To the Editor:
Save the Children, through its work in poor, rural communities, knows the obstacles small, rural school districts face. Through a process dubbed the Rural Empowerment Model, we connect rural districts with national partners and provide intensive support to “empower” them to win competitive grants and run quality programs.
We worked with the Roane County, W.Va., school system, a district of 2,300 students in rural Appalachia, to submit an application for a federal Race to the Top-District grant. Through the Rural Empowerment Model, Roane has a strategic plan to reform its educational practices and the internal capacity to write other grant proposals. Unfortunately, very few small, rural school districts made the cut—and Roane was not among them (“Race to the Top District Winners Announced,” District Dossier, edweek.org, Dec. 11, 2012).
The RTT-D competition has brought the challenges preventing small, rural districts from competing for and winning these grants into sharp relief.
First, RTT-D finalists pointed to an evidence base that supports their program models. Applicants like Roane County that have not had the opportunity to pilot their models need seed money to build evidence in order to compete with applicants that are already scaling proven models.
Second, Roane County does not have a pool of highly skilled candidates ready to assume the specialized jobs needed for innovative reform. Applicants in proximity to university graduates and other qualified talent would have a clear edge.
Finally, small, rural school districts are isolated by their nature, so even if they achieve change, the ability to export and scale up that change to other districts is less certain. It is reasonable that a reviewer would favor an application with a clear path for scalability, something present with a consortia or large-district application.
To level the playing field, rural districts should participate against their peers in separate competitions for funding. Children deserve an equal chance to receive innovative approaches to their education regardless of their ZIP codes.
Associate Vice President
Save the Children
A version of this article appeared in the January 09, 2013 edition of Education Week as Lack of Resources Hampers Rural Grant Applications