Research and Outreach
Programs and Policies
Recent proposed changes to Vermont’s educational system are unlikely to produce projected results, according to a new policy brief released by Penn State’s Center on Rural Education and Communities.
In the brief, Vermont Educational Reform: A Balanced Approach to Equity and Funding, co-authors Ian Burfoot-Rochford and Daniella Hall, both doctoral students in Educational Leadership at Penn State, investigate proposed legislative reforms to Vermont’s educational system.
Multiple proposed reforms developed to address Vermont’s rising financial costs recommend consolidation as an cost-saving measure. However, after researching more than a century of data on consolidation, Burfoot-Rochord and Hall found no concrete evidence that district consolidation would produce beneficial financial or educational outcomes for Vermont.
“National and local research clearly shows consolidation does not produce financial savings or lower per-pupil costs,” write the authors.
Other proposals, such as the Education Finance Working Group’s recommendation to eliminate Vermont’s Small Schools Grant, is likely to undermine the economic and social stability in the state’s numerous small towns. Burfoot-Rochford and Hall write, “Such proposals fail to account for the critical role small schools play in sustaining their local communities. We assert that Vermont’s small schools are one of the state’s strengths, not a problem, and should be capitalized to sustain local communities.”
Instead, the authors propose a balanced plan that revises current funding systems to decrease educational costs, and redesigns the Small Schools Grant to strengthen cultural and economic health in rural towns. Designed to meet the specific needs of Vermont communities, the plan honors local control, fiscal responsibility and effective educational improvement.
Specifically, Hall and Burfoot-Rochford propose two essential reforms. First, Vermont should reform Act 60/68 funding structures by establishing parameters for school budget items funded through the education fund; and lowering the excess spending threshold, while also implementing size-based exemptions to ensure equity regardless of school size.
Second, Vermont should reform the Small Schools Grant by restructuring the grant to a competitive application process that incentivizes school partnerships with families, communities, and businesses; and increase funding for the restructured grant as a means to promote economic development and academic innovation in rural communities.
“Our plan proposes a path forward, where public education makes living and working in rural communities a sustainable choice in Vermont,” write the authors.
Burfoot-Rochford, a native of Vermont, was previously an elementary school teacher in Cabot, VT. He also was a 2013 recipient of the Rural Global Teacher Fellowship. Hall, a native of Maine, previously taught in several New England schools. She also is researching Vermont’s locally controlled school boards for her dissertation. Collectively, the authors have a strong vested interest in the Vermont’s schools, as well as a research-driven understanding of the complexities of the state’s educational system.
For more information, contact:
Ian Burfoot-Rochford, email: [email protected]
Daniella Hall, email: [email protected]
Revised January 12, 2015 – This press release corrects an earlier draft that incorrectly stated Campaign for Vermont’s proposed reforms recommend school district consolidation. The authors regret the error.
Some Background on Marcellus Shale
Marcellus Shale is an enormous natural gas bearing layer of shale rock approximately 1 mile beneath the earth’s surface, extending from New York’s Southern Tier, through the western half of Pennsylvania and into Ohio and West Virginia. It is estimated to be the second largest natural gas bearing shale formation in the world.
Small-scale drilling in Marcellus Shale has occurred for decades with rigs boring vertical wells into the shale bed that intersect with horizontal fractures in the formation where the gas is contained. In the early 2000s, however, advances in drilling technology enabled rigs to drill deep into the shale layer and then to drill horizontally along fracture lines. The gas is recovered using a technique called hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking") in which large quantities of water, sand and chemicals are forced into the well, causing the shale layers to break apart along fracture lines, releasing the gas contained within the rock.
Marcellus development has had significant economic impacts for Pennsylvania. Most of the development is taking place in rural and poorer parts of the state, and many landowners have found themselves suddenly wealthy from drilling leases to gas companies in addition to percentage fees for gas recovered from the wells. Other Pennsylvanians have found work within the gas industry, although many gas industry workers have also come in from out of state.
Controversy Surrounding Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Development
Despite the potential economic benefits associated with natural gas development, Marcellus development has been surrounded by controversy on several fronts.
