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A Collection of Papers
Monograph series Volume I, Number 1

Prefatory Notes

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SECTION I: Conference Keynote Address.
SECTION II: Curriculum Diversity in Rural Iowa: Quality Equity Issues.
SECTION III: Effective Rural Schools: What We Know.
SECTION IV: Financing Rural Education in Iowa.
SECTION V: Meeting Student Needs in Rural Education in Iowa.
SECTION VI: Redesigning Iowa Rural Schools: Sharing, Restructuring or Consolidating.
SECTION VII: Staff Development and Rural Schools: Ways and Means.
SECTION VIII: Technology and Its Implications for Iowa Rural Education.
SECTION IX: Conference and Monograph Contributors.

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Prefatory Notes
An Introduction from a Regional Viewpoint on Rural Education

 Lawrence B. Friedman, Ph.D.
North Central Regional Educational Laboratory

This volume is one key outcome of the Invitational Rural Education Conference, April 7, 1989, sponsored by the University of Northern Iowa, the Iowa State Department of Education, and the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. Individually, the papers reflect the authors' knowledge of the rural education enterprise and its diversity in Iowa and their commitment to improving and expanding educational opportunities for all rural students in the state. Collectively, the papers depict the state of rural education in Iowa near the end of the 1980s from a broad range of viewpoints, including those of teachers, administrators, counselors, parents, school board members, legislators, state department and area educational agency staff, professional organizations and advocacy groups. The wide variety of viewpoints has resulted in a remarkably, and perhaps uniquely, rich composite picture of rural education in one state.

 This introduction represents yet another point of view, a regional perspective, on rural education in Iowa. I am the Director of the Education Program at the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. The lab, funded primarily out of the United States Education Department, serves a region of seven states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The Rural Education Program conducts a broad range of projects to develop and identify promising and successful rural education practices in the region; describe the conditions of rural education across the region; and dissemination of information on the practices and conditions to the region. Thus, when I attended the conference and read the papers in this volume, I could not help but compare what I was learning about rural education in Iowa with what I had learned about rural education in the region. This introduction is the result of the comparison. It briefly characterizes rural students and schools in Iowa and discusses two Iowa rural education issues in Iowa repeatedly identified by the authors in this volume that also are concerns of rural education stakeholders across the region.

Iowa's Rural Students and Schools

 In brief, almost a third of Iowa's K-12 students attend the almost 50 percent of the state's schools that are rural schools. Of the nearly all white students population, nearly one in five are eligible for free school lunches. The average rural school enrollment is 279 and almost all enroll 500 or fewer students. Compared to the students and schools of the North Central region as a whole, a substantially higher percentage of Iowa's K-12 student population and schools are rural. The ethnic composition of Iowa's K-12 rural student population is slightly more homogeneous than the region's and a slightly higher percentage of the population is eligible for free school lunches than in the region. Iowa's rural schools, on the average, are substantially smaller than the region's. More specifically, 

Almost 151,800 K-12 students attended Iowa's rural schools, approximately 31.5 percent of the state's slightly more than 480,500 students (approximate averages for North Central states: 225,200 rural students, 19.4 percent of 1,158,800 students).
Iowa's K-12 rural student population was more homogeneous (approximately 99 percent white) than the state's total student population (just under 95 percent white) (approximate averages for North Central states: rural students--97 percent white, total students --81 percent white).
Almost 18 percent of Iowa's K-12 rural students were eligible for free school lunches (approximate average for the North Central states of Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin: 16 percent).
There were 804 rural schools in Iowa, 49.2 percent of the 1,633 schools in the state (approximate averages for North Central states: 795 rural schools, 29.7 percent of 2680 total schools).
The median size of Iowa's rural schools was 172 students, compared to 246 for the state, and the average size of a rural school in Iowa was 189 students, compared to 294 for the state (approximate averages for North Central states: rural school median size--239, state median size--425; rural school average size--290, state average size--373).
Nearly all of Iowa's rural schools (99.3 percent) had enrollments of 500 students or fewer and 88.5 percent of them enrolled 300 or fewer students. At the state level, 89.6 percent of the schools enrolled 500 or fewer students and 63.4 percent enrolled 300 or fewer (approximate averages for North Central states: rural schools--86.2 percent enrolled 500 or fewer students and 62.2 percent enrolled 300 or fewer; total schools--68.1 percent enrolled 500 or fewer and 35.5 percent enrolled 300 or fewer).

Given this profile of rural students and schools in Iowa, it is by no means surprising that Iowans have devoted considerable time, effort, and resources to identifying and addressing rural education issues. This volume shows that this is indeed the case and that there are many success stories from which the rural education community of the North Central region can lean.

Rural Education Issues in Iowa and Responses to Them

 Almost all, if not all, of the Iowa rural education issues identified in this collection of papers are specific instances of two general rural education issues—equity of educational opportunity for rural students and efficiency of rural school operations. The volume makes clear that the issues are interconnected, as are their roots and their resolutions. The volume also makes clear that the equity and efficiency issues are being addressed at both the state and local levels.

