Rural schools can be a source of unity or division in areas suffering from a depressed economy, according to a study exploring the role schools play in the “brain drain” phenomenon in one economically troubled rural California community.
The article, published this month by the Journal of Research in Rural Education, focuses on a community pseudonymously named Golden Valley in a remote, forested area of California that saw dramatic job losses when a ban on timber harvesting closed local sawmills. Drawing on 55 interviews with native and longtime members of the community during 2003-04, authors Jennifer Sherman and Rayna Sage, of Washington State University in Pullman, conclude that the “moral and class divisions within the community are magnified and reproduced through the local school system, with results that may consign some young adults to a life outside of the community, and others to chronic economic insecurity.”
They found that education was viewed differently by residents depending on their perceived moral standing in the community, with families receiving welfare or linked to the local drug trade being seen as less upstanding. Those at the bottom of that hierarchy felt a sense of alienation from and hostility toward schools, while those on the other end saw education as the only path to success and believed that meant having to leave Golden Valley.
In addition, the article discusses how schools serve as agents of brain drain—the phenomenon in which the most talented rural residents leave in search of better opportunities. It cites national statistics showing that college graduates make up 16 percent of rural residents who stay in their communities, compared with 43 percent of those who leave. Those with a high school diploma or less make up nearly two-thirds of adults who remain in rural communities, according to the article.
A version of this article appeared in the September 21, 2011 edition of Education Week as Study: A Community’s ‘Brain Drain’ Explored