It must also be pointed out, as it is by Elder and Conger that fewer adult role models in rural settings are likely to have achieved any significant success in higher education, as they were often as limited as their children are for such opportunities.
This malevolence about post-secondary education by default and by reality proves troubling as post-secondary achievement is often seen as the end game of a secondary education. In other words high schools are geared toward the mark of success as students enrolling in college, even though this may not be seen in the community as an option or even a reasonable goal. So, it must be said that students who look at high school as a means to enter college but have no interest in college, often due to lack of exposure or even blatantly low educational goals in the community are likely to see high school as a "waste of time," when they could be out seeking and getting employment even at the very lowest level. (Elder & Conger, 2000, p. 234) Recently the Texas Education Agency recognized both rural and urban schools who implemented resource of allotment funds for exposure to bridging this gap between awareness and ability, by in some cases bettering the exposure of students in rural areas not only to the prospect of college but just how to go about getting there. Such awareness can not be overlooked as important but must also be geared towards high risk students as such an emphasis could ultimately backfire. (State of Texas, 2008) Yet, it must also be said that utilizing resources appropriately to get high risk of drop out students (and possibly their parents) in the door to say a financial aide workshop could go a long way in opening the minds of these students to greater opportunities in the future.
Another issue that requires discussion with regard to rural schools is the so called, "digital divide," or the technology divide that is seen as one of the biggest failings of our society and education system. In a sense this issue hits rural areas the hardest as they do not have the resources in an infrastructural or monetary sense to apply new and improved technologies to the classroom. This divide is said to seriously effect the ability of student to compete at par with students who are exposed to high technology. Many individuals believed that bridging this divide and creating technology-based curriculum opportunities would likely solve many of rural schools' problems, with lack of diverse opportunity and yet this divide has not been addressed in most rural areas to any great degree. (Servon, 2002, p. 35) Again there is a gap in the literature here in that programs which have been implemented in rural schools to attempt to address this divide are both limited in scope and have not been adequately studied to see if such implementation, usually at high cost to schools is effective on increasing high school completion rates. All that is really known is that not addressing the issue at all is leaving rural students at a serious disadvantage when and if they do seek out higher education.
Christle, Jolivette & Michael attest to the fact that through their research they have found that indicators for drop out rates can be identified simply by looking at school characteristics. Those schools with higher and lower drop out rates could be identified through many associated factors;
High schools with the lowest dropout rates in the present study offered courses and school-sponsored activities that were geared to the needs and interests of students. The academic focus was pronounced and rigorous, with additional supports for students in need. Teachers in LDOS showed interest in the students, and administrators provided supports for teachers. School personnel in LDOS identified students who were at risk for dropping out, targeted interventions based on individual needs, and monitored their progress. School climate and positive relationships were high priorities in the LDOS and in the classrooms. Students who are attached to supportive schools in which personnel recognize their individuality and care about and promote their successes are prone to complete high school and make successful transitions to adult life. (Christle, Jolivette & Michael, 2007, p. 325)
The development of schools that meet these standards could go far to help decrease drop out rates and would likely help the education system in a myriad of other ways as well, such as in teacher retention, decreased cost and the society as well in decreasing the cost of high school drop out rates overall. The research of Christle, Jolivette & Michael clearly develops a case for the idea that schools and the overall school environment can have a significant impact of student retention, beyond individual student demographics, that the school is unlikely to be able to control. Rural schools must then be exceedingly creative with the manner in which they implement change, though they may see the fact that they have very limited resources as the greatest obstacle. Christle, Jolivette & Michael point out that programs that work don't necessarily support increased funding, though this can be the case they often represent real paradigm shift that opens previously unseen opportunities to students and ultimately changes the way that educators think, feel and act toward at risk students. In other words individualism can be sought out not just for excelling students, such as those that are already "a joy to have in class" but toward students that might really need to be shown aspects of education that peak their interest in successful independent learning. For example if a student is at high risk of dropping out the teacher may seek out a particular interest of the student and develop a project or core-based learning plan around such interests, with the input of the student. Doing this could make the difference between the student dropping out or failing out or the student excelling in both the new material and possibly even the old more routine curricula. Christle, Jolivette & Michael seem not to lose site of the fact that the four years of high school and even the several years before it offer a very limited window of opportunity for success and change, for the individual student. The classroom and the school environment should not be seen as a factory that never evolves to meet new needs of different workers. Student and teacher empowerment to implement changes is an essential aspect of the need to focus on individual student needs and interests. Sadly, the new and "improved" standards-based plans and practices associated with accountability look more at outcomes and less at the organic nature of individuals and changing interests and needs. Ultimately Christle, Jolivette & Michael stress that programs that work are much more balanced than the bottom line accountability standards measures and must be focused on the whole picture rather than the utilitarian consequences of basic curriculum.
Even older programs such as the one detailed in a 1993 write up of rural school improvement programs aimed at reducing drop out rate (Stradford) recognize that at risk students have a cumulative and multi-faceted list of problems associated with limited school success. Ultimate drop-out can then be avoided, according to the research, by tailored and individual programs including many of Christle, Jolivette & Michael's principles of empowerment and increased standards and their expression to the students. Seeding change by paradigm shift seems to be the most important aspect of any fundamentally successful program that reduced drop out rates. (Stradford, 1993)
It must be recognized that ultimate failure, i.e. dropping out, does not lend well to future ability to live and be successful in a dynamic world. The programs that these researchers detail are fundamentally associated not with resources and resource allocation but with attitudes and educator shifts in goals and standards, as well as support development that require more time than money and are fundamentally focused on student and educator empowerment to create change where it is needed. By default rural schools should have a greater opportunity to make these kinds of changes because they often have a lower student per teacher ratio and an overall lower number of students to serve.
Just because rural schools aren't always as financially well-off as bigger schools doesn't mean they can't perform at the same level or better. The Center For Rural Alabama recently did a survey of 10 rural schools that are doing well. The report showed no magic solution to the problems posed to rural schools, but did show some commonalities among the high-performing rural schools such as a strong sense of community, school pride and strong principals who take the time to forge relationships with parents, students and teachers. (Cook, 2009)
Cook's brief assessment of the problem and the solutions to it stress that one of the most important factors in school success has not to do with a new and fancy curriculum program that a rural school does not have the resources…