Small Arkansas Town Focus of Secretary Visit

Last Updated: September 28, 2010

This article appeared in the September 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

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Hamburg, like many smaller districts, has had a hard time getting and keeping the teachers it needs. But the district is now working with the University of Arkansas-Monticello to provide teacher education opportunities to local residents.

Grow-your-own-programs that link schools and colleges can be an important tool for local communities that want to strengthen their schools. Participants in the programs are usually adults who live in the community who are committed to the school and interested in becoming teachers. Often, however, they have other commitments that prevent them from returning to school full-time, especially if the community is a long way from the college.

Grow-your-own programs usually bring some or all of the courses to the community directly or using interactive technology. Participants often work in the school while they complete their degree or certification program. That gives grown-your-own programs two important advantages: schools get the benefit of the prospective teacher while the teacher is getting certified and the teachers gain day-to-day school experience.

Another big advantage of grow-your-own programs is that most of the adults who participate already live in the community, so they are committed for the long haul to making the school and the community as strong as possible.

Pre-K in Hamburg

Hamburg also participates in the Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) pre-K program. Statewide the program serves more than 25,000 three and four year olds and is recognized as one of the best state-supported programs in the country.

High quality early childhood education is associated with a variety of improved outcomes that persist as children move through school, including better academic performance, lower risk of dropping out, and fewer social and behavioral problems.

An Announcement for Rural Schools

John White, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach, told a group of Hamburg teachers that the administration will work for more flexibility for rural schools in the reauthorization of the federal education law. In particular, White emphasized more flexibility for teachers of multiple subjects and grades.

Currently, teachers must earn a college major and prove they are “Highly Qualified” in each separate subject they teach. White said that the administration will require teachers to be “highly effective” instead of highly qualified.

The “effective teacher” provisions of the administration’s education plan are among the more controversial changes it is pushing. According to criteria in the Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation federal stimulus programs, effective teachers are those whose students make at least one year’s worth of progress on state tests; “highly effective” teachers are those whose students make more than a year, or more than a year and a half, progress on state tests.

White’s announcements suggest that the education requirements that have been part of No Child Left Behind will be eased in administration proposals related to the re-authorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. But these changes, if approved, will affect all teachers. There is nothing particularly rural about the changes and no evidence that the proposed rules will be any better for teachers, especially those in high-poverty or isolated rural districts, than the current Highly Qualified rules.

Read more:

Duncan’s blog on the trip:

More on Arkansas Best Chance:

Education Week’s Rural Blog coverage:

Final Day of Tour in Rural Milton, New Hampshire

Read more from the September 2010 Rural Policy Matters.