Friday, July 16, 2010

Advocates say Gates Foundation slights rural schools

Rural schools are being left out of policy changes that are reshaping the U.S. education system, including private funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, rural school advocates say. "The bulk of the Gates money, $264 million to pay for pilot reforms in teacher evaluation and performance pay, has gone to large urban school districts," Mary Schulken of Education Week reports on her Rural Education blog. "An additional $81 million has gone to charter schools and other initiatives, primarily in urban and suburban school districts." Many of the issues tackled by the foundation, like effective teaching, cross urban and rural lines.

"The Foundation funded work around smaller schools in mostly urban places—a sort of ironic phenomenon, given the consolidation of rural schools. And they funded some early-college initiatives in places like rural Appalachian Ohio," Caitlin Howley, senior manager of education and research for ICF International, an educational research firm in Charleston, W.Va., told Schulken. "But I don't think rural is part of what they've been thinking about." Howley added she hasn't seen any evidence the Gates Foundation is attending to the unique challenges of rural schools and communities.

Mil Duncan, the director of the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, agreed but said Gates' urban focus is a matter of scale. "The Gates Foundation is looking for big impact so they go for big numbers, and it means little resources for rural places," Duncan, the author of Worlds Apart: Why Poverty Persists in Rural America, told Schulken. "I wish there were more resources directed toward rural kids, but I think in the longer run that if these reforms work in urban areas they will affect rural schools." John White, deputy secretary for rural outreach for the U.S. Department of Education, said "The department is working to feed growth in rural-focused philanthropy and to give rural districts support they need to thrive in a competitive grant-making environment," Schulken writes. (Read more)

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