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Harvard Receives $10 Million Grant for Rural Education Research

Gutman Library at the Graduate School of Education.
Gutman Library at the Graduate School of Education. By Sidni M. Frederick
By Joshua S. Archibald, Crimson Staff Writer

The Harvard Graduate School of Education received a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to fund national research on rural school districts.

The grant establishes the new National Center for Rural Education Research Networks at Harvard, which aims to “build the capacity of rural school districts and supporting state agencies to use their own data to improve the education of their students.” NCRERN will use data analysis to address chronic absenteeism, college readiness, and college enrollment.

“This center was created to help school districts and state agencies use their data to improve,” said Thomas J. Kane, a professor at the Graduate School of Education and the principal investigator for NCRERN. “Any organization, whether it’s a school district or a university, needs to be able to pilot and test interventions and see whether they work if their goal is to improve.”

NCRERN will begin its research through collaboration with 60 rural school districts in Ohio and New York before expanding to other states over the course of the five-year grant. Kane’s team will organize studies to test the efficacy of proposed solutions, some of which will be suggested by the participating schools.

Kane’s previous work for the Proving Ground project at Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research aimed to address challenges faced by urban districts and used some of the same methodologies and data analysis techniques he plans to use at NCRERN.

Bi Vuong, who worked with Kane as the director of the Proving Ground project and now serves as the interim director of NCRERN, said the grant will expand their prior work into rural systems. “That’s the experience we bring, like the randomized control trial, the data analytics, the advice and support.”

Karen Eppley, a member of the NCRERN advisory board and editor of the Journal of Research in Rural Education, said the new center will have university faculty work alongside districts to determine and evaluate solutions.

“Positive interventions then can also be scaled up to other states with high percentages of rural schools,” she added.

Kane compared NCRERN's research methods to those employed by the pharmaceutical and retail industries. He said those industries test and analyze potential solutions rigorously before scaling them to the full system. Rural school districts often lack the resources to conduct similar tests on their own.

“I can’t think of a thing that will make a bigger difference 20 years from now than school districts getting in the habit of doing this piloting and testing and measuring results before scaling up,” Kane said.

Kane and Vuong highlighted the importance of data availability and district leaders’ devotion to the research for evaluating schools that may want to partner with the center in the future.

“The whole reason I think we are engaging in this is to try to improve the outcomes for students in K-12 education and having the rural centers actually have a way to support rural students in a way that we have not done before,” Vuong said.

—Staff writer Joshua S. Archibald can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jsarchibald22.

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