Experts to examine rural Idaho schools

Several national education experts have agreed to conduct research together, to look for innovations that could improve Idaho’s rural schools.

The group, the Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho, met for the first time Tuesday in Boise.

Paul Hill, founder and former director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, will chair the group’s task force. He has recruited national experts to produce original research, using Idaho as a model.

“Rural schools educate almost as many children as big city schools but they haven’t received anything like the same level of attention from policymakers, the public, or education innovators,” Hill said. “I believe ROCI will right the balance.”

The nine-member ROCI task force (bios are below) will meet semi-annually in Boise. The group will focus on rural schools’ unique issues and challenges, such as:

  • Geographic isolation.
  • Lack of access to technology.
  • Limited access to universities and colleges.
  • Limited professional development sources.
  • Recruiting challenges.
  • Teacher retention challenges.
  • Migrant patterns of students and families.
  • Funding priorities.

Screen Shot 2013-08-27 at 10.03.18 AM“I believe ROCI will bring creative new solutions to the problems of rural schools,” Hill said.

The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation will provide financial support for ROCI. Foundation Executive Director Jamie MacMillan is one of four members of an advisory group that will assist the task force.

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“We believe rural schools can be a better place for innovation because of their close relationships with and support from the community, as well as their ability to mobilize and respond quickly to needs, but we want to know for sure,” she said. “Our foundation’s board believes Idaho can be a national leader, a model in closing the achievement gap for students who might have disadvantaged backgrounds and circumstances.”

The other advisory group members are Hill; Mary Wells, managing partner and co-founder of Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit organization working to improve educational outcomes for low-income students; and Andy Smarick, a partner at Bellwether Education.

“The needs of rural students probably haven’t gotten the attention they deserve,” Smarick said. “I hope this work will be a profound influence on policymakers, the education reform community, and anyone interested in the needs of underserved kids.”

The task force also will work with a nine-member Idaho resource team:

  • Julie Best, communications director, Idaho Education Network.
  • Gynii Gilliam, chief economic development officer, Idaho Department of Commerce.
  • Margie Gonzalez, director, Idaho Hispanic Commission.
  • Jason Hancock, deputy chief of staff, State Department of Education.
  • Lisa Kinnaman, director, Idaho Leads Project.
  • Anthony Martinez, board member, Idaho Latino Scholarship Foundation.
  • Joyce Popp, chief information officer for the State Department of Education
  • Roger Quarles, chief deputy superintendent, State Department of Education.
  • Georgia Smith, deputy director, Idaho Department of Labor.

The task force agreed to complete its first phase of work within a year, likely a white paper or book of suggestions and solutions to rural education challenges. The task force does not have a timetable for completing its agenda.

Task force members

Paul T. Hill: Research professor at the University of Washington Bothell and former director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, which studies alternative governance and finance systems for public K-12 education. He has written several books on transforming public schools.

Bryan C. Hassel: Co-director of Public Impact. He is an expert on education technology, charter schools, education entrepreneurship, and teacher and leader policy. Hassel received his Ph.D. in public policy from Harvard University and his master’s degree in politics from Oxford University, which he attended as a Rhodes Scholar. He is a senior research affiliate with the Center on Reinventing Public Education.

Edward Kissam: An applied researcher who has worked on policy, program planning and evaluation issues in adult education, community radio and immigrant settlement in the rural United States for more than 30 years. He serves as a trustee of the Werner-Kohnstamm Family Fund, which supports initiatives contributing to the well-being of immigrants in California and nationally.

Paul A. Lewin: An assistant professor in the department of agricultural economics and rural sociology at the University of Idaho. He researches rural economic development and assists extension and communities across Idaho through programming and analysis in community economics.

Daniel Player:  An assistant professor at the University of Virginia and director of Partners for Leadership in Education. He is a former senior researcher at Mathematica Policy Research. An economist, Player focuses on the education work force, particularly the links among policy, funding, performance incentives and the quality of teachers and principals.

Andrew J. Rotherham: Cofounder and partner at Bellwether Education. Rotherham writes columns about education issues for TIME and the blog Eduwonk.com and is the co-publisher of “Education Insider,” a federal policy research tool. Rotherham previously served at the White House as special assistant to the president for domestic policy during the Clinton administration and is a former member of the Virginia Board of Education.

Marguerita Roza: Director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University and senior research affiliate at the Center on Reinventing Public Education. Roza’s research traces the effects of social policies at the federal, state, and district levels for their implications on resources at school and classroom levels. Her calculations of dollar implications and cost equivalent tradeoffs have prompted changes in education finance policy at all levels in the education system. She recently served as senior economic advisor to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Terry Ryan: New president of the Idaho Charter School Network. Ryan recently left his position as vice president for Ohio Programs and Policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Ryan began his career in education as a teacher in Poland and worked with the Polish Ministry of Education and the Foundation for Education for Democracy in the mid-1990s.

Kai Schafft: Associate professor of educational leadership, Department of Education Policy Studies at Penn State University. He directs the Center on Rural Education and Communities, and serves as editor for the Journal of Research in Rural Education. Trained as a rural sociologist with strong interests in the relationship between social and spatial inequalities, his work broadly looks at the multiple associations between the well-being of rural schools and rural communities.

Disclaimer: Idaho Education News and the Idaho Leads Project are funded by a grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.