The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and its impact on rural schools was the topic of a roundtable discussion on Wednesday, June 28, at the Aspen Institute’s bipartisan Commission on No Child Left Behind in Washington, D.C. Panelists included teachers, state and local administrators, and other individuals who work directly with rural school districts.

Kara Chrisman, a math teacher from Lamar, Arkansas, said that teachers in her school spent all their time and energy “teaching to the test,” and learning essentially stopped after the tests were administered, almost two months before the end of the school year. One reason for “teaching to the test” was the amount of class time required to remediate those students not meeting expectations. She explained that their school lacked the funding for early-morning or late-afternoon transportation, adding that most parents are factory workers who lack the flexibility to readjust their schedules.

The commission also heard testimony from Lorna Jimerson of the Rural School and Community Trust in Burlington, Vermont, who detailed characteristics common to rural schools. She said that rural schools are typically very diverse, located in high-poverty areas, small in size, with limited access to highly qualified teachers, who must often teach multiple subjects. Arguing that NCLB does nothing to address the “resource gap” in rural schools, Dr. Jimerson pointed out that there is minimal access to professional development, and supplemental services. Jimerson said that for many students school choice is not an option because of the great distances between schools. She recommended a broader definition of what constitutes a rural school district and urged the federal government to provide incentives for educators who choose to teach in rural schools.

During the question and answer session, panelists addressed the “highly qualified teacher” requirements in the law and their difficulties in recruiting new teachers. They explained that many experienced teachers felt demoralized by the requirements, pointing out that highly qualified teacher is not the same as a high quality teacher. Panelists also felt that the school administrator, who spends time with the teacher on a day-to-day basis, should be the individual responsible for determining the highly qualified status of a teacher. The panelists concluded that more funding would help address the recruitment problem and allow them to provide professional development services in hopes of retaining current teachers.

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