 Equity of Educational Opportunities. Many of the volume's papers argue explicitly that Iowa's rural students generally have fewer and/or lower quality educational opportunities than their non rural counter parts. This argument is implicit in most of the others, whether staff development, finance, technology, or school effectiveness is under discussion. Most often the inequity is described in terms of curricular offerings at the high school level; rural students have fewer courses available to them than students in non rural schools. Some authors also identify other sources of inequity that exist at the elementary as well as the high school level, such as teachers teaching outside their areas of expertise and lack of staff development and professional development activities through which teachers become more expert. However, authors also indicate that often rural students have certain educational advantages, such as small classes, close student teacher relations, and rich experiences in extracurricular activities.

In summary, the volume paints a picture of both the positive and problematic aspects of the educational opportunities available to Iowa' s rural students. In some respects, the state's rural students have fewer or lower quality opportunities and in others, they have more or higher quality opportunities. This state of affairs must be taken into account when addressing the equity issue. Care must be taken to insure that a strategy does not create new educational opportunities at the expense of existing ones. For instance, adding high school courses through increasing teaching loads might easily have a negative effect on student teacher relations and decrease the time teachers can spend on students' extracurricular activities. Also, strategies that define the equity issue too narrowly, say only in terms of inequity in high school curriculum offerings, are likely to ignore other equally important aspects of the equity issue.

 Efficiency of Rural School Operations. It is often claimed that rural schools operate less efficiently than nonrural schools; that is, rural schools require more resources than their non-rural counterparts to operate at the same level. However, the discussions of rural school efficiency in this volume strongly suggest that Iowa's rural schools in general operate as efficiently as their non rural counterparts. The papers suggest that many of the factors contributing to the higher per pupil costs in rural schools than in non rural schools are facts of rural life that can be changed only with great difficulty, if at all. For instance, it is pointed out that greater student transportation requirements and lower student teacher ratios are part and parcel of rural education in Iowa. Thus, higher per pupil costs that appear to be the result of relative inefficiency are often really the result of operating a school under rural conditions. Resource allocation mechanisms, particularly funding formulas, that do not take such conditions into account penalize rural schools and their students. Most, but not all, of the papers that discuss rural school efficiency, argue that Iowa's rural schools and students have been penalized.

 Connections between the Equity and Efficiency Issues. Authors in this volume who address both issues point out that the two issues are interconnected in three critical ways.

Clearly, more efficient rural schools would be able to allocate more resources to educational opportunities for their students. This volume suggests that a bedrock question is in which respects Iowa's rural schools could be and could not be operated more efficiently, given the conditions in which they operate.
The small size and remote location typical of Iowa’s rural schools are key, if not the key factors, in formulating and resolving the equity and efficiency issues. When, if ever, is a rural school too small and/or too remote to provide the educational opportunities for its students comparable to those provided by nonrural schools? When, if ever, is a rural school too small and/or remote to operate at efficiency levels comparable to those of non rural schools? If there is a point at which a rural school is too small to meet its obligations to its students, what alternatives exist for the students?
The recent economic dislocations and consequent social and individual hardships in rural Iowa have made the resolutions of both issues more difficult and more urgent. The economic dislocations have left many rural communities and the state less able to increase financial resources for education. The resulting social and individual hardships in many rural communities have loosened school/student, school/parent, and school/community bonds. Under these conditions, the goals of improved educational opportunities for students and more efficient operations become harder for rural schools to reach.
Responses to the Issues. The wide variety of responses to the equity and efficiency issues suggested by the authors in this volume may be categorized under three headings:

Revision of existing funding mechanisms. The authors argue that equity demands increased funding for rural districts in absolute terms and in relation to their nonrural counterparts. They suggest a number of ways existing funding mechanisms can be restructured to reflect the conditions under which rural districts operate and therefore allocate funds more equitably.

Increased and more varied collaboration. As is quite clear from this volume, Iowa's rural educators are expert collaborators, whether sharing administrators, courses, or teachers. The authors argue that collaboration among rural districts, the Area Education Agencies, and the Iowa Department of Education have increased the educational opportunities that rural schools provide and the efficiency with which they are provided. They recommend that such collaborations should continue to be encouraged and rewarded.

Increased and more coordinated use of technologies. While cautioning that technology will not solve the equity and efficiency issues, the authors strongly suggest that Iowa's rural education community has only scratched the surface when it comes to technology. They are enthusiastic about the possibilities for increasing instructional, curricular, administrative, and professional development opportunities in rural districts via technology. They stress that state wide coordination is essential for using technology efficiently.

In summary, the volume suggests that the equity and efficiency issues are best addressed through continued innovation in three areas: funding for rural districts, collaboration among rural educators, and the coordinated application of technology to the enterprise of rural education in Iowa. The volume contributes significantly to the basis from which further innovations will spring in Iowa and the North Central region.

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