School & District Management

Report: Charter Schools Underutilized, Important Component to Rural Reform

By Diette Courrégé Casey — January 29, 2014 2 min read
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Rural charter schools face hurdles to opening that could be avoided, and by developing policies that address those issues, states could encourage their growth, according to a new report.

“A New Frontier: Utilizing Charter Schooling to Strengthen Rural Education” looks at five states that have “significant rural populations"—Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, and Ohio— and explores the policies that make it difficult for rural charter schools to open, hire effective educators, and be finanically viable.

The report is the first in a series of policy briefs that will be published by the Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho, an initiative of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation. They want to raise the profile of rural schools and give more policymakers exposure to their challenges and solutions. The report was written by Andy Smarick, a partner at Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit that works to improve educational outcomes for low-income students.

In the report’s foreward, Jamie MacMillan, executive director of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, said they wanted to share ideas and recommendations on how states could support rural charter schools and craft public polices to help them grow.

“Charters have the potential to serve as a hotbed of innovation for rural education in America,” she wrote.

Rural charter schools are the exception in the United States rather than the norm. Just 785 charter schools—or 16 percent— were rural, and only 111 of those were in remote communities in 2009-10. Charter management organizations aren’t focused on rural areas, and just 7 percent of rural charter schools being run by such groups.

The 42-page report dismisses criticism of charter schools in rural areas, which often are viewed as taking students and funding away from traditional neighborhood schools. Despite the “common belief that chartering simply doesn’t mesh well with rural communities ... there are many reasons to believe that if chartering is done smartly, it can help even more rural areas,” according to the report.

Some of the key findings include:

  • States should develop policies that acknowledge the challenge of opening and operating rural charter schools, as well as consider charter schools as a potential useful reform strategy.
  • Given the challenge of teacher recruitment and retention, states should give charter schools more flexibility relative to educators’ credentials.
  • States should ensure equitable access to funding, and they should allow rural charter schools to access underused public assets, such as buildings or land.
  • Rural charter schools should be able to pilot innovative uses of technology to overcome the barrier of distance and give students more access to quality teachers.

Bellwether Education Partners will host a webinar based on this new report at 1 p.m. Jan. 30.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.