legislature.

Yet, Larry Lee reports, an effort to expand the number of charters in the state was overwhelmingly defeated.

Alabama has a lot of small towns and rural districts, represented by Republicans. They know the public school is part of the fabric of their community. They don’t want charters, though they are fine with opening them in Birmingham. Not all Republicans are free market zealots. Some are old-fashioned conservatives who want to conserve their community, not disrupt it.

Recently, Betsy DeVos visited the public schools of Van Wert, Ohio, with Randi Weingarten. Randi picked the district to show DeVos public schools that are the heart of their rural community, which is in Trump country. DeVos talked school choice, but encountered the reality of a community with high poverty and no interest in vouchers or charters.

In this article, Indianan Jill Long THOMPSON explains why vouchers would be a disaster for rural schools.

Jill Long Thompson is a former member of Congress and former USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development. She was board chair and CEO of the Farm Credit Administration and is now an associate professor at the Kelley School of Business and the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. She lives on a farm in northern Indiana.

Jill Long Thompson is a former member of Congress from Indiana. She is also a former USDA Undersecretary for Rural Development. She is a visiting associate professor at the Kelley School of Business and the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Bloomington.

Public schools are a cornerstone of communities, and they are a very important component of the rural infrastructure….

For rural communities, in particular, voucher programs create a business model that simply will not work. Running a rural school is very challenging because the resources are always limited, and oftentimes scarce.

Vouchers encourage the creation of small private schools. But, we don’t need more schools in rural communities; we need more resources to strengthen the schools we have. Increasing the number of schools means increasing the overhead, which is why vouchers dilute resources even further.

A school voucher program is the education policy equivalent of a county highway program that would give residents money to build little private roads anywhere they want.

That would not only be costly and inefficient; it would not serve the community’s transportation needs.

One must look no further than our own state, with its aggressive voucher program, to see the problems it causes for small rural school systems.

Since 2011, Indiana has shifted $520 million into the state voucher program.

Unfortunately, many of the schools receiving the vouchers have not performed as well as the public schools that lost funding because of the vouchers.

A voucher program is not the solution to the challenges facing public education.

According to the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania, “Studies of the federally funded (Washington, D.C.) voucher program found that there was no conclusive evidence that vouchers affected student achievement. In fact, children who were given the school voucher performed no better in math and reading than the children who weren’t given vouchers.”

Additionally, “Similar studies of the longest-running school voucher program in the country in Milwaukee actually found that public school students outperformed voucher students at every grade level on the statewide reading and math tests.”

My husband and I are products of rural public schools. We live on a farm in the same district where my husband completed his elementary and high school education, and where he and his father both served on the local school board.

I know firsthand what the public school means to a rural community. Our school is not just a place to educate our children, but also a vehicle for bringing people together. Our local school is a big part of our identity.

I can think of nothing more important to the rural infrastructure than schools. President Trump’s voucher policies would cause irreparable harm to communities across rural America.

The Bangor Daily News in Maine reports that Trump’s push for school choice in Maine would be a disaster for rural schools. This article helps to explain why rural legislators are not enthusiastic about school choice. It would destroy the schools they have and leave everyone worse off.

Mt. Abram Regional High School, north of Farmington, is a small school, with only around 150 students. But the teenagers who step off the bus each morning come from dozens of towns, some 50 or 60 miles away. That can mean a long bus ride for some.

Senior Olivia Scott says it has created a tight knit community.

“Here, you get a really strong sense of who you are individually,” she says. “You get to know all of your classmates and all of your peers and all of your teachers, even.”

“Everything happens there, town meetings happen there,” says Susan Pratt, the superintendent of MSAD 58, which contains Mt. Abram. In an area that’s been hard-hit by a loss of jobs and people, she says the schools are much more than a place to hold classes.

“They’re the center of the community,” she says. “It’s really the only gathering place for some of these little towns.”

And that has Pratt worried about a new push for school choice in the president’s budget proposal.

While it’s still unclear what exactly school choice would mean, a common approach is to give families vouchers for a certain amount of money and let them choose where they want their kids to go to school. It has been tried in places such as Wisconsin and Florida, to mixed results.

Pratt says in rural western Maine, where schools are hours away from each other, getting students to another destination would be close to impossible. Experts say that means the law would likely benefit more affluent students who could supply their own transportation.

“There aren’t a lot of options for many of the school systems,” she says. “Your options are limited. And so their choices are limited for folks, just because of the distance, as much as anything else.”

But for many educators, the bigger worry is what happens if students do leave their current public school district. Tina Meserve, the superintendent of RSU 16 in Poland, says she’s concerned it would leave schools without enough students and revenue to provide a quality education.

“You’ve got to have a certain student population to offer AP chemistry, AP physics, AP calculus. Plus your regular algebra and geometry class,” she says. “So again, you run into that problem of needing to have a certain student population to provide a well rounded education for kids.”