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Ask A REL Response

January 2020


What research has been conducted on rural education in North Carolina?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on rural education in North Carolina. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed rural education in North Carolina. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. These references are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist."

Research References

  1. Cummings, K. P., Hardin, B. J., & Meadan, H. (2017). Understanding parental engagement in early learning opportunities for families in rural communities. Rural Special Education Quarterly, 36(3), 116-127.
    From the abstract: "Understanding the contexts in which young children develop is essential for promoting positive outcomes. In this study, the researchers used focus groups to investigate the perspectives of 14 parents across rural North Carolina concerning ecocultural features that enhanced or prevented sustained engagement with their infants and toddlers with disabilities or delays. Parents perceived ecocultural features as having either a positive influence or no influence on their engagement. They also reported actively making accommodations to interrupt potential barriers to engagement. Results highlight the adaptive capacities of families in rural communities and delineate community resources that might contribute to sustainable intervention practices."
  2. Donovan, E. (2016). Learning the language of home: Using place-based writing practice to help rural students connect to their communities. Rural Educator, 37(2), 1-12.
    From the abstract: "The idea of "place" extends beyond the locations where people live. Place is a narrative which shapes identity and culture and provides an understanding of experience. By exploring place and the connections which evolve from place, an intriguing context begins to take a shape that inspires transformational ideas and actions. This article investigates how place-based writing practices affect rural middle school students' connections with their home community as evidenced through their writing. This study follows the critical pedagogy of place theoretical framework and works to support best practices in rural education research. A qualitative case study design was used to conduct this study in a rural middle school in North Carolina."
  3. Fusarelli, B. C., Fusarelli, L. D., & Riddick, F. (2018). Planning for the future: Leadership development and succession planning in education. Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 13(3), 286-313.
    From the abstract: "Superintendents leading school districts, particularly in hard-to-staff areas, face immense challenges in recruiting and retaining high-quality, well-trained teachers, principals, and district leaders. Many large urban areas as well as their rural counterparts have high concentrations of intergenerational poverty and unemployment. Rural areas are further disadvantaged by the lack of social and cultural attractions as well as fewer health care resources. In North Carolina, many of the lowest performing schools in the state are disproportionately clustered in rural areas. Superintendents leading districts in such areas face serious problems of high teacher and school leader turnover. As a result, superintendents are constantly engaged in an ongoing cycle of hiring new teachers, assistant principals, and district-level leaders. The graying of the school leadership profession further compounds the problem. For example, over the next 4 years in rural, high-poverty schools in North Carolina, an estimated 50% of principals will be eligible for retirement--making succession planning for quality school leadership a critical issue. In this article, we review the research and best practices on succession planning in education as well as in other sectors. Utilizing the theoretical framework of human capital theory, we illustrate how forward-thinking superintendents can partner with universities and other organizations to address the leadership challenges they face by creating strategic, long-term, leadership growth plans that build leadership capacity and potentially yield significant returns in improved student outcomes."
  4. Naumenko, O., Henson, R., & Hutchins, B. (2016). Preliminary impacts of North Carolina’s rural innovative schools project. Society of Research on Educational Effectiveness.
    From the abstract: "Funded by an Investing in Innovation (i3) Validation grant, the Rural Innovative Schools (RIS) Project is the first widespread effort to scale up the early college model by implementing it in comprehensive high schools. This paper will present preliminary findings from the evaluation of this project. The impact study uses a quasi-experimental design to assess the impact of the RIS Project on a core set of student outcomes. The treatment schools were matched to schools that were equivalent on a core set of baseline characteristics. The specific outcomes examined in this study include: (1) Percent of students who have enrolled in at least 1 College-Credit Bearing- Course by the end of 11th grade; (2) Average number of college-credit bearing courses students have taken and passed by the end of 12th grade; (3) Cohort graduation rate; (4) Attendance; (5) Dropout rate; (6) College preparatory course-taking; and (7) College preparatory course-taking and success. The results from this study will show the extent to which implementation of early college strategies in comprehensive high schools can have the same impact as the stand-alone early college model. Tables and figures are appended."
