Nearly 10 million U.S. children attend school in rural areas, yet education research largely focuses on urban issues. UNL’s National Center for Research on Rural Education leads the country in addressing the needs of rural schools.
“We have a broad mission to conduct research in rural settings, and also a leadership role for the country in terms of bridging the gap between research, practice and policy,” said the center’s director, Susan Sheridan, George Holmes Professor of Educational Psychology.
A national rural education conference in spring 2013 is an example of the center’s leadership. Drawing participants from 18 states and the federal government, the conference emphasized the value of establishing partnerships among researchers, teachers, families and policymakers to solve long-standing problems, such as resource limitations and isolation. John White, deputy secretary for rural outreach at the U.S. Department of Education, addressed the need to attract talented educators to rural schools.
The center conducts research to understand education in a rural context and improve educational opportunities for students and professional development for teachers in rural communities.
One study, for example, investigates professional development for teachers through distance learning, such as web-based coaching, email and social media. Another looks at improving reading instruction to struggling rural students using individualized assessment data. Yet another project assesses how collaborations between schools and parents influence young children’s learning in rural settings.
Established in 2009 with a nearly $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, UNL’s is the only national center for rural education funded by the department.
“Assumptions are made all the time about rural schools and communities,” Sheridan said. “What we’re trying to do is learn firsthand from our partners in these communities about their strengths, their challenges and how researchers and practitioners can work together to enhance opportunities for children, families and educators.”