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IES Grant

Title: National Research Center on Rural Education Support
Center: NCER Year: 2004
Principal Investigator: Farmer, Thomas Awardee: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Program: Education Research and Development Centers      [Program Details]
Award Period: 5 years Award Amount: $10,000,000
Type: Multiple Goals Award Number: R305A040056

Topic: Rural Education

Purpose: The mission of the National Research Center on Rural Education (NRCRES) is to conduct research that addresses the diverse educational needs of rural schools, which face particular challenges that affect students' academic performance, such as: (1) high rates of child poverty; (2) limited resources for educational materials and professional development; (3) difficulty in attracting and retaining appropriately and highly qualified teachers; and (4) staffing issues stemming from sparse and remotely located populations that meet student needs.

Established through a five-year, $17.2 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of the U.S. Department of Education, the NRCRES is staffed by researchers with strong backgrounds and training in the fields of developmental psychology, linguistics, and education. They are nationally recognized experts in the area of rural education. Some of the methodology they will employ include conducting randomized control trials, random-assignment evaluations, and national surveys.


Targeted Reading Intervention (TRI)
Researchers will evaluate both an intervention and a teacher training program employed to help rural teachers, who often work in isolation, turn struggling early readers (kindergarten and 1st grade) into fluent ones. The TRI stresses the importance of phonemic awareness and phonics, vocabulary, and comprehension through one-to-one diagnostic teaching by the classroom teacher, and the Listen, Empathize, Encourage, Problem Solve framework that combines teacher in-service training with a professional development model that attempts to reduce teacher isolation and increase teacher success.

The Center is conducting a random-assignment evaluation to determine the effects of the curriculum on student outcomes in rural elementary schools in North Carolina, Texas, New Mexico and Nebraska. The Targeted Reading Intervention has been implemented in three studies in rural, low-income schools. The first and second studies examine the TRI in kindergarten and 1st grade classes in non-Reading First schools over one semester (Study 1) and Reading First schools over two semesters (Study 2). The third study examines the TRI using distance collaborative consultation with laptop computers and web cams over two semesters.

Rural Early Adolescent Learning Program (REAL)
The purpose of the REAL Program is to develop and evaluate a professional development model to help teachers support students who are at risk for academic and behavioral problems 5th through 7th grades. Building from research on adolescent school adjustment problems, this program focuses on the academic, behavioral, and social difficulties that together contribute to school failure and dropout. Accordingly, this project consists of intervention components designed to address key factors that contribute to the behavioral and educational success of rural youth: (a) academic engagement; (b) competence enhancement behavior management; and (c) school social dynamics.

The research design involved randomized control trials in 10 states. Initial results indicate that students of teachers who completed Project REAL professional development activities showed more favorable results on indicators in three key outcome domains: perceptions of the social-academic context; affective relationships with schooling; and achievement. These findings suggest students' developmental outcomes can improve across multiple domains of adjustment when teachers better understand multiple dimensions of early adolescent development and employ strategies for promoting positive development.

Distance Education Program
Distance education can play an important role in rural schools by offering advanced coursework to a small number of students while reducing the need for teachers certified in a particular subject. This project investigates the use of distance education in rural schools, and the feasibility of using distance education to offer students in rural schools advanced courses in science, mathematics, and foreign languages.

The Center is conducting a national survey of distance education in rural schools across the nation in order to determine the current: (1) use of distance education; (2) variety of courses being offered; and (3) different types of technologies used for distance education courses. This survey will also help to pinpoint barriers encountered in distance education, satisfaction with distance education, and the interrelationships among these factors.

One project in this program is the Enhancing Rural Online Learning (EROL) Project. Rural schools are challenged to offer a full curriculum, especially Advanced Placement (AP) courses, due to geographical isolation, insufficient numbers of students, and difficulty finding and retaining AP certified teachers. Online learning provides a potential way of addressing these issues in rural schools but real improvements in the effectiveness of technology-based instruction (such as distance learning) are unlikely without specific applications of well-documented research on what best supports learning for diverse learners, such as the incorporation of learner-centered principles and practices.

