Thursday, June 03, 2010

Education researcher calls out former W.Va. governor over brain-drain comments

Since leaving office former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise has become a vocal advocate for rural education as the president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, but his recent comments about potential solutions to the rural brain drain may strike some rural advocates as controversial. When asked what rural communities could do to ensure that students get the education they need without encouraging them to move away, if that education over-qualifies them for local jobs, "Wise answered that we have no other choice -- that educating kids to their potential is the right thing to do," reports Catlin Howley, senior manager for education and research in the Appalachian Regional Office of ICF International. "He cited the development of highways as an analogy; interstates bring people in, but people also use them to leave."

Writing in the Daily Yonder, Howley continued: "Essentially, Wise said, it’s a risk we have to take. That risk, plus broadband, he added, might save rural communities," Howley writes. That approach didn't satisfy Howley, nor did Wise's assertion that many rural students return home after college. "It wasn’t the full back-and-forth dialogue I wanted," Howley writes. "If it had been, I would have cited some data about how rare it is for formerly rural kids to return and inspire real economic development." Wise's comments came at a meeting sponsored by the Education Alliance, the nation’s only statewide public-education fund.

Howley points to promising research suggesting "place-based approaches, which pair local curriculums with community development efforts," or that "Regional partnerships and school-district cooperatives can be used to achieve economies of scale that allow rural communities and schools to develop and fund local solutions to the twinned issues of economic decline and outmigration." Not hearing such from Wise, she writes: "The lack of any policy suggestion was disheartening, especially from a local boy, someone who should know what the rural 'brain drain' is doing to his home state. My purpose here is certainly not to bash Governor Wise. I do, however, want to point up what our exchange suggests—that we rural education activists probably need to do more education and to be more active." (Read more)

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