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Education is often classified as one of the most important things in America. This being true, there are two different classifications for schools in America; rural and urban. Urban by definition means city or town, whereas rural by definition means country or rustic areas (dictionary.com). The definitions alone show that there are differences between the two. Since each area has their own differences they also have their own problems with systems within the districts, such as the education systems.
In order to be classified as rural or urban the area must meet certain criteria. According to the 2000 United States Census, in order to be considered an urban district the area must have core census groups that have a population of at least 1,000 people per square mile and surrounding groups that have no less than 500 people per square mile. If the district is not classified as urban then the area will be considered a rural area. Rural areas are typically any territory, population or housing unit that is located outside an urban cluster or an urban area (United States Census, 2000). Transition to No Child Left Behind Act?
In 2001, President George W. Bush proposed the No Child Left Behind Act. With this act in place the legislation funds a number of federal programs aiming at improving the performance of U.S. schools by increasing the standard of accountability for states, school districts, and schools, as well as providing parents more flexibility in choosing which schools their children will attend (No Child Left Behind Act). This act would emphasize the improvement for reading and math scores. Even though this act was administered for good reason there has been much doubt about if it really has helped the school in America, both rural and urban.
The No Child Left Behind Act was put into place to make sure that all United States students become proficient by the year 2014. Even though this act was intended to help all students in America, it has become extremely problematic for the rural schools compared to urban schools. The rural schools will have to receive much guidance and help from state and federal lawmakers to be able to meet the standard of the No Child Left Behind Act. Since the rural areas will need assistance the government has gone through the Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP) to help with the problems that arise with trying to meet the standards of the No Child Left Behind Act. REAP was designed to give school districts with financial problems the help they need to be able to raise their student achievement numbers (North Central Regional Educational Library). Most of the problems are contributed to poverty, funding, qualified educators, and the number of students per subgroup. Even though these problems are most likely found in rural areas, some may arise in urban areas as well.
According to the No Child Left Behind Act, each state must acquire Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) reports that show improvement of all students for each subgroup including racial and ethnic groups, disabled students, as well as students that have little or no English proficiency (North Central Regional Laboratory). Even though the AYP has to show improvement of all students including subgroups, states can define and set the number of students that create a specific subgroup. Instead of looking at each year's AYP, it is recommended that each are take AYP reports from several years and then average the results together. This is recommended because there are many situations that could alter the results such as an illness outbreak, added noise disruptions, or just lack of concentration. Another possible influence that could alter the reports would be the variation in the students being reported in the annual AYP (Linn et al., 2002).
Schools that don't meet the AYP mark could be punished severely depending on how many years the school doesn't make AYP. If a school doesn't make AYP for two continuous years the school must receive assistance from the district in which the school is located, as well as having to create a school improvement plan, and give the students more public school options. If the school fails to reach the AYP mark for a third year in a row they have to set up an alternative program for students with financial needs (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory). Even though this is the "punishment" for the Central Region of America, it is intended that the "punishment" will make the states AYP better. For example, the following information is Kentucky's way of trying to make the schools better if their AYP doesn't meet standards after two years.
Kentucky's AYP Improvements
Number of Years not meeting AYP
Implement School Choice
Write or revise school plan
Continue school choice
Revise Schools Plan
Offer supplemental services
Continue School Choice
Revise School Plan
Continue Supplemental Services
Institute Corrective Action
Continue School Choice
Revise School Plan
Continue Supplemental Services
Continue Corrective Action
Write a Plan for alternative Governance consistent with state law
Continue School Choice
Revise School Plan
Continue Supplemental Services
Continue Corrective Action
Implement Alternative Governance consistent with state law
The information that was shown above is only a small portion of what the No Child Left Behind Act actually includes for the schools of America.
