ERIC Identifier: ED482323
Publication Date: 2003-12-00
Author: Roellke, Christopher
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools
Resource Allocation in Rural and Small Schools. ERIC
This Digest reviews contemporary research on resource allocation issues
in rural and
small schools, paying particular attention to (1) factors affecting
decisions; (2) making cost-effective resource allocation decisions;
reform as a potential guide for resource allocation; and (4) resource
strategies for rural schools that are both small and poor.
Rural districts across the country have invested heavily to meet higher
standards set by states and goals established by the "No Child Left
Behind Act" (NCLB) (American Association of School Administrators [AASA]
and the National Association of State Boards of Education [NASBE], 2003).
The testing, accountability, and teacher quality provisions of the legislation
are particularly challenging for rural school systems, which tend to be
smaller, geographically isolated, and alternatively staffed (Reeves, 2003).
These same districts now face the challenge of meeting recent mandates
with fewer resources. Small rural school systems seem particularly vulnerable
to programmatic cuts as states and localities respond to an environment
of reduced revenues and budget deficits.
FACTORS AFFECTING RESOURCE ALLOCATION DECISIONS IN RURAL AND SMALL
Miles and Darling-Hammond (1998) identified structural constraints that
can complicate the resource allocation process, including (1) fragmented
school schedules, (2) inflexible job definitions for teachers, and (3)
specialized programs that may be peripheral to the academic mission. Rural
and small schools must be particularly attentive to these constraints as
they often confront a series of resource allocation challenges not fully
shared by their larger urban and suburban counterparts (Brent, Roellke,
& Monk, 1997).
Local education agencies, for example, are required to follow federal
guidelines for curriculum offerings, graduation requirements, provision
education services, teacher certification, and so on. With restricted
resource bases and limited numbers of staff members, meeting these guidelines
can be difficult. Since teachers represent the single greatest fiscal investment
made in education, staffing
considerations are among the most important resource allocation decisions
educators. Rural and small schools, for example, may rely heavily on
possess multiple subject-area and grade-level certifications. Alternatively,
these school systems may need to justify out-of-certification area assignments
for selected staff members. Due to their comparatively small size, rural
school systems may also operate an academic schedule with a number of singleton
offerings or require the sharing of staff members across buildings.
It is important to consider this staffing complexity in light of the
new teacher quality
provisions of NCLB. The legislation requires that all teachers in core
academic subjects be "highly qualified" by the 2005-2006 school year. The
teacher recruitment and retention difficulties in rural schools are well
known and may be exacerbated by these new federal policies (Reeves, 2003).
Low-income rural schools face the challenge of recruiting teachers to geographically
isolated areas in a highly competitive labor market for educators, particularly
in hard-to-staff subject areas such as mathematics, science, foreign language,
and special education (Reeves, 2003).
Despite these resource constraints, many researchers point to the benefits
small-scale schooling, including improved efficiency in service delivery,
democratic practices, and collective accountability for student performance
1995, Public Education Association, 1992). Researchers have also commended
rural and small schools for their creative use of resources, such as providing
longer and more varied blocks of instructional time and designing flexible
teacher schedules and work definitions (Miles & Darling-Hammond, 1998).
Others have demonstrated the potential cost-effectiveness of smaller schools
in both rural and urban areas, including lower costs per graduate (Bingler
et al., 2002; Stiefel, Iatarola, Fruchter, & Berne, 1998). Additional
research is needed to better identify the economies and diseconomies associated
with the size and scope of schooling operations.
MAKING COST-EFFECTIVE RESOURCE ALLOCATION DECISIONS
The educational policy terrain continues to be flooded with options
like class size
reduction, alternative scheduling, summer enrichment, early intervention
programs, and a wide array of whole-school reform models (Roellke &
Rice, 2002). Successful implementation of these initiatives is highly dependent
on a variety of contextual factors, including student demographics, fiscal
capacity, school size, spending level, and district/school governance (Brent
et al., 1997). This is certainly the case in all schools, but it is especially
challenging for rural and small school educators, who often operate under
considerable fiscal constraints (Reeves, 2003). Further, researchers offer
little definitive evidence on the costs and benefits of alternative investment
options, information that would be very helpful to local leaders facing
a multitude of policy and program alternatives and a limited stock of resources.