First, critics point to what they see as significant environmental risks associated with hydraulic fracturing, a procedure that can result in groundwater and surface contamination. In the first years of Marcellus development in Pennsylvania, much of the water used in hydraulic fracturing was processed as wastewater in sewage treatment plants that were not designed to treat fracking fluid chemicals or the naturally occurring radioactivity originating from rock layers deep beneath the surface. Now, much of the wastewater from hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania is shipped to Ohio and injected into deep wells, a process that has been linked to incidence of minor earthquakes. Critics also note that large drilling rigs, wastewater holding ponds, and compression stations contribute to noise and air pollution, and that gas pipelines in heavily developed areas will fragment farmland and forested areas. Much of the drilling activity has also occurred in Pennsylvania's state forest land, state game lands and the Allegheny National Forest.
Second, rapid development has already placed significant stresses on many rural communities. Especially in the initial years of development, econdary roads not build for significant heavy truck traffic experienced considerable wear and tear, and truck traffic has, in some instances, also created safety concerns for schools and local residents. Movement of new workers into heavily developing areas has also tightened housing markets, increasing rental prices and decreasing housing availability.
Third, many observers in Pennsylvania have noted that because there is no severance tax on natural gas production in Pennsylvania, only a small proportion of revenues from natural gas development funnel back to local schools, municipalities and public services which are ill-equipped to handle increases in traffic and new populations. Act 13, signed into law February, 2012, provides the imposition of an impact fee for unconventional gas wells that counties can opt to enact. This too has caused controversy, in part because of the restrictions it places on local zoning regulations connect to gas exploration.
Center of Rural Education and Communities Engages in Marcellus Research
Marcellus development will have major lasting impacts on the social, economic and environmental conditions across much of rural Pennsylvania, an area that in recent decades has lagged economically and provided few opportunities for young people entering the labor force. To date, however, no assessment that we are aware of has investigated how schools are affected by or are responding to these recent changes. The center on Rural Education and Communities through funding from Penn State's Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR) and the Social Science Research Institute, and in collaboration with Penn College, has conducted a statewide survey of educational leaders from Career and Technology Centers and secondary schools across Pennsylvania's Marcellus region. This pilot study investigates the extent to which schools and Career and Technology Centers have responded in terms of workforce preparation, what local stakeholders see as the key opportunities and challenges Marcellus development poses for rural communities, and what this implies for the ways in which Pennsylvania’s rural schools may best serve their youth and communities.
CREC is currently partnering with faculty in the Department of Agriculture, Economics, Sociology and Education on a 6-year, 4-county case study of Marcellus Shale development in Pennsylvania. This work is funded through a grant from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania and will examine multiple impacts of unconventional gas development in the Marcellus shale, including impacts on education, health, social services, housing, agriculture and local economic development.
CREC Collaborates with Pennsylvania School Studies Council to Host 1-Day Marcellus Conference
On March 15, 2012, CREC in collaboration with The Pennsylvania School Studies Conucil held a 1-Day Marcellus Conference focusing on unconventional gas development in Pennsylvania entitled, Understanding & Preparing for Marcellus Shale Impacts in Your School District.
Featuring panels and presentations by researchers, workforce development specialists, acting administrators, and industry representatives, topics covered included community impact of Marcellus Shale gas development and the implications for schools in the areas of enrollment change, transportation issues, workforce development, student guidance, fiscal impacts and school-industry partnerships and community stakeholders with infomational resources to aid them in making decisions to help minimize the challenges and maximize the benefits associated with rapid gas development and community change in communities and school districts across Pennsylvania.
Selection of Related Publications
For more information on Marcellus Shale and Natural Gas Development in the Marcellus Region:
- Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Marcellus Shale Page
- The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center's Severance Tax Resource Page
- Cornell University Economic Development and Planning Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling Working Papers
- Natural Gas Operations from a Public Health Perspective
Marcellus Shale Development has emerged as one of the most politically contested issues facing Pennsylvania in recent memory. Listed below are the websites of organizations that have advocacy roles for Marcellus Shale development as well as websites for organizations that have raised serious questions regarding hydraulic fracturing and unconventional gas extraction, including grassroots citizens' groups.
Marcellus Shale Advocacy Organizations:
Organizations Critical Marcellus Shale Development:
Federal and state policies have promoted the rapid growth of charter schools for over a decade. With Act 22 in 1997, Pennsylvania created the legal context for establishing charter schools within the Commonwealth. Data from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools show that by the 2010-11 academic year, at nearly 91,000 students, Pennsylvania had the 7th largest charter school enrollment nationwide. In 2010-11, charter schools accounted for 4.6% of all public schools within Pennsylvania. As is the case nationally, charter schools in Pennsylvania are disproportionately located in urban areas with 56% of charter schools in central cities. Yet an additional 15% of charter schools in PA are also in rural areas.