In the rural areas the main issue has been that since there are quite a few of low-income families the school systems have always been placed at the bottom or at a disadvantage to receive help from federal funding programs. Since the student number is so low in rural school districts this prevents the schools from receiving as much help from the government as urban areas get. This, for many reasons is not logical because the smaller the school the more it takes to fund different things. This could include paying faculty and staff, as well as funding for transportation and food. Transportation is one of the hardest obstacles for rural schools to try to overcome. Most rural schools end up spending more on transportation than any other category from their budget. A recent study reported that rural schools spend twice the amount of money as urban districts do for transportation (Killeen & Sipple, 2000). West Virginia, a largely rural state, is the only state in the United States that spends over seven percent of the schools budget for busing purposes (Eyre & Finn, 2002). The obstacles are exactly why REAP (Rural Education Association Program) was created.
Even though it seems like the No Child Left Behind Act is helping schools, the truth is many urban school districts disagree with the implementing of the Act. Urban school administrators have three main categories that they believe should be reconsidered; time, fairness in measure, and support to get better rather than penalties (Forgione, Jr.). According to the Superintendant of Schools from Austin, Texas if these categories are not looked into it's going to be extremely hard to improve urban schools. The No Child Left Behind Act expects all students to learn at the same pace so that they can improve together, which is not always the case in schools, especially urbanized areas (Forgione, Jr.).
By the year 2006 the No Child Left Behind Act required that all fifty states have "highly qualified" educators of core academic subjects (No Child Left Behind Act). The subjects that are covered in core academics are English, language arts, math, science, foreign languages, government/civics, art, history, geography and economics (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory). In order to be considered a "highly qualified" educator the educator must have a full state certification as a teacher and does not have certification or licensure requirements waived on an emergency, temporary, or provisional basis; must have at least a bachelor's degree; and must have demonstrated subject matter competency in each of the academic subjects in which the teacher teaches, in a manner in compliance with the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) (Louisiana Department of Education). With this being the case, it makes it extremely hard for rural schools. Living in rural areas will make it harder to find "highly qualified" educators due to a combination of obstacles. One major disadvantage to rural communities is that of the geography. Geographically isolated communities have difficulty attracting teacher to their community because of lower pay and social/professional isolation (Collins, 1999). Rural areas have always had a hard time recruiting and keeping educators, but ever since the No Child Left Behind Act was set into place a sense of urgency have arisen more so in rural districts than urban. Some of the contributing factors to the shortage could be social and collegial isolation, low salaries, having to teach multiple grades, and not being familiar with rural school districts (Regional Educational Laboratory). This sense of urgency has been contributed to the No Child Left Behind Act because not only do teachers have to be willing to work in rural communities but now they have to have credentials that they must meet to become a "highly qualified" educator.
With the No Child Left Behind Act in action, "There'll be a drain of the best teachers out of many rural schools" according to Marty Strange, coauthor of the report and policy director of Rural Schools and Community Trust. He also goes on to say that the problem in the rural schools is not the test scores but rather the resources. Federal law makers mostly spend their time on looking and studying urban schools, which then puts the rural school districts at a huge disadvantage (csmonitor.com). An example given by Marty Strange is the "President Bush's reform plan encourages schools to compete for the best teachers." That plan works well for wealthy suburban districts which can afford to attract good teachers, but it makes life tougher for poorer districts that can't offer competitive salaries. "According to the Rural School and Community Trust, Alabama, Kentucky, North Dakota, South Dakota, North Carolina, Arkansas, West Virginia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Montana are all states with large rural areas that could be affected quite hard by this act. Since the No Child Left Behind Act was set into place Rachel Tompkins, president of Rural Schools and Community Trust says that "I'm hard pressed to think of any place where rural schools are better off."
Kentucky, unlike other states has created a plan that focuses on immediate needs, and providing stability for future needs. This plan was created to achieve the goal that 100% of classes in Kentucky were taught by "highly qualified" educators to accommodate the expectations of the No Child Left Behind Act (Kentucky Department of Education). Even with plans like this one being implemented there is still a sense of urgency to try to find "highly qualified" educators. All of this information leads me right into my next topic, school consolidation.
