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George Diepenbrock
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Study examines disadvantages for rural districts at recruiting high-quality teachers

Wed, 05/07/2014

LAWRENCE — Rural school districts are at a distinct disadvantage in being able to attract high-quality teachers out of college compared with suburban and urban districts, according to recent study funded by the Spencer Foundation and released online in The American Review of Public Administration.

"Our study shows that new teachers with the strongest credentials — measured by things like ACT scores and scores on state certification exams — are less likely to accept teaching positions in public schools in remote, rural school districts,” said the study’s lead author, Jacob Fowles, a University of Kansas assistant professor in the School of Public Affairs and Administration. “This finding holds across locales, meaning that the strongest credentialed teachers from remote, rural areas are much more likely to leave those areas to teach, as compared to a teacher with average credentials."

He said the team also found that in some circumstances the exits may create vacancies that are filled by the weakest credentialed teachers from other areas.

Fowles and the team, which included researchers from the University of Kentucky and Tennessee State University, examined data surrounding 21,537 first-time teachers hired in Kentucky public schools from 1987 to 2005, including the teachers' performance on the ACT and state teaching certification exams as well as how far away a teacher's college institution was from his or her initial teaching job. The study focused on teacher placement in the Appalachian region of Kentucky, an area that faces lower population density, lower levels of educational attainment and higher concentrations of poverty as compared to the rest of the state.

He said using the mechanism of pay to alleviate quality differences across districts has been historically controversial in most states, and he noted districts in many states are still struggling due to education funding cuts as a result of the recent economic downturn.  As such, Fowles hopes to launch a second phase of the project to look closer at strategies rural districts can use to attract and retain quality teachers.

"Our prior work finds little evidence that broader state education reforms have meaningfully induced significant changes in the pre-existing patterns of mobility of teachers across rural and nonrural labor market boundaries," Fowles said.

Accordingly, he said one strategy that makes sense is for districts to receive assistance in developing effective "grow-your-own" strategies that focus on developing and retaining local teachers in conjunction with ongoing efforts to recruit high-quality teachers from elsewhere.

“One option that districts might consider is increasing the effectiveness of in-service training programs," Fowles said. "As online education continues to develop, this introduces the possibility to offer timely, high-quality training to teachers, regardless of location.”

He said more Americans live in urban areas than ever before, and there is not a lot of indication that will change.

"But that doesn't mean that the challenges facing children from families that live in rural areas are unimportant or should be ignored," Fowles said. "If we want our system of public education to give every student an equal opportunity to succeed, that needs to include the over twelve million students in the United States that attend schools in rural areas.”

The American Society of Public Administration's journal this fall is expected to publish in print the article "Public Employee Quality in a Geographic Context: A Study of Rural Teachers."



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Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening.

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Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: http://bit.ly/1awodaa Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.


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