The rapid growth in charter school enrollments raises important questions about how these trends occur across school districts in different areas, how the fiscal impacts of charter school enrollment may differentially affect rural and urban districts, and thus how public policy may best respond to these differences, to the extent that they exist.
Taking these issues into account, CREC has received funding from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania to conduct research including:
- A 5-year analysis of enrollment trends in charter schools (including cyber charter schools) in rural and urban Pennsylvania;
- A 5-year analysis of the financial impact of charter schools (including cyber charter schools) on school district budgets in rural and urban Pennsylvania.
This effort is assisted by College of Education faculty members and CREC Associates, Ed Fuller, Erica Frankenberg, as well as by Educational Leadership faculty, William Hartman, Steve Kotok (University of Texas at El Paso) and Educational Leadership Ph.D. graduate student Bryan Mann.
CREC is involved in initiatives that build on previous work associated with the Rural High School Aspirations (RHAS) study administrated out of the National Research Center for Rural Education Support. This work examined the ways in which rural youth develop future aspirations for education, residence and career, in particular looking at how rural school and community attachment may affect rural youth aspirations and future plans.
Follow-up work looks at malleable educational programs, policies, and practices that promote college persistence and completion among rural youth. Using various data available at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (e.g., Educational Longitudinal Study, High School Longitudinal Study, and Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study), this work addresses the following questions:
- Do rural youth at four-year institutions differ from their metro counterparts in college experiences and pathways by which they pursue postsecondary education? If so, how?
- How do college experiences of rural youth affect their college persistence and degree completion?
- Which educational programs and policies matter for bachelor degree persistence and completion among rural youth, controlling for background traits (e.g., family socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity and gender) and pre-college preparation?
Which educational programs and policies matter for bachelor degree persistence and completion among rural youth, controlling for background traits (e.g., family socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity and gender) and pre-college preparation?
This follow-up work is being conducted in collaboration with Penn State faculty member and CREC Associate, Soo-yong Byun, and Dr. Judith Meece, professor of education at the University of North Carolina.
CREC Research and Outreach Initiatives
- Schooling, Agrarian Change, and Rural Development
- Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Development
- Charter Schools' Impacts on Rural School Developments
- Rural High School Student Aspirations & College Success for Rural Youth
- Obesity, Child Health Outcomes and Farm-to-School Working Group
- Poverty, Housing Insecurity and Student Transiency in Rural Areas
- Broadband Access and Rural School and Community Development
- Partnering to Strengthen Rural Indian Education
Outreach Priorities of the Penn State College of Education
We are seeking to expand the Professional Development School concept that has been jointly developed by the College and the State College Area School District into rural areas of the Commonwealth. This is an innovative teacher education model that provides comprehensive clinical experiences and that ties the cooperating schools directly to the Penn State faculty members who are preparing new teachers.
In-service Professional Development
It is vitally important to keep practicing teachers and school administrators aware of the latest developments with respect to state standards and new knowledge that has been created about both the subjects being taught and the latest techniques and insights into how best to meet the needs of learners.
Utilization of Technology
Rural schools and communities are particularly well positioned to take advantage of new and emerging computing and telecommunication technologies that can be used to improve teaching and learning.
Family Literacy Initiatives
The College offers programs dealing with the teaching of reading and adult literacy in several different areas, largely corresponding to the age level of the learners. The Center on Rural Education and Communities will bring this research and outreach work together around a rural community focus. The recently created Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy is well positioned to contribute to this work.
Assessment and the Utilization of Data
The efforts to develop improved measures of student performance are creating new opportunities for teachers, counselors, and administrators to use, and to base decisions on scientific data, and yet the capacity to use data for this purpose is quite limited. New efforts are underway to prepare new as well as existing educators to have the capacity to incorporate data into decisions that are made about instruction as well as the operation of the schools. Similar challenges are faced by decision makers in the larger community.
Multicultural Understanding and the Utilization of Indigenous Knowledge
The relative isolation of some rural communities can create a degree of parochialism that interferes with the ability of students and citizens to participate meaningfully in the contemporary society. At the same time, these settings give rise to indigenous knowledge that is not sufficiently well shared with others in the larger society. Educational activities are uniquely well positioned to break down these barriers and we seek to build a multicultural and indigenous knowledge theme into the operation of the Center.