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Rural Education Research Alliance

About the Alliance

In six of the seven states in the REL Central region, at least 25 percent of the population is designated as rural. The Rural Education Research Alliance (RA) brings together stakeholders from across our region to work on initiatives and issues in rural districts. The alliance has two areas of focus: Teacher Recruitment and Retention; and Closing the Achievement Gap The goals of the Rural Education RA are to provide assistance in examining these issues in rural districts as well as to provide coaching, technical support, and applied research to support partners in addressing these challenges.

Focus Areas

Teacher Recruitment and Retention Icon

Teacher Recruitment and Retention: focuses on examining teacher retention, mobility, and attrition in rural settings and to identify the characteristics of teachers, schools, districts, and communities that are associated with retention, mobility, and attrition.

Closing the Achievement Gap Icon

Closing the Achievement Gap: focuses on reducing longstanding disparities in achievement between historically disadvantaged students and their peers.

Summary of Related Projects

Technical Support

Evaluation of the Rural Educator Stipend Programs in Colorado
Closed Project
The Colorado Center for Rural Education (CCRE) and the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) collaborate to prepare and support rural educators. One approach involves four stipend programs that provide pre- and in-service teachers with funding to teach in, or become credentialed to teach in, rural schools. CCRE and CDE must continually improve program implementation to ensure that goals are met and that education outcomes are strengthened in rural schools. REL Central is partnering with Colorado Center for Rural Education (CCRE) and Colorado Department of Education (CDE) staff to design an evaluation plan to assess the extent to which participation in the four stipend programs is associated with reductions in rural teacher shortages. Evaluation results will aid the partners in making program improvements to meet goals and enhance education outcomes in rural schools.

Examination of Changes to State Educator Certification Rules in South Dakota
Closed Project
The South Dakota Department of Education (SD DOE) needs to understand how the new state educator certification system has affected teacher candidates and practicing teachers. This project supports SD DOE partners in developing plans to examine how educator preparation programs respond to rule changes and how those rule changes are related to patterns of certification and outcomes for educators and their students. The project will build SD DOE capacity to implement proposed rules designed to remove barriers to certification while maintaining integrity and rigor in the state educator certification system.

Implementation and Evaluation of the North Dakota Teacher Education Loan Forgiveness Project
Closed Project
This project addresses the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) need to develop processes and instruments for systematically collecting and analyzing data related to the implementation and outcomes of the state’s Teacher Shortage Loan Forgiveness Program (TSLFP) in order to inform program and policy improvement. The TSLFP provides greater incentives for teachers to work in high-need rural areas, as it allots the maximum loan forgiveness amount for teachers in areas of critical need in rural and remote town districts. REL Central is supporting NDDPI partners in developing a logic model, creating evaluation questions, identifying data that may inform an evaluation, and using data in an evaluation. We will guide partners in identifying available data to address draft evaluation questions and in assessing the quality of the data, the need for additional data, and the options for collecting needed data. Additionally, we will guide partners in identifying quality data collection tools and ways to develop tools to meet specific data collection needs. Finally, we will work with partners to choose an evaluative approach for the TSLFP. As a result of this project, NDDPI will increase its capacity to describe key elements of the TSLFP, and it will have a plan for evaluating the implementation and outcomes of the program.


 Webinar: Studying Educational Effectiveness in Rural Settings: A Guide for Researchers


 Infographic: How Do Students in Rural Schools Perform on NAEP?

Colorado | Kansas | Missouri | Nebraska | North Dakota | South Dakota | Wyoming

 Infographic: Internet Connectivity Across the Central States

Colorado | Kansas | Missouri | Nebraska | South Dakota | Wyoming

 Video Series: Internet Connectivity Across the Central States

Infographics Shed Light on Rural Internet Connectivity Issues
Colorado | Kansas | Missouri | Nebraska | South Dakota | Wyoming

 Video: REL Tools for Rural Practitioners

Research Reports

Understanding Access to and Participation in Dual Enrollment by Locale and Income Level
Closed Project
One well-established strategy for improving college readiness and success is dual enrollment, which allows secondary students to take college courses and earn college credits. Dual enrollment programs may be especially important for rural students, whose college-going rates lag behind those of their more urban peers. Although dual enrollment programs are common, stakeholders lack a comprehensive resource for understanding what is known about access and enrollment in their states. This study is designed to address regional needs by providing detailed information about dual enrollment access and participation within and across REL Central states. The results can be used to inform the development of supports related to dual enrollment.
Report: Understanding Access to and Participation in Dual Enrollment by Locale and Income Level (2021)
Snapshot: View Study Snapshot
Study Brief: View Study Brief

Technical Support

Examining Practices in North Dakota Rural Districts That Have Closed Achievement Gaps
Closed Project
This project addresses the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI) need to develop examine and disseminate educational practices that may be associated with closing achievement gaps. NDDPI supports numerous initiatives aimed at improving the achievement of low-income rural students in North Dakota. In 2015, NDDPI and North Dakota Small Organized Schools (NDSOS), with REL Central support, worked to identify rural districts in the state that had raised state assessment scores and closed the achievement gap between students who qualified for free and reduced-price lunch and those who did not. Ultimately, NDDPI identified 15 districts as making substantial progress in these criteria in reading, science, and/or ACT assessments. REL Central is supporting NDDPI and NDSOS partners in developing survey instruments to identify perceptions of education policies and practices associated with reductions in rural student achievement gaps, reviewing best practices in survey analysis, compiling survey analysis, and presenting findings. These project activities will increase NDDPI and NDSOS staff capacity to interpret and use survey data in order to inform the dissemination of best practices associated with reductions in rural student achievement gaps.

Nebraska Rural Achievement Gap Closure
Closed Project
Members of the Rural Education Research Alliance have identified student achievement gap closure as a top priority in the REL Central region, and they aim to explore specific practices associated with closing achievement gaps in rural districts. This project involves a virtual training to build the capacity of Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association (NRCSA) and Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) leaders and staff to annually identify rural districts that have narrowed achievement gaps. The training will describe the decision points and considerations for identifying rural districts that have closed achievement gaps; review an analysis of Nebraska gap-closure data from 2013 to 2016; explain data analysis, syntax, and reporting in SPSS programming; and address questions, concerns, and anticipated challenges raised by participants. The project will enhance participants’ knowledge and skills to identify selection criteria, conduct data analysis, and facilitate discussions among Nebraska educators about rural districts that have closed achievement gaps.