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National Center for Research on Rural Education
Principal Investigator: Susan Sheridan
Co-Principal Investigators: James Bovaird, Gwen Nugent, Gina Kunz, Todd Glover
Funding Agency: Institute of Education Sciences (IES)
Award Date: Jul 1, 2009
End Date: Jun 30, 2015
Nearly 10 million children attend school in rural settings in America. In Nebraska, almost 30 percent of Nebraska students attend rural schools, and 87 percent of Nebraska school districts meet the criteria to be considered rural. Despite the many advantages to teaching or becoming educated in rural schools, there are also associated challenges. Rural educators cite personal and professional isolation as the greatest disadvantage to working in rural schools. Furthermore, rural schools experience significant challenges in providing effective professional development opportunities for teachers, including geographic isolation, limited availability of professional development resources and a lack of available staff to support professional development efforts.
Considerable geographic dispersal, separating rural teachers from expert resources and from each other, makes teacher professional development a critical element to improve professional practice and student learning. Professional development programs for teachers, including those designed for use in rural settings, are limited by the lack of a comprehensive theory and research base to improve professional development activities, teaching and student learning. The National Center for Research on Rural Education is dedicating research toward the identification of efficacious methods for delivering targeted, meaningful supports for teachers in rural settings.
The long-term goals of our center are to (1) improve rural students’ acquisition of reading and science knowledge and skills by identifying, through rigorous educational research, practices that lead to the systematic delivery of evidence-based instruction in rural settings; and (2) establish an infrastructure for conducting and disseminating nationally relevant, cutting-edge rural education research, and for providing essential leadership for the field.
Our immediate objective is to identify and validate elements of a research-based framework for teacher professional development in rural areas that can inform and guide professional development efforts throughout Nebraska and beyond. Our systematic program of research is uncovering critical information about professional development in rural as compared to nonrural settings, and evaluating professional development in content areas.
As part of our research agenda, we are completing an identification study that examines existing professional development practices as related to data-based decision making, evidence-based intervention, inquiry-based science education, and family-school partnerships, and their relationship to teacher perceptions, knowledge and practice. We are also refining a professional development framework and evaluating the effects of technology-mediated coaching through randomized trials. Leadership activities are being delivered through the Rural Education Leadership Initiative (RELI), with the goal of creating nationally relevant infrastructure (e.g., training, communication of scientific knowledge) for research, development and dissemination, thereby broadly informing the rural education field.