Normally, the monthly gathering of rural education advocates in Washington is a mild-mannered affair. Last month, the tension in the room was palpable.
November’s meeting of the Organizations Concerned About Rural Education, or OCRE, saw several U.S. Department of Education officials defend the agency’s decision to award a $10 million grant to a virtually unknown entity in rural education circles.
The department’s Institute of Education Sciences awarded the grant to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which is opening the National Research Center on Rural Education Support with the grant.
The choice was baffling to many observers because the leaders of the new UNC research center have done little research in broader areas of rural education. Some advocates also question whether the center will provide practical help for rural schools. (“Critics Question Research Center on Rural Schools,” Nov. 17, 2004.)
At OCRE’s Nov. 18 meeting in Washington, federal officials learned firsthand that complaints about the grant reflect overall frustration with the department on rural education. “Where in this plan will they be studying about how you attract and retain high-quality teachers in rural schools?” asked Dale Lestina, the president of OCRE, which is based in Arlington, Va.
When federal officials stumbled to come up with an answer, some OCRE members grew impatient. “We’re still waiting for the answer!” one member said.
The federal officials said they heard the concerns loud and clear, and hoped to build stronger links with the rural education community.
Mark Schneider, a deputy commissioner of the Institute of Education Sciences, stressed the Education Department would consult with UNC annually about research that may address other topics such as teacher quality in rural education and provide technical services to schools.
“In the future, we’ll continue to come here and make sure you’re aware of what we’re doing, . . . particularly in some of these things before they’re developed,” added Tom Luna, the head of the Education Department’s rural education task force.
“That would be wonderful,” Mr. Lestina said.
A version of this article appeared in the December 01, 2004 edition of Education Week