The logic for consolidating schools springs from an idea born in the late 19th century industrial era. "Economy of scale" is the idea that you can reduce your production cost by increasing the size of the facility (Orr, 1992). According to William Duncombe, from the Center of Policy research school consolidation is considered to be an effective strategy for reducing school district spending. For example, Maine, Arkansas, and Nebraska have recently all tried the concept of school consolidation. Another example is that the Twin Rivers Unified School District of Sacramento, California consolidated three elementary schools, and a high school district together, where it now serves about 30,000 students (National School Boards Association). Both urban and rural school districts that are considering this have to look at the pros and cons of school consolidation. Pros of school consolidation could be that administrative costs are decreased, efficient larger schools, more "qualified" educators as well as more updated materials, supplies and equipment for the schools. Even though the pros of school consolidation sound good, there are possible cons. Cons of consolidation could be high transportation cost because of more students, as well as the schools having to increase what they pay the faculty, and even lower staff motivation, productivity, student motivation, effort, and parent involvement.
Under the No Child Left Behind Act each school must test students between the grades of third through eighth in reading and mathematics starting in the 2005-2006 school year so that by the 2007-2008 school year each student will have been tested at least once in elementary, middle and high school, in science (edweek.org). According to Howard Hobbs from the Valley Press Media Network a recent study shows that the academic scored between rural and urban districts are very similar to one another. Even though this is true, urban and rural school did not perform as well compared to students from moderate areas of the United States. "The policy implications of the research study suggest that policy makers should consider students from highly urban areas to be subjects of concern similar to students from highly rural areas in attempts to affect expected student achievement" (Howard Hobbs Ph.D).
The National Center for Education statistics says that fourth and eighth grade students that came from a rural background perform almost at the same levels in reading and mathematics compared to the students that have come from an urban background. Even though the test scores are somewhere of where they need to be, according to USA Today back-to-basics reforms may need to return to help with the nation's most disadvantaged students. Since the No Child Left Behind Act was implemented eighth graders raised 37.9% in reading and 39.4% in mathematics (USA Today). This study from USA Today also shows that fourth graders showed an improvement in reading with a 4.9% gain in reading and a 6.8% rise in mathematics. To help set up "scientific, researched-based" reading programs a competitive-grant program called Reading First Funded over $1.02 billion in 2004 (edweek.org).
Not only did the No Child Left Behind Act change the laws about students testing scores, and achievements, it also deals with the funding of school. For the funding part of the law it was created to target larger schools with higher levels of low-income families (edweek.org). According to a study done at the University of Michigan urban schools spend about $1,459 per student whereas rural schools spend about 1,562 per student. This shows a $15 increase in rural schools due to their district size. Some may argue that because urban schools are larger, they can do things more efficiently than rural schools and thus naturally need less money to give the same education to their students. (Mulvaney, Skolnik, Chung, Lacovelli). This study also shows that this could be the opposite. If this were the case an example would be that there is a classroom with a large number of students, so there is a greater chance that the student comes from a poor family in which the school might provide lunch every day for the family, in return making it where the urban schools spend more than the rural schools Mulvaney, Skolnik, Chung, Lacovelli). For instance, a study done by the Policy Analysis for California says that "because of its requirement to evaluate school progress on the basis of demographic subgroups, the law may disproportionately penalize schools with diverse student populations" (Public Agenda, 30013; Policy Analysis for California Education, 2003). As a response to all of the controversy federal officials have decided to increase spending to pay for all testing since it shows the government's financial commitment to the law (edweek.org).
------------------------------------Fixing Urban Schools---------------------------------------
"Ever since the mid-1980's, state legislatures, state education departments, and courts have dismantled local school boards and administrative structures" (Celio, Hill, 1998). This has not happened in every school in America, but it has happened in New Jersey, Cleveland, Chicago, Baltimore and the District of Columbia. When trying to improve schools in America, people have good ideas but they don't know where to start. A mayor of one of the area's listed above said, "I had good intentions and some hunches, but no ideas about what to do or where to get help" (Celio, Hill, 1998). When leaders are trying to improve public school they face two obstacles, intellectual and political. No one really knows how to go about fixing urban schools which is a definite problem for future students.
