Harvard to launch center on rural education

February 6, 2019

The National Center for Rural Education Research Networks will help rural schools use data for continuous improvement

Cambridge, MA (February 6, 2019)—The Center for Education Policy Research (CEPR) at Harvard University has been awarded a $10 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education to launch the National Center for Rural Education Research Networks (NCRERN). The Center, led by Thomas J. Kane (Harvard Graduate School of Education), Douglas Staiger (Dartmouth College), and Christopher Avery (Harvard Kennedy School), will apply CEPR’s Proving Ground model of evidence-based improvement to address the challenges of chronic absenteeism, college readiness, and college enrollment.

“Because of their small size, rural school districts have too often been ignored by researchers and policy analysts. Yet more than 20 percent of students in the United States—nearly 10 million children—attend rural schools. Through the National Center for Rural Education Research Networks, we will be working with rural educators to learn what’s working and what’s not in their own setting,” says Kane. “We hope to gain important insights into the challenges rural schools are facing and to build the capacity of rural schools to use their own data for improvement.”

NCRERN will establish and support a network of 60 rural school districts in New York and Ohio. Both states are home to sizeable rural populations. NCRERN will collaborate with the network to develop, implement, and evaluate interventions addressing chronic absenteeism, college readiness, and college enrollment. In its second phase, the Center will work with additional states to test whether the interventions that worked in New York and Ohio benefit rural schools elsewhere.

“We are excited that rural schools in Ohio will have this fantastic opportunity to help build their capacity to use data analysis to drive continuous improvement,” says Paolo Demaria, State Superintendent of Public Instruction in Ohio. “Our experience with CEPR’s Proving Ground has shown that student outcomes can be positively impacted when this model is applied. We are honored to have the opportunity to expand this work through NCRERN.”

“New York’s landscape is as diverse as its population and with nearly 400,000 students served in our rural and remote school districts, it’s paramount that we do everything we can to leverage our technology and data collection abilities to gain insight into the unique challenges that exist in these districts,” New York State Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia says. “We are delighted to collaborate with The National Center for Rural Education Research Networks and the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University to learn how we can best assist the rural schools in New York State and ensure their students are receiving a quality education and an opportunity to succeed.”

Since 2006, CEPR has worked with urban and suburban school districts across the country, pursuing joint research projects and training analysts to use data for action. Through its Proving Ground project, CEPR has helped a set of urban districts and charter schools to diagnose challenges and to systematically identify, pilot, and test solutions. Now, CEPR will adapt what it has learned to launch a model of evidence-based improvement for rural schools.

"The strength of Proving Ground’s approach lies in bringing together our expertise in strategic management and analytics with our partners’ expertise in district operations and school practices to improve student outcomes,” says Bi Vuong, Proving Ground director and NCRERN interim director. “With NCRERN we have the opportunity to put that powerful combination in service of rural educators and students.”

NCRERN will produce tools for identifying students most at risk for absenteeism and being unprepared for college as well as change management resources designed to guide rural schools in addressing chronic absenteeism, college readiness, and college enrollment. Throughout the five years, the Center will host several national conferences, which will be open to the public, and which will bring the network’s districts together to share what they’ve learned and discuss challenges that remain.

“The Center will help build the capacities of districts to enhance their ability to strategically use data and of regional centers and state education agencies to engage in and support such work,” says Cornell professor John W. Sipple, who directs the New York State Center for Rural Schools and who also will be advising the work of NCRERN. “In this way, NCRERN’s impact will extend far beyond the life of the Center and New York and Ohio’s 650,000 rural students.”

The Center’s advisory board comprises experts in rural education, including Dr. Karen Eppley, Editor, Journal of Research in Rural Education, Penn State; Robert Mahaffey, Executive Director, Rural School and Community Trust; Dr. Allen Pratt, Executive Director, National Rural Education Association; and, Dr. Joan Wade, Executive Director, Association of Educational Service Agencies.

Rural school districts in New York and Ohio who are interested in participating in NCRERN will be invited to apply. See cepr.harvard.edu/rural for more information. To speak with NCRERN Principal Investigator Thomas Kane or Proving Ground Director Bi Vuong please contact Jackie Kerstetter at jacqueline_kerstetter@gse.harvard.edu.

Funding: The Institute of Education Sciences is awarding $10 million to support the National Center for Rural Education Research Networks (NCRERN); it is being cost shared by IES (91%) and the Center of Education Policy Research (CEPR) at Harvard University and its partners, New York and Ohio (9%).

About NCRERN leadership: Thomas J. Kane is an economist and Walter H. Gale Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, as well as faculty director of the Center for Education Policy Research (CEPR). Douglas O. Staiger is the John French Professor in Economics at Dartmouth College. Christopher Avery is the Roy E. Larsen Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Bi Vuong, Proving Ground Director (CEPR), will act as interim director of the Center.

About the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University: The Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University seeks to transform education through quality research and evidence. CEPR and its partners believe all students will learn and thrive when education leaders make decisions using facts and findings, rather than untested assumptions. Learn more at cepr.harvard.edu.

About Proving Ground: Proving Ground, a CEPR initiative, works to make evidence-gathering and evidence-use an intuitive part of how education agencies conduct their daily work. Proving Ground utilizes a continuous improvement framework to help agencies rapidly identify and test solutions to specific challenges. Learn more at provingground.cepr.harvard.edu.

About the Institute of Education Sciences: The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is the independent and non-partisan statistics, research, and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Education. Their mission is to provide scientific evidence on which to ground education practice and policy and to share this information in formats that are useful and accessible to educators, parents, policymakers, researchers, and the public. Learn more at https://ies.ed.gov.