ERIC Identifier: ED308054
Publication Date: 1989-03-00
Author: Sherwood, Topper
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Nontraditional Education in Rural Districts. ERIC Digest.
Rural communities in particular have different needs and resources from those
found in urban settings. Many observers believe that the features of modern mass
education, which evolved in response to urban needs, make it difficult to
address the educational needs of rural people. Non-traditional education
programs have been one response of educators and citizens to the growing
consensus that alternatives to the urban model are needed in rural areas.
Nontraditional programs cover a variety of services that are not typical of
modern schooling. They may be offered in schools, or they may take place outside
the school setting. Nontraditional programs feature innovative or flexible
arrangements for instruction, modified or original curriculum and courses, and
flexible grading or degree requirements. In rural areas, nontraditional programs
often embody a community-level response to perceived needs.
Whether undertaken as public or private efforts, nontraditional alternatives
have succeeded by matching innovative educational services with real community
needs. They have been undertaken at all educational levels in rural areas. This
digest will look at a few nontraditional programs and strategies, the problems
to which they respond, and the features that make them successful.
WHAT KINDS OF RURAL PROBLEMS DO ALTERNATIVES ADDRESS?
most rural populations, educational problems arise primarily from the sparsity
of rural population. Alternatives--that is, choices in available services--are
few, and in many rural areas even traditional schools experience financial
problems. These problems make it difficult to meet local needs in rural areas.
One source commends home schooling as a possible solution for educators
concerned with the rising financial costs of transporting students and
maintaining centralized school plants (McAvoy, 1986). Other alternatives--for
example, in adult education--represent an attempt by traditional institutions,
such as rural colleges and universities, to provide more accessible services to
the populations they serve.
Motivating minority students toward higher achievement has been an issue
confronted by many rural schools, according to Benally, Cole, and Quezada-Aragon
(1987). Hispanic and American Indian students, along with other minority groups
in rural communities, have been plagued by low grades, high dropout rates, and
high rates of illiteracy.
Special populations in rural areas--the handicapped, the gifted, and juvenile
offenders, for example--have specific educational needs, as do students who have
faced frustration and difficulty in typical rural school settings (Elliot,
1975). Often, the low incidence of such students strains both the human and
financial resources of rural school districts.
WHAT ALTERNATIVES HAVE RURAL COMMUNITIES TRIED IN RESPONSE TO
The University For Man (UM), a project of Kansas State
University in Manhattan, Kansas, has experienced some success in setting
up--free universities--in small communities. Based on these successes, UM offers
a guide for setting up adult education programs in small cities and towns of any
size. The manual describes the specific steps to start a program, using
community resources and requiring little or no expense for students and
volunteer teachers (Embers et al., 1980).
Bilingual and multicultural education programs have been offered as a way to
meet the special needs of minority and high-risk students. The multicultural
Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon, for example, has programs that allow
counselors, social workers, tutors, and a school psychologist to work with
students in their dorms (Chemawa Indian School, 1987). High-risk children of
migrant workers have also been the beneficiaries of programs to improve
counseling services, raise enrollment rates, increase educational monitoring,
and encourage family support.
Rural outdoor education programs have been used to address the specific
educational needs of the handicapped, juvenile offenders, the gifted, and ethnic
minority students. Outdoor education enables youngsters to participate in a
total learning experience (Benally et al., 1987). Other "special needs" programs
are marked by a less-structured atmosphere, a lower student-teacher ratio, or
the use of problem-solving strategies in teaching (Elliot, 1975).
Project "GRADS" (Grass Roots Alternative Diploma Study) in Huntingdon,
Pennsylvania, was a yearlong multi-media approach used in one county to prepare
rural residents for the General Equivalency Diploma (GED). The program began as
an attempt to create a correspondence course for prison inmates. It was made
available to a wider population when educational programs were broadcast
countywide over cable TV and weekly GED lessons were printed in a local
newspaper. The GRADS program successfully reached a large number of rural
residents, including many jobless people who wanted their high school
"GRADS" was also able to provide remedial materials on an as-needed basis;
staff traditional adult basic education and GED programs; make GED testing more
accessible to outlying areas; establish a first-of-its-kind graduation ceremony
for GED graduates; effectively link private and public sectors in a team effort;
encourage adults to return to school; and pave the way for future adult
education efforts (Kimmel & Lucas, 1984).
Home schooling is an alternative for as many as 260,000 students, while
anywhere from 50,000 to 150,000 students follow a curriculum designed by their
own parents (Lines, 1986). Home schooling seems to be especially attractive as a
viable alternative to centralized school systems for families in rural areas
like Appalachia (McAvoy, 1986). McAvoy describes one family's experience with
home schooling, illustrating how the children demonstrated significantly high
achievement scores on standardized tests.
WHO ARE THE PEOPLE CREATING ALTERNATIVES?
people who create innovative programs are community leaders (official and
informal) and those who are most affected by educational inadequacies: parents.