  5. Osborne-Lampkin, L., & Folsom, J. S. (2017). Characteristics and career paths of North Carolina school leaders (REL 2017-230). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast.
    From the abstract: "Researchers have linked positive student outcomes, including student achievement, to high-quality school leadership. Due in part to this research, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and the North Carolina Principals and Assistant Principals' Association are interested in increasing the number of high-quality principals in North Carolina's educator workforce, particularly those leading rural schools. To support these efforts, the two groups and Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southeast collaborated on this study of North Carolina assistant principals and principals (referred to here as "school leaders"). North Carolina stakeholders requested information on the state's school leader workforce, including a description of the backgrounds and experiences of leaders in nonrural and rural schools. Attracting and retaining educators in rural areas--where school districts receive fewer applicants and have higher staff turnover rates--have become pervasive issues, both nationally and in the REL Southeast Region. This report describes the demographics, educational attainment, licenses, and career paths of North Carolina school leaders from 2001/02 through 2012/13. The career path analysis focuses on retention and recruitment, two areas of particular interest to North Carolina stakeholders. The retention analysis describes the top-10 paths that assistant principals and principals took, beginning with their initial appointment as a school leader and over the next 10 years. The recruitment analysis describes the top-10 paths for assistant principals and principals during the 10 years before they took on their leadership roles. The analysis of demographics, educational attainment, and licenses of North Carolina school leaders from 2001/02 through 2012/13 showed that: (1) Women constituted a majority of school leaders, rising from 52-58 percent in 2001/02 to 58-63 percent in 2012/13; (2) The racial/ethnic makeup of school principals remained steady, with about 75 percent of them White; (3) Master's degree was the most common highest level of educational attainment, rising from 80 percent in 2001/02 to 87 percent in 2012/13 for assistant principals and from 64 percent to 78 percent for principals; (4) As many as 29 percent of principals held a superintendent license, but the rate declined over the study period; and (5) Leaders in rural schools were generally similar to leaders in nonrural schools in demographics, educational attainment, and licenses. The analysis of the career paths of school leaders found that: (1) A majority of individuals who were school leaders at the beginning of the time-frame were not school leaders at the end, generally having moved into other positions or having left the system; (2) A majority of assistant principals and principals spent time as a classroom teacher before becoming a school leader; and (3) There were no notable differences in the retention and recruitment paths of nonrural and rural school leaders before and after their leadership positions. North Carolina stakeholders might consider findings from this study as they engage in discussions around enhancing the principal pool and the quality of school leaders. The following are appended: (1) Key terms; (2) Data and methods; and (3) Findings comparing school leaders in nonrural and rural schools."
  6. Ringler, M. C., O'Neal, D., Rawls, J., & Cumiskey, S. (2013). The role of school leaders in teacher leadership development. Rural Educator, 35(1).
    From the abstract: "In rural eastern North Carolina, the rapid growth of English Learners (ELs) unintentionally makes mainstream classrooms sheltered instruction classrooms. Sheltered instruction is content-based instruction (CBI) where ELs acquire language while learning content. In addition to ELs, this region has a high number of Standard English Learners (SELs). SELs are native English speakers whose dialects are nonstandard and whose home languages differ structurally from academic English. A yearlong professional development used sheltered instruction to focus on academic language proficiency. A local university, two principals and 14 teachers partnered and participated in this weekly professional development. Data were analyzed using Guskey's (2000) framework for evaluating professional development. Findings indicated that when sheltered instruction was implemented with fidelity, teachers' perception of the principal changed from a manager to an instructional leader, content teachers became teacher leaders, instruction focused on academic language proficiency; and there was evidence of academic growth for low achieving students."


Keywords and Search Strings
The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • North Carolina, rural schools, educational innovation
  • Rural schools, North Carolina, educational innovation
  • North Carolina, rural schools, capacity building

Databases and Resources
We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types - randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.