Rural Trust's Williams Joins Work on Dropout Prevention and Recovery

Last Updated: February 23, 2012

This article appeared in the February 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

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The U.S. Department of Education has established a rural education technical working group on dropout prevention and recovery. Doris Terry Williams, Executive Director of the Rural Trust, was appointed to the group.

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The rural education technical working group is facilitated by the non-profit Jobs for the Future, which “identifies, develops, and promotes education and workforce strategies that expand opportunity for youth and adults who are struggling to advance in America today.”

Nationally, about 77% of rural students graduate high school (Why Rural Matters, 2011–12. Those rates are not consistent across all schools, however.

In a presentation to the group, Williams stressed these disparities. “It is important for people to understand that not all rural is the same. Once you disaggregate the data by racial and economic variables and by geography, disparities become clear.”

In addition, rural students who have very long bus rides (disproportionately low-income students in many districts) are more likely than their peers to drop out of rural schools. So are students who have responsibilities for taking care of sick family members, especially in the absence of local health care options, and students whose families depend on them for financial support.

The challenges facing rural students, especially those at risk of dropping out — or of being pushed out of school through inappropriate discipline policies and practices — are often overlooked in the national conversation about dropout prevention. And many practices commonly used to help students get back in school and recover the credits they need to graduate are not workable in rural places.

For example, states often require students to attend summer school or take online classes to make up missing credits. But many rural students won’t have transportation for summer school. And, the failure of public policy to extend broadband internet access leaves many rural households struggling with slow and unreliable dial-up connections.

But there are strategies that work in rural schools. First and foremost is dropout prevention through engaging learning environments. These kinds of in- and out-of-class environments challenge students with academic activities that respect students’ culture and personal agency, incorporate student interest and choice, integrate real world applications, and enable students to demonstrate what they can do in a variety of ways.

Positive behavior interventions and supports is a program that creates a school climate where students thrive and suspensions and expulsions are used only for a limited range of defined behaviors.

And schools can help students who have dropped out catch up and get on track for post-secondary success through dual enrollment classes with colleges, dual credit high school classes, and other strategies that demonstrate the school’s commitment to the student’s success.

“The dropout problem is in many instances a reflection of a lack of will to educate all children and to provide all of them an equal shot at a quality education,” says Williams. “Until we are able to overcome that issue — community by community, school by school — our public school system will continue to do disservice to our most vulnerable children.”

Read more:

Jobs for the Future report on dropout prevention:

Updates on dropout prevention and recovery from the U.S. Department of Education:

Read more from the February 2012 Rural Policy Matters.