According to the book Fixing Urban Schools superintendants are not enough to create, implement and follow through with ways to fix the urban schools. On average a superintendant stays at one district for about three years. If for instance a superintendant does come up with a way to fix urban schools, and they leave half way through their reforms are most likely dismantled or superseded (Celio, Hill, 1998). More leaders are trying to find ways to fix urban schools at a faster rate because "Nearly half of all urban public school students are still giving up on schooling before they can read and write well enough to make a living with anything other than their hand" (Celio, Hill, 1998).
In order to fix urban schools or any school for that matter people have to understand what the exact problem is in order to try to fix it. One of the first steps that leaders take is understand the problem is that the federal and state governments, foundations, and businesses look at particular groups of students to help or specific programs to support. Even if people understand the problem they may have a good idea but it doesn't get pursued very far. One of the problems in fixing urban schools is that like mentioned earlier, there are not enough "qualified" educators. In order to try to fix this some urban schools are creating different teacher training programs that are aimed at especially training teachers in subjects that they are deficient in. These programs that are being created only work if certain ones are implemented at a time. If they are all taught at the same time the district will not get any benefit from the programs.
There are seven topics that are talked about when it comes to urban school reforms. These topics include standards, teacher development, school designs, decentralization and site-based management, charter schools, school contracting, and vouchers.
When standards are brought up in talking about urban school reforms these would normally establish clear expectations about what students are to be taught and to learn, while sitting high targets for student performance. If specific standards were set in to place it would allow the creation of aligned systems of tests, curriculum teacher training, and teacher materials. These standards would come along with their own specific consequences. A standard based reform would assume that what is set to be taught will be taught which will create a demand for improvement in teaching and learning (Celio, Hill, 1998).
The next subtopic when coming up with urban education reforms is teacher development. This form of a reform is saying that the teacher will be held responsible for their own learning in order to teach the material to the students. This reform also says that the level of quality should be higher than those that are created by non-teachers (Celio, Hill, 1998). With this reform the level of excitement of teacher would be considerably be higher which in turn would create a better learning environment for the students because their teacher will be more energetic which will make the setting more engaging and interesting for the student.
The next type of reform is charter school reforms. With this reform only a limited number of schools would be authorized to operate independently as long as they got good results for students and abided by public sector rules on equity of student admission and fiscal accounting (Celio, Hill, 1998). If a charter school reform was put into place the parent's would be able to choose what school they would like for their student to attend. The idea of charter schooling is that the learning will combine the teachers and the parent's part in teaching, and making decisions. If this is done correctly it will create strong communities. One major thing to know about charter schools is that students would most likely be able to learn more since each charter school would most likely have a specialty subject.
The next type of reform is school contracting. This is where school-specific performance agreements would be created. This would give districts complete and total control over their funding and faculty and staff. With this reform the parents would also be able to choose what school their child would attend. "Contracting assumes that school independence and competition for students will encourage the search for more effective methods of instruction and that family choice will strengthen the schools and family-school bond" (Celio, Hill, 1998). If this reform were. put into place the students would learn because the competition that would be created would end up eventually forcing every school to look and work on a theory of learning and teaching, in where parents would be able to select schools that match their children's interest and leaning styles.
The last type of reform that I found to try to fix urban schools is vouchers. This would be when the funding of the public schools would be eliminated in the favor of giving the parents vouchers that are redeemable at any school the parent wishes. The thought of voucher schooling would assume that plenty of demand will attract high-quality independent school providers and drive innovation and that choice will allow families to select schools that they trust and can support (Celio, Hill, 1998). In this case the students would learn better because the competition will favor schools that are productive and responsive and will eliminate schools that provide ineffective instruction.
All in all, there are many reforms out there. With all of the different types, there is room for so much improvement and pursuing. Although these are created to look at the positive aspects each one addresses the negative aspect. For instance, standards attack the system's tolerance of mediocrity; professional development takes on inattention to teacher quality; new school designs are meant to unify schools; decentralization corrects for micromanagement by school boards an central offices; charters address the problems created by a bureaucratic monopoly's operation of schools; contracting counteracts the current absence of arrangements for holding school accountable as units; and vouchers provide choices for parents where previously such choices were limited.