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IES Grant

Title: The National Center for Rural Education Research Networks (NCRERN)
Center: NCER Year: 2019
Principal Investigator: Kane, Thomas Awardee: Harvard University
Program: Education Research and Development Centers      [Program Details]
Award Period: 5 years (2/2/2019 – 1/31/2024) Award Amount: $9,994,246
Type: Multiple Goals Award Number: R305C190004

Topic: Rural Education

Co-Principal Investigators: Christopher Avery (Harvard University) and Douglas Staiger (Dartmouth College)

Purpose: The National Center for Rural Education Research Networks (NCRERN) will establish a continuous improvement network to build the capacity of rural school districts and supporting state agencies to use their own data to improve the education of their students. The specific network model (known as Proving Ground) has been used in urban and suburban districts but not rural districts.

The network will include 60 rural school districts (30 in New York (NY) and 30 in Ohio (OH)), regional education agencies within NY and OH (e.g., Boards of Cooperative Educational Services, Regional Information Centers, Educational Service Centers, and Information Technology Centers), and the NY and OH state education agencies (SEAs). In addition, three other SEAs (Iowa, New Mexico, and Wyoming) interested in using the findings from the network will also take part.

The network will focus on three areas: student absenteeism, college preparedness (e.g., high school course taking), and college enrollment. Chronic absenteeism is an ESSA school accountability indicator in three of the states and an area of focus in the other two. Disparities in college preparedness and enrollment appear to be due in part to distinct challenges faced by rural districts. NCRERN will provide support for data analysis, problem diagnosis, solution development, piloting of potential solutions and their evaluation, and peer networking. The goal is for districts and agencies to use data to identify key problem areas and systematically test interventions to address them.

Population/Sample: The NY and OH rural districts taking part will include a combination of fringe, distant, and remote districts as defined by the National Center for Education Statistics. The work on absenteeism will include grades K–12. The work on college preparedness and college enrollment will focus on high school.

Research Projects: NCRERN starts from the perspective that a network of rural schools can support individual rural schools districts in several ways. A network can:

  • support the use of district-level data to identify, develop, pilot, and evaluate local interventions;
  • provide previously unavailable opportunities to work with researchers;
  • and offer opportunities to work with other similar districts.

To determine whether such a network can succeed in these activities, NCRERN will carry out four types of studies.

Study 1: Historical and Predictive Analyses: The research team will analyze NY and OH administrative data to identify trends and differences in outcomes by schools, students, and student subgroups for absenteeism, college preparedness, and college enrollment. Through these analyses, the team will identify possible solutions and identify students most likely to benefit from targeted interventions. The data will be available to participating districts through a data visualization dashboard and will be used to identify comparison groups for Study 2.

Study 2: Intervention Adoption, Piloting, Evaluation, and Improvement: Volunteer districts within the network will adopt, further develop, and implement interventions to address absenteeism, college preparedness, and college enrollment. The research team will assess the implementation of these interventions and complete a causal evaluation of immediate student impacts, using either randomized controlled trials or quasi-experimental designs. The research team and districts will carry out the pilot studies using a rapid-cycle approach that will support ongoing refining of the interventions and their implementation.

Study 3: Replication Evaluations: The Iowa, New Mexico, and Wyoming SEAs will work with their districts to further pilot interventions found to have improved student outcomes in NY and OH. Researchers at NCRERN will then analyze and report the results of these replication evaluations.

Study 4: Evaluation of the NCRERN Model: Finally, the research team will assess the impact of district participation in NCRERN by comparing the changes in school and student outcomes in the participating districts to matched comparison districts.

Each study will have a qualitative component based on site visits and surveys of participating districts. This data will help the research team understand the context of each district, potential reasons for implementation success and failures, and how the NCRERN model is working. Network participants will attend multiple conferences each year along with additional webinars in order to bring the districts together for their joint work and networking activities.

Leadership and Dissemination Activities: NCRERN will provide leadership and outreach to practitioners, policymakers, and researchers involved in rural education. Much of the dissemination will take place through the Network partners with the regional and state agencies disseminating findings to non-participating districts in their states. A Rural Advisory Board will provide guidance on how the NCRERN's work can best address the rural context, what tools and resources may be of value to rural districts, how to interpret the research findings, and will help disseminate the findings and policy options reflecting them. NCRERN will share what they are learning using more immediate forms of dissemination (e.g., policy briefs, videos, op-eds, and social media), presentations and publications in practitioner and researcher venues, and through two national conferences. In addition, NCRERN will work to increase the data analytic and management capacities of the regional and state education agencies so that they may continue or expand the network once the grant ends.

Rural Center Website:

IES Program Contact: Allen Ruby
Telephone: (202) 245-8145