The EROL study is a randomized control trial testing the effectiveness of the Facilitator Preparation Program, a program based on Learner-Centered Principals, broadly delineated into four factors: (1) cognitive and metacognitive; (2) motivational and affective; (3) developmental and social; (4) and individual-differences. Initial results indicate that students receiving the Program had higher rates of course completion, and were enrolled in the AP courses for more weeks than students in the control condition.

The Rural High School Aspirations Study
Many rural communities across the United States are undergoing tremendous economic and population change that has significantly affected the employment opportunities and adult-life choices that are available to rural youth. The goal of this project is to develop and evaluate high school intervention programs based on new information about: (1) rural high school students' aspirations and preparatory planning for postsecondary education, career training, and adult life; (2) commonalities and differences in the students' perspectives regarding the futures of rural youth; (3) the availability of high school programs and activities to help prepare them for their futures.

This study is being conducted in 73 schools in geographically diverse regions of the United States. Preliminary findings suggest that the vast majority rural youth (about 89 percent) are seeking ways to extend their educational opportunities beyond high school: 12 percent at a 2-year community college, vocational, or trade school; about 40 percent at a 4-year college degree program; and 37 percent at graduate or professional schools. Of the remaining 11 percent of rural youth, 7 percent indicate uncertainty regarding their educational plans and four percent expect to discontinue their education after high school.

The Complementary Rural Education Research Fast Track (CRERFT) Studies
The CRERFT Studies program is designed to conduct studies of relatively short duration to answer key issues in rural education research, and to promote new programs of research and collaborative partnerships in rural education. Below are some current studies.

  1. Adequate Yearly Progress in Rural Schools

    This project involves an examination of adequate yearly progress on No Child Left Behind criteria for a randomly selected sample of districts that qualify for the Rural Education Achievement Program. The sample involves 10 percent of districts that are eligible for the Small Rural Schools Achievement program, and 10 percent that are eligible for the Rural and Low-Income Schools program. The project will identify groups of students in rural schools who are at particular risk for academic failure.

  2. Teacher Retention and Administrative Turnover in Rural Schools

    Problems associated with maintaining a strong teaching workforce in rural areas include the scarcity of qualified teachers living within the proximity of rural communities, competitive recruitment from neighboring districts, lack of resources and financial incentives, difficult working conditions, out-of-field teaching assignments, the lack of a supportive network, and higher concentrations of low achieving students. Although the problems that contribute to teacher recruitment and retention difficulties are known, there is less information about the characteristics of rural districts that have chronic teaching shortages as compared to those that do not. Also, there is no national data on administrators' perspectives about what works and what does not to keep highly qualified teachers in their districts. Likewise, many rural districts experience considerable administrative turnover, and the causes and remedies are not readily apparent.

    The goal of this project is to conduct a national survey with superintendents to gain their views on issues pertaining to teacher recruitment and retention within their districts, and to identify approaches they view as effective for addressing this problem. A second national survey will be conducted with principals regarding their work history in rural schools, their perceived support and anticipated tenure in their current placements, and their views about factors they think impact their work performance and satisfaction with working in a rural school district.

  3. Rural Definitions

    One of the difficulties in conducting research on rural education is the lack of consensus on operational definitions for "rural." The lack of a clear definition can obscure important views about the needs and issues of rural schools, and can affect critical policies and the resultant services that schools receive. Initiated by researchers at the Southwest Regional Education Laboratory and the University of Oklahoma, investigators at the National Research Center on Rural Education Support are working with these groups to identify the different definitions of rural, to examine the characteristics of schools associated with each definition, and to consider the impact of definitions on the types of services and supports that schools receive. This work is being conducted in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Key Personnel: Tom Farmer, Lynne Vernon-Feagans, Wallace Hannum.