A series of meta-analyses and literature reviews by Hanushek (1981,
1997), for example, have shown a high level of inconsistency and lack
of significance in findings across studies that estimate the impact of
various types of educational
investments, including class size reduction, teacher salaries, and
special education. On the other hand, researchers who have reanalyzed Hanushek's
data, challenging both his assumptions and his basic "vote counting" methodology,
have reported more
positive and consistent interpretations of the same set of studies
(Hedges, Laine, &
Greenwald, 1994; Krueger, 2002). In light of these research discrepancies
and in the absence of definitive cost-effectiveness studies, rural educators
may find valuable
resource allocation guidance in the form of whole-school reform models.
WHOLE-SCHOOL REFORM AS A POTENTIAL GUIDE FOR RESOURCE ALLOCATION
Comprehensive and whole-school reform models have received considerable
attention in education reform circles as promising alternatives for improving
This approach to reform is attractive in that each model prescribes
a configuration of
resources intended to have a positive effect on the entire educational
students during their elementary and/or secondary school years (Rice,
challenge for rural educators is to assess the resource intensity of
and to determine the local capacity for adoption of such models.
Research that examines both the implementation process and achievement
these comprehensive reform strategies also has yielded mixed results.(1)
Methodological challenges, including contextual differences across model
sites and the lack of randomized experiments, make it difficult to draw
useful conclusions. It is clear, however, that successful adoption of whole-school
reform for rural schools requires a careful, inclusive model selection
process and ongoing support and guidance from model developers (Erlichson
& Goertz, 2002; Hertling, 1999). In addition, comprehensive reforms
need longitudinal study with a specific focus on
cost-effectiveness (Bifulco, 2002; Levin & McEwan, 2001).
RESOURCE STRATEGIES FOR SMALL, RURAL, LOW-INCOME SCHOOLS
In our current environment of fiscal austerity, it is quite possible
that rural educators will need to rely more heavily on alternative revenue
streams to support programmatic initiatives and other reform efforts. Although
it is possible to increase operating funds through challenges to state
funding formulas, this type of change is difficult to leverage, particularly
in the short term (Roellke, Green, & Zielewski, in press). More immediate
benefits can be achieved through reconfiguration of existing resources,
a strategy employed by many of the whole-school reform models discussed
above (Picus, 2000; Rice, 2001). Researchers have described strategies,
for example, for shared use of facilities, partnering with other community
agencies, and creative financing of capital
costs (Bingler et al., 2002).
School leaders and policymakers sometimes also take advantage of a broader
resource base than traditional federal, state, and local tax revenue streams
(Haas, 2000). Examples include fiscal and personnel support derived from
nontraditional sources, including private foundations, volunteer networks,
and other human service agencies.
The Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP) is a federal grant program
specifically targeted to assist rural and small schools in their efforts
requirements of NCLB. It is also possible for small and low-income
consolidate funds from a variety of federal programs, including Teacher
Quality grants, Safe and Drug-Free Schools grants, and Local Technology
grants (Reeves, 2003).
These and other nontraditional resources can provide for a variety of
school services, including parental involvement activities, tutoring, vocational
counseling, technological enhancements, literacy programs and teacher recruitment
development (AASA & NASBE, 2003; Schwartz, Bel Hadj Amor, &
Educators are under increasing pressure from policymakers and the public
demonstrate that educational resources are used in appropriate ways.
coupled with an environment of increased standards and shrinking budgets,
is a major challenge for rural, small, and low-income schools. Policymakers
and school leaders may find guidance and support for meeting this challenge
through (1) creative
reallocation of existing resources; (2) consideration of successful
whole-school reform models; and (3) non-traditional revenues and new funding
streams that are targeted explicitly for rural, small, and low-income schools.
(1) For a review of the evidence of comprehensive school reform models
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