Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.

Critics Question Research Center on Rural Schools

November 16, 2004 | Corrected: February 22, 2019 4 min read

Corrected: This story should have said that Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning, or McREL, continues to serve as the federally funded regional education laboratory for states in the Midwest.

Some rural education experts are questioning the U.S. Department of Education’s award of a $10 million grant for a research center in North Carolina, contending that the grant recipient may fail to address many of the toughest issues facing the nation’s rural schools.

The five-year grant, awarded Sept. 10 by the federal agency’s Institute of Education Sciences, establishes the National Research Center on Rural Education Support, based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The award “has left people in rural education scratching their heads,” said Michael L. Arnold, a rural education consultant in Colorado who formerly led rural programs at McREL, an Aurora, Colo.-based organization that once was a federal education research laboratory. McREL, which stands for Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning, was a competing applicant for the $10 million grant.

Mr. Arnold and other rural education experts had hoped the new research center would conduct studies and provide a broad set of school improvement services for rural schools. Instead, they fear the center will have a much narrower focus.

Federal officials defended their decision last week. They said that the North Carolina proposal was the strongest among the more than 50 applications for the grant, and that the new research center will help rural schools more than critics realize.

Thomas W. Farmer

The center will examine students’ academic, behavioral, and social development and find ways to help educators teach rural students more effectively, according to Thomas W. Farmer, the center’s director and an assistant professor at UNC’s education school.

“These are very broad topics to rural educators everywhere,” said Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, the director of the Institute of Education Sciences, or IES, a 2-year-old reconfiguration of the Education Department’s research arm.

Mr. Whitehurst said the grant reflects his institute’s focus on research that relies heavily on quantitative methods. “All of our investments are intended eventually to address and answer questions about what works best,” he said.

Mark Schneider, the deputy commissioner for the institute’s National Center on Education Research, added that the grant will provide additional types of help for rural schools beyond new scientific research. The grant will support a national advisory panel and a major conference on rural education research, he said.

Fields of Study

Critics of the award stressed that they do not question Mr. Farmer’s credentials as a scholar. But they did suggest that the new center would overlook such pressing rural education issues as teacher recruitment, geographic isolation, and high levels of poverty.

A psychologist, Mr. Farmer has focused his research largely on the behavioral development of children and adolescents. In his grant application, Mr. Farmer suggested that he and some 20 other researchers would merge previous work on professional development and teacher quality with the use of technology in rural schools. He also would develop and test programs that support students who are making transitions into elementary and middle school, the proposal said.

Mr. Farmer added last week that he hopes to produce scientific research that will help all rural educators do their jobs better. He said he recognizes poverty, isolation, and a host of other issues that face rural schools, and plans to address them as the research center launches its programs.

“What we have designed really does build upon decades of work in rural schools here in North Carolina and Virginia and other places, but we also understand the need to reach out to the West and Midwest, and that they have somewhat different issues,” he said. “We’ve had contact with colleagues across the country, and we hope to be responsive to a wide range of rural needs.”

Mr. Arnold in Colorado says that some critics of the grant award may be motivated by sour grapes because they did not win the grant themselves.

Still, he said a comment that Mr. Farmer made about rural education research not long ago suggested an insufficient understanding of the field. “Much of the focus on rural education has been at the early-childhood level,” Mr. Farmer told Education Week in September. (“New Generation of Education Research Centers Is Chosen,” Sept. 22, 2004.)

Out of Fashion?

Mr. Farmer’s statement “demonstrated a pretty thin knowledge of the field,” agreed Marty Strange, the policy director for the Rural School and Community Trust. The Arlington, Va.-based organization, a leading national advocacy group for rural education, also sought the $10 million grant in partnership with another applicant.

Craig Howley, a well-known expert on rural schooling who teaches education and heads a research center at Ohio University, in Athens, said he worries that the center’s focus on quantitative research may leave out important issues of immediate and practical concern to rural educators.

“Many of my colleagues and I approach rural education from a sociological, historical, or anthropological outlook on rural life and education, … and that’s very much out of fashion with IES,” Mr. Howley said. “I don’t think it’s regarded as suitably ‘scientific.’ ”

A version of this article appeared in the November 17, 2004 edition of Education Week as Critics Question Research Center on Rural Schools


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Join experts from Samsung and Boxlight to learn how to make learning more interactive from anywhere.
Content provided by Samsung
Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
The 4 Biggest Challenges of MTSS During Remote Learning: How Districts Are Adapting
Leaders share ways they have overcome the biggest obstacles of adapting a MTSS or RTI framework in a hybrid or remote learning environment.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Human Resources Manager
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Communications Officer
Chattanooga, Tennessee
Hamilton County Department of Education
Special Education Teacher
Chicago, Illinois
JCFS Chicago

Read Next

Federal Republican Who Backed Comments Denying School Shootings to Join House Education Panel
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greeene's comments have drawn calls for her resignation from gun-control groups like March For Our Lives-Parkland.
3 min read
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., waves as President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in support of Senate candidates Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue in Dalton, Ga., on Jan. 4, 2021.
U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., waves as then-President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in support of Republican Senate candidates in Dalton, Ga., on Jan.
Brynn Anderson/AP
Federal Opinion Miguel Cardona Shows You Don't Have to Leave to Succeed
The new U.S. secretary of education nominee sends a hopeful message to students long told they must leave their neighborhoods to make a mark.
Roberto Padilla & Nancy Gutiérrez
5 min read
A diverse community of people tending small plots of plantings
Federal Opinion Miguel Cardona Deserves a Chance to Prove His Mettle
Miguel Cardona's lack of a paper trail means most of us don’t yet know enough about him to make an informed judgment. That's fine.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Federal Biden Signs Executive Order to Boost Food Benefits for Children Missing School Meals
The order is designed to extend nutritional benefits that his administration says would benefit children.
2 min read
The Washington family receives free meals at Dillard High School amid the virus outbreak and school closings on March 16, 2020, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
A family receives free meals at Dillard High School amid the coronavirus outbreak and school closings on March 16, 2020, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Brynn Anderson/AP