Center Website:

IES Program Contact: Dr. Allen Ruby
Telephone: (202) 219-1591

Related IES Projects: The Targeted Reading Intervention: A Web-Based Professional Development Program Targeting K-1 Classroom Teachers and Their Struggling Readers (R305A100654)


Book chapter

Farmer, T.W., and Hamm, J.V. (2016). Promoting Supportive Contexts for Minority Youth in Low-Resource Rural Communities: The SEALS Model, Directed Consultation, and the Scouting Report Approach. In L.J. Crockett, and G. Carlos (Eds.), Rural Ethnic Minority Youth and Families in the United States (pp. 247–265). New York: Springer.

Farmer, T.W., Xie, H., Cairns, B.D., and Hutchins, B.C. (2007). Social Synchrony, Peer Networks, and Aggression in School. In P.H. Hawley, T.D. Little, and P.C. Rodkin (Eds.), Aggression and Adaptation: The Bright Side to Bad Behavior (pp. 209–233). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Hamm, J.V., and Zhang, L. (2010). The Schooling Context of Adolescents' Peer Relations. In J. Meece, and J. Eccles (Eds.), The Handbook of Schooling Effects on Development (pp. 518–554). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Hannum, W.H., Irvin, M.J., and De La Varre, C. (2010). Extending Educational Opportunities in Rural Areas: Application of Distance Education in Rural Schools. In S. Mukerji, and P. Tripathi (Eds.), Cases on Technological Adaptability and Transnational Learning: Issues and Challenges (pp. 276–294). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.

Sutherland, K.S., and Farmer, T.W. (2007). Classroom Contexts and Problem Behavior. In G.D. Sideridis, and T.A. Citro (Eds.), Best Practices in Learning Disabilities: Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice. Boston, MA: Learning Disabilities Worldwide.

Vernon-Feagans, L., Gallagher, K., and Kainz, K. (2010). The Transition to School in Rural America: A Focus on Literacy. In J. Meece, and J. Eccles (Eds.), Schooling and Development (pp. 440). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

IES published report, issue brief, or practice guide

Arnold, M.L, Biscoe, B., Farmer, T.W., Robertson, D.L., and Shapley, K.L. (2007). How the Government Defines Rural has Implications for Education Policies and Practices (REL 2007–010). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest.

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Amendum, S., Vernon-Feagans, L., and Ginsberg, M.C. (2011). The Effectiveness of a Technologically Facilitated Classroom-Based Early Reading Intervention: The Targeted Reading Intervention. Elementary School Journal, 112(1): 107–131.

Carver, R., King, R., Hannum, W.H., and Fowler, B. (2007). Toward a Model of Experiential E­Learning. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 3(3): 247–256.

Estell, D.B., Farmer, T.W., Irvin, M.J., Crowther, A., Akos, P., and Boudah, D.J. (2009). Students With Exceptionalities and the Peer Group Context of Bullying and Victimization in Late Elementary School. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 18(2): 136–150.

Farmer, T.W. (2007). Studying the Individual Within the Peer Context: Are we on Target?. New Directions in Child and Adolescent Development, 118: 101–108.

Farmer, T.W., and Xie, H.L. (2007). Aggression and School Social Dynamics: The Good, the Bad, and the Ordinary. Journal of School Psychology, 45(5): 461–478.

Farmer, T.W., Farmer, E.M.Z., and Brooks, D.S. (2010). Recasting the Ecological and Developmental Roots of Intervention for Students With Emotional and Behavior Problems: The Promise of Strength-Based Perspectives. Exceptionality: A Special Education Journal, 18(2): 53–57.

Farmer, T.W., Farmer, E.M.Z., Estell, D., and Hutchins, B.C. (2007). The Developmental Dynamics of Aggression and the Prevention of School Violence. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 15(4): 197–208.

Farmer, T.W., Hall, C.M., Petrin, R., Hamm, J.V., and Dadisman, K. (2010). Evaluating the Impact of a Multicomponent Intervention Model on Teachers' Awareness of Social Networks at the Beginning of Middle School in Rural Communities. School Psychology Quarterly, 25(2): 94–106.

