Join the Conversation
15 May 2019
Left Behind? School Choice in Rural Communities
As demographer Richard Florida writes in Diversity Explosion, recent economic innovation and growth have disproportionately benefited cities, due to their diversity, population density, financial capital, and cultural amenities attracting and retaining human capital. Indeed, as political scientist William Galston argues in Anti-Pluralism: The populist threat to liberal democracy, populist political events such as the Trump election and the Brexit vote in part reflect rural reactions to the perceived political and social insulation of urban elites.
As in economic innovation, urban areas have hosted educational innovation, particularly as regards school choice. In growing cities like Houston, Phoenix, and New York, and culturally attractive cities like New Orleans, the coexistence of large numbers of disadvantaged (and other) students ill-served by traditional public schooling models, highly educated social entrepreneurs, and educational philanthropies, have enabled the development and growth of successful charter school networks like the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), Success Academy, and Basis Schools. In contrast, at this writing the last seven U.S. states without charter school laws (Vermont, Kentucky, West Virginia, Montana, Nebraska, and North and South Dakota) are rural states, all but one of which voted for Donald Trump by large margins.
Isabell Sawhill notes in The Forgotten Americans that most of the U.S. white working class lives in rural areas. Rural populations tend to be less educated, more homogenous, and more traditional (deferential to authority), likely resulting in lower demand for schooling options independent of traditional educational authorities. More positively, in The Rise and Fall of American Public Schools, Robert Franciosi argues that small rural districts might better represent their communities, again likely decreasing demand for alternatives.
Both in the U.S. and globally, cities host large, diverse education markets, just as they do dynamic restaurant or entertainment markets, with many consumers of varied tastes attracting entrepreneurial producers seeking to satisfy demand. Further, in growing cities schools play a lesser employment role, since educated job seekers have other options. In contrast, education jobs may have considerable political value in rural areas, where the goal of employing the politically influential may supersede the goal of serving students. Accordingly, rural communities may lack the preconditions for successful education (and other) markets. Education reformers hypothesized that cyber schools would transcend geographic constraints on human capital and make niche markets such as AP courses economically feasible, facilitating choice. In practice, cyber schooling has so far, under-performed, at least in measured outcomes. Why? Can we modify cyber schools to reach their potential?
Interestingly, work by James Tooley, Pauline Dixon, and others suggests that certain locales in the developing world have robust education markets in rural settings. Work by Charles Glenn, among others, suggests that the Netherlands also offers schooling options even in rural communities. What lessons might these markets teach policy-makers and researchers elsewhere?
To explore these and related issues, M. Danish Shakeel and Robert Maranto invite manuscripts exploring any aspect of rural school choice. We plan to publish peer-reviewed manuscripts in December 2019 (Volume 12, issue 4), with a possible edited book to follow. Please feel free to send your roughly 500-word manuscript proposal to us at any time; the final deadline for manuscripts is May 15, 2019. Manuscripts should run from 3,000 to 7,000 words, have APA style, and come in two files, one with full affiliation and contact information and a second with author names and references scrubbed off. We seek a mix of empirical pieces and conceptual, legal, or historical essays. We stress that invitation does not guarantee acceptance.