Past Blog Items on Education

March 21, 2007

Vanderbilt project to test feasibility of wired classroom for rural students

Billy Hudson, director of the Center for Matrix Biology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, shows Chris Cox, an eighth-grade student visiting from Grapevine, Ark., equipment used in his lab to separate molecules for purification. Cox was among Grapevine students who spent a week at the Nashville university last summer in the first stage of the Aspirnaut Initiative, a program designed to give isolated students an advantage in modern technology. Hudson runs the program. He said in a Vanderbilt press release that rural students are at risk for getting left behind in technology, education and employment. The program will go into the field in Arkansas next month to test the feasibility of a wired classroom for isolated rural areas.

The project will be launched April 10 in Sheridan, Ark., about 30 miles south of Little Rock, About 15 “high ability” students will board a bus equipped with laptops, accessing lessons online, connected to broadband Internet via cell phone towers, allowing them to effectively use their time during the 90-minute ride. Their classroom will be a fellowship hall in a Baptist church in Grapevine, where Hudson grew up. There, they will participate in a webcast set up by the Vanderbilt Center for Science Outreach, partnered with local schools and the Grapevine Historical Society. (Read more)

March 12, 2007

Old schools may be unknown stores of dangerous chemicals

Several high schools have stumbled upon old stores of dangerous chemicals that they weren’t even aware they had and may not be able to afford to properly dispose of. Although only reported at a few schools, the problem is no doubt a national issue, reports Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute. And it's more likely to be an issue in rural areas, which have seen many of their high schools closed.

The Post Register in Idaho Falls, Idaho, reports that a crate filled with chemicals was found in an old school that hadn’t had a chemistry class in 50 year. “The [Idaho] Department of Environmental Quality estimates 200 to 300 Idaho schools are storing outdated, decades-old chemicals. Though in most cases the chemicals aren't a serious health risk, officials say they need to be removed before they become a problem,” Tompkins says. In 2005 the Boston Globe reported that 30-year-old specimens preserved in large amounts of formaldehyde were discovered in one high school and pre-Depression era chemicals found in another.

Dangerous substances are sometimes stored improperly in the days before people were aware of the proper procedures, reports the Globe. The chemicals may be stored in bulk in closets and are not discovered until a major cleanup takes place. Many teachers have not had proper lab safety training and don’t know how to deal with the chemicals or when to get rid of them. Tompkins reports several explosions and a list of lawsuits related to injuries in high school laboratories. “When I was in high school, my lab partner, Tommy Wiggington, and I used to play with a bottle of mercury our teacher left sitting out,” writes Tompkins, a native of Princeton, Ky. “That probably explains a lot about my mental capacity.” (Read more)

March 2, 2007

Head Start important in educating, socializing disadvantaged rural kids

In rural areas, Head Start pre-school programs are key to disadvantaged children prepare for school and adopt healthy lifestyles. The nationwide program has served some 22 million children in 50 states, but rural children may be some of those in the greatest need, reports Candi Helseth of the Rural Monitor, published by the Rural Assistance Center of the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs.

Children in rural America have a higher poverty rate than other age groups and they are still getting poorer, reports Helseth. According to a report by the Carsey Institute, in 2005 22.5 percent of non-metropolitan children were poor, up 3 percent from 2000. West Virginia Head Start Executive Director Becky Gooch-Erbacher said that “all 23 Head Start programs in this Appalachian region include rural areas experiencing declining populations, limited resources and high rates of poverty.”

“Poverty, domestic violence and substance abuse go hand in hand,” Gooch-Erbacher told Helseth. “Many of these families are very isolated, and Head Start gets the whole family involved in positive social experiences.” Head Start has education centers but also does home-based visits, which are especially important in rural areas where children may live far from town and their parents may not have adequate transportation. The program also requires children to have dental, vision and medical exams and tries to promote healthy eating to combat childhood obesity. (Read more)

Feb. 8, 2007

Rural colleges create urban feel to attract more students, residents

To attract more students and other residents, some rural colleges are looking to revamp their image and create a downtown atmosphere around their campuses. “For decades, colleges… in rural areas of the country embraced a pastoral ideal, presenting themselves as oases of scholarship surrounded by nothing more distracting than lush farmland and rolling hills. But many officials at such institutions have decided that students today want something completely different: urban buzz,” writes Alan Finder of The New York Times. “You can’t market yourself as bucolic,” said J. Timothy Cloyd, president of Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., the second fastest-growing city in the state, with a population of 52,430 in 2005.

Dozens of institutions are undertaking such projects, including the University of Connecticut in Storrs, (pop. 10,996) and Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., (pop. 34,874), reports Finder.

“At Hendrix, construction will begin this year on a large urban-style village on the 130 acres of ball fields and woods that the college owns across the street from the main campus, with stores, restaurants and offices,” writes Finder. “Soon, officials hope, will come nearly 200 single-family houses, many with rental apartments above the garage; 400 town houses, apartments and loft-style condominiums; and a charter school with the college as a participant.” The development will be built in a style called New Urbanism. “Buildings will be close to the street and roads kept narrow to encourage pedestrian traffic and de-emphasize cars. The neighborhood and its buildings are meant to recall the housing and shops built in American towns in the first half of the 20th century.”