Farmer, T.W., Hall, C.M., Weiss, M.P., Petrin, R.A., Meece, J.L., and Moohr, M. (2010). The School Adjustment of Rural Adolescents With and Without Disabilities: Variable and Person-Centered Approaches. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 20(1): 78–88.

Farmer, T.W., Hamm, J.V., Leung, M.-C., Lambert, K., and Gravelle, M. (2011). Early Adolescent Peer Ecologies in Rural Communities: Bullying in Schools That do and do not Have a Transition During the Middle Grades. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40(9): 1106–1117.

Farmer, T.W., Hamm, J.V., Petrin, R.A., Robertson, D.R., Murray, R.A., Meece, J., and Brooks, D.S. (2010). Supporting Early Adolescent Learning and Social Strengths: Promoting Productive Contexts for Students At-Risk for EBD During the Transition to Middle School. Exceptionality, 18(2): 94–106. doi:10.1080/09362831003673192

Farmer, T.W., Irvin, M.J., Motoca, L.M., Leung, M.-C., Hutchins, B.C., Brooks, D.S., and Hall, C.M. (2015). Externalizing and Internalizing Behavior Problems, Peer Affiliations, and Bullying Involvement Across the Transition to Middle School. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 23(1): 3–16.

Farmer, T.W., Irvin, M.J., Sgammato, A., Dadisman, K., and Thompson, J.H. (2009). Interpersonal Competence Configurations in Rural Appalachian Fifth Graders: Academic Achievement and Associated Adjustment Factors. Elementary School Journal, 109(3): 301–321.

Farmer, T.W., Irvin, M.J., Thompson, J.H., Hutchins, B.C., and Leung, M.-C. (2006). School Adjustment and the Academic Success of Rural African American Early Adolescents in the Deep South. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 21(3): 1–14.

Farmer, T.W., Leung, M.C., Banks, J.B., Schaefer, V., Andrews, B., and Murray, R.A. (2006). Adequate Yearly Progress in Small Rural Schools and Rural Low-Income-Schools. The Rural Educator, 27(3): 1–7.

Farmer, T.W., Leung, M-C., Keagy, K., Boudah, D.J., Akos, P., Mcdonough, E., and Hall, C.M. (2009). Social Preference Choices in Late Elementary School: Within and Across Group Nominations. Psychology in the Schools, 46(4): 362–374.

Farmer, T.W., McAuliffe, M., and Hamm, J.V. (2011). Revealing the Invisible Hand: The Role of Teachers in Children's Peer Experiences. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 32(5): 247–256.

Farmer, T.W., Petrin, R., Brooks, D.S., Hamm, J.V., Lambert, K., and Gravelle, M. (2012). Bullying Involvement and the School Adjustment of Rural Students With and Without Disabilities. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 20(1): 19–37.

Farmer, T.W., Vernon-Feagans, L., and Hannum, W. (2008). Educational Issues in Diverse Rural Communities: The Research Agenda of the National Research Center on Rural Education Support (NRCRES Monograph No. 1). Journal of Research in Rural Education.

Ginsberg, M.C., Vernon-Feagans, L., and Amendum, S.J. (2010). Webcam Coaching for Professional Learning. Academic Exchange Quarterly, 14(1).

Hamm, J.V., Farmer, T.W., Dadisman, K., Gravelle, M., and Murray, A.R. (2011). Teachers' Attunement to Students' Peer Group Affiliations as a Source of Improved Student Experiences of the School Social-Affective Context Following the Middle School Transition. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 32(5): 267–277.

Hamm, J.V., Farmer, T.W., Lambert, K., and Gravelle, M. (2014). Enhancing Peer Cultures of Academic Effort and Achievement in Early Adolescence: Promotive Effects of the Seals Intervention. Developmental Psychology, 50(1): 216–228.