Leadership is a key ingredient to any successful program and the most effective
community leaders have both credibility and an accurate sense of educational
needs in rural communities (McLaurin & Coker, 1986).
The people educating their children at home are a diverse group, but they
appear to share at least one trait--a firm belief that parents can and should be
deeply involved in the education and development of their own children.
Self-motivation is obviously important in home schooling. Home-school parents,
almost by definition, are do-it-yourselfers (Lines, 1986).
WHAT MAKES ALTERNATIVE PROGRAMS SUCCESSFUL?
distance education programs usually begin slowly, with well defined needs, and
then grow to address other needs, according to Barker (1987). The most effective
and lasting rural educational programs are created when both agencies and
communities work actively and purposefully together. While linkages with
existing education offices and other local agencies are important to an
alternative program's survival, the impetus, planning, and execution must begin
at the local level (McLaurin & Coker, 1986).
Distance education programs are good recent examples of the cooperative
interaction of rural educators with state and regional organizations to provide
nontraditional solutions for unmet rural needs. Distance education entails
programs that deliver instruction through correspondence courses, interactive
satellite broadcasts, or electronic networks among rural schools, but most
recent work has focused on the latter two alternatives.
Such alternatives require cooperation among rural school districts, regional
service providers, and state departments of education. In successful
implementations rural educators define the needs of their students clearly and
work with service originators and state department personnel to work out
technical problems. The effectiveness of distance education is not, however,
based on technical solutions. Independent, self-starting learners are an
essential part of the formula; so is a clear sense of local needs (Batey &
The GRADS program, according to Kimmel and Lucas (1984), did not depend on a
large budget, but entirely on countywide volunteer cooperation. Similarly, the
UM adult education programs depended on people and projects that came at little
or no initial expense (Embers et al., 1980). Cooperation is also important in
successful home schooling, according to Lines (1986). Flexible scheduling,
providing materials for home study, and the cooperation of parents in the
assessment of their children are all features that can help such an arrangement
benefit both the school and the children whose parents exercise this option.
Questions of size and scope cannot be addressed
without taking the community needs into consideration. Alternative education
projects in rural areas are most successful as community-based programs, born of
necessity rather than technological expediency (for example, Batey & Cowell,
1986). The sense of community needs and good leadership hold a successful rural
alternative education program together and allow it to grow.
Batey, A., & Cowell, R. (1986). DISTANCE
EDUCATION: AN OVERVIEW. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory,
Technology Program. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 278 519)
Barker, B. (1987, March). USING INTERACTIVE TECHNOLOGIES TO INCREASE COURSE
OFFERINGS IN SMALL AND RURAL SCHOOLS. Paper presented at the Annual Conference
for Microcomputers and Technology in K-12 Education, Carbondale, IL. (ERIC
Document Reproduction Service No. ED 279 465)
Benally, E., Cole, J. & Quezada-Aragon, M. (1987). Issues in American
Indian education, Mexican American education, migrant education, outdoor
education, and small schools. In E. Flaxman (Ed.), TRENDS AND ISSUES IN
EDUCATION 1986, (chapter 11). Washington, DC: Office of Educational Research and
Improvement. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 281 909)
Chemawa Indian School. (1987). CHEMAWA INDIAN SCHOOL: A STRONG SPIRIT OF
GROWTH. Salem, OR: Chemawa Indian School. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service
No. ED 297 894).
Elliot, R. (1975). DRUTHERS! A COLLECTION OF VIABLE IDEAS FROM RURAL SCHOOLS.
Washington, DC: Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Office of
Education, Projects to Advance Creativity in Education. (ERIC Document
Reproduction Service No. ED 139 570)
Embers, P., Wilhelm, B., Troxel, C., Johnson, S., Rippetoe, J., Miller, D.,
Killacky, J., Serpan, T., Dwyer, M., Puhl, A., Ayers, D., Russell, S., Miller,
M., & Maes, S. (1980). THE RURAL AND SMALL TOWN COMMUNITY EDUCATION MANUAL.
Manhattan, KS: Kansas State University, University For Man. (ERIC Document
Reproduction Service No. ED 196 578)
Kimmel, H., & Lucas, G. (1984). PROJECT GRADS (GRASS ROOTS ALTERNATIVE
DIPLOMA STUDY). Harrisburg, PA: Pennsylvania State Department of Education.
(ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 254 679)
Lines, P. (1986). HOME INSTRUCTION: AN OVERVIEW. Charleston, WV: Appalachia
McAvoy, R. (1986, October). HOME-BOUND SCHOOLS: AN ALTERNATIVE FOR RURAL
AREAS. Paper presented at the annual conference of the National Rural and Small
Schools Consortium, Bellingham, Washington. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service
No. ED 280 633)
McLaurin, S., & Coker, R. (1986, September). NOTES TOWARD THE
ESTABLISHMENT OF EDUCATIONAL PARTNERSHIPS IN RURAL COMMUNITIES. Paper presented
at the National Invitational Conference on Rural Adult Postsecondary Education,
Airlie, Virginia. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 296 853)