“At the same time, officials have realized that a more urbanized version of the ideal campus could attract a population well past its college years — working people and retiring baby boomers — if there is housing to suit them,” writes Finder. “And so a new concept of the college campus is taking root: a small city in the country that is not reserved for only the young.” (Read more)

Jan. 28, 2007

Extra pay helps make N.C. top state in top teachers, but rural districts lag

Thanks to salary incentives offered in few other states, "North Carolina leads the nation with teachers who hold a national credential, considered the gold standard of the profession," but that accomplishment has not extended to many of the state's rural schools, reports the Raleigh News & Observer.

"North Carolina pays teachers with national certification an extra 12 percent on top of their annual salary, regardless of where they teach. That can mean upwards of $5,000 a year in additional pay," write Todd Silberman and David Raynor. But certified teachers "tend to be working in more affluent schools in the state's more affluent districts. A wealthy district such as Chapel Hill-Carrboro has among the highest ratios of nationally certified teachers to students in the state -- 17 of the teachers for every 1,000 students. By contrast, most of the five poor, rural districts that challenged the state in a long-running court case over school funding have fewer than five credentialed teachers per 1,000 students."

Barnett Berry, president of the Center for Teaching Quality, told the News & Observer, "The national certification is a tough, rigorous process demanding 300 hours over nine months. If you're working in a high-needs school where children need you in ways that teachers in schools with lesser needs do not, it's hard to find the time and energy to sit for the national boards" that issue certifications.

"Other states steer extra money to nationally certified teachers working in high-needs schools," Silberman and Raynor write. "California, Georgia and New York use pay incentives to help strengthen faculties in schools where students are most likely to be lagging academically." (Read more)

Jan. 25, 2007

Community colleges, a rural mainstay, try to raise student success rate

Community colleges serve nearly half the country’s undergraduates and are important to many rural areas, but more than half their students fall short of educational goals, reports The Christian Science Monitor. “They are becoming more aware of their shortcomings, experts say, in areas such as student advising, teaching methods, and the process of transferring academic credits,” writes Stacy Teicher. “To address the latter, two-year and four-year institutions are collaborating on academic standards to ensure that key courses are transferable and are graded in a similar way.”

Community colleges are especially important for “low-income students, first-generation college students, adults who have children, and people who start with low academic skills,” Teicher writes. She cites a partnership in southeastern Massachusetts that “brings together leaders and faculty from three community colleges, a state college, and a state university to better serve the students they often share.” The system helps students become confident that they are prepared to move on to a four-year college or university. “The next step is to reach out to area high schools.” (Read more)

Jan. 16, 2007

Videos of education-coverage workshop posted on Web site

Video recordings of sessions at "Beyond the Board Meeting: Improving Your Education Coverage," a one-day workshop on covering schools, especially in Kentucky, are now posted on the World Wide Web. The conference was for Kentucky reporters and editors, but presenters discussed various education-coverage principles, ideas and issues that could be useful to education reporters in any state.

The workshop was presented Nov. 14 in Frankfort by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, in cooperation with the Kentucky Press Association and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. Click here for a list of the presentations and video files.

Jan. 5, 2007

Study says merit pay for teachers slightly boosts test scores

At schools with performance pay for teachers, students score 1 to 2 percentage points higher on standardized that those at schools without such bonuses, a University of Florida study has found.

“This research provides the first systematic evidence of a relationship between individual teacher performance incentives and student achievement in the United States,” said economics professor David Figlio, who did the study with colleague Lawrence Kenny. “We demonstrate that students learn more when teachers are given financial incentives to do a better job.”

The study also found that merit-pay plans offer the greatest benefits at schools with students from the poorest households, and are more effective if they give bonuses to a limited number of teachers. “Doling out merit pay to most teachers seems to provide them with little incentive to do a better job,” Figlio said. He said the schools with many poor students may have the most to gain from bonus plans.

The study was conducted among 534 schools that were among 1,319 public and private schools in a national study sponsored by the Education Department beginning in 1988. It has been accepted by the Journal of Public Economics. It was reported by Newswise, a research-reporting service.

Newswise said, “About 16 percent of American schools have teacher pay-for-performance programs in place, Figlio said. Such financial incentives were the rule rather than the exception early in the 20th Century, but they gradually became less prevalent starting in the 1960s, probably because of the rising strength of teachers’ unions, he said. (Read more)


The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues helps non-metropolitan media define the public agenda in their communities, through strong reporting and commentary on local issues and on broader issues that have local impact. Its initial focus area is Central Appalachia, but as an arm of the University of Kentucky it has a statewide mission, and it has national scope. Cooperating institutions include Appalachian State University, East Tennessee State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Indiana Universiy of Pennsylvania, Marshall University, Middle Tennessee State University, Ohio University, Southeast Missouri State University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Washington and Lee University, West Virginia University and the Community Journalism Fellows program at the University of Alabama. To get notices of Rural Blog postings and other Institute news, click here.

Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues
School of Journalism and Telecommunications, College of Communications & Information Studies
122 Grehan Building, University of Kentucky, Lexington KY 40506-0042
Phone 859-257-3744 - Fax 859-323-3168

Al Cross, director al.cross@uky.edu