Hamm, J.V., Farmer, T.W., Robertson, D.R., Dadisman, K., Meece, J.L., and Song, S.Y. (2010). Effects of a Developmentally Based Intervention With Teachers on Native American and White Early Adolescents' Schooling Adjustment in Rural Settings. Journal of Experimental Education, 78(3): 347–377.

Hamm, J.V., Lambert, K., Agger, C.A., and Farmer, T.W. (2013). Promotive Peer Contexts of Academic and Social Adjustment Among Rural African American Early Adolescent Boys. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 83(2): 278–288.

Hamm, J.V., Schmid, L., Locke, B., and Farmer, T.W. (2011). Injunctive and Descriptive Peer Group Norms and the Academic Adjustment of Rural Early Adolescents. Journal of Early Adolescence, 31(1): 41–73.

Hannum, W., Irvin, M.J., Banks, J.B., and Farmer, T.W. (2009). Distance Education Use in Rural Schools. Journal of Research in Education, 24(3): 1–15.

Hannum, W.H. (2007). When Computers Teach: A Review of the Instructional Effectiveness of Computers. Educational Technology, 47(2): 5–13.

Hannum, W.H., and Mccombs, B.L. (2008). Enhancing Distance Learning for Today's Youth With Learner-Centered Principles. Educational Technology, 48(4): 11–21.

Hannum, W.H., Irvin, M.J., Lei, P.-W., and Farmer, T.W. (2008). Effectiveness of Using Learner-Centered Principles on Student Retention in Distance Education Courses in Rural Schools. Distance Education, 29(3): 211–229.

Irvin, M.J., Farmer, T.W., Leung, M., Thompson, J.H., and Hutchins, B.C. (2010). School, Community, and Church Activities: Relationship to Academic Achievement of Low-Income African American Early Adolescents in the Rural Deep South. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 25(4): 1–21.

Irvin, M.J., Hannum, W.H., De La Varre, C., and Farmer, T.W. (2010). Barriers to Distance Education in Rural Schools. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 11(2): 73–90.

Irvin, M.J., Hannum, W.H., Farmer, T.W., De La Varre, C., and Keane, J. (2009). Supporting Online Learning for Advanced Placement Students in Small Rural Schools: Conceptual Foundations and Intervention Components of the Facilitator Preparation Program. The Rural Educator, 31(1): 29–36.

Robertson, D.L., Farmer, T.W., Fraser, M.W., Day, S.H., Duncan, T., Crowther, A., and Dadisman, K.A. (2010). Interpersonal Competence Configurations and Peer Relations in Early Elementary Classrooms: Perceived Popular and Unpopular Aggressive Subtypes. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 34(1): 73–87.

Vernon-Feagans, L., Gallagher, K.C., Ginsberg, M.C., Amendum, S.J., Vandergrift, N., Kainz, K., and Rose, J. (2010). A Diagnostic Teaching Intervention for Classroom Teachers: Helping Struggling Readers in Early Elementary School. Research and Practice, 25(4): 183–193.

Nongovernment report, issue brief, or practice guide

Dadisman, K., Farmer, T.W., Gravelle, M., and Petrin, R. (2010). Issue Brief: Grow Your Own and Other Alternative Certification Programs in Rural Districts.Chapel Hill, NC : National Research Center on Rural Education Support.

Southerland, K.S., Carter, E., Farmer, T.W., Hoover, H., and Kostewicz, D. (2007). Re-Examination of Effective Classroom Management With Focus on Learners With or At-Risk for Emotional/Behavioral Disorders. Monograph published by the Division of the Council for Children with Behavior Disorders, Reston, VA.


Keane, J., De La Varre, C., Irvin, M.J., and Hannum, W. (2008). Learner-Centered Social Support: Enhancing Online Distance Education for Underserved Rural High School Students in the United States. In Proceedings of the 15th Association for Learning Technology Conference (pp. 39–48). Leeds, UK: Association of Learning Technology.

Whitton, N., and Mcpherson, M. (2008). Rethinking the Digital Divide. In Proceedings of the 15th Association for Learning Technology Conference(pp. 39–48). England: University of Leeds.