The Value of Rural Education Collaboratives

This blog is the first in a series on strategies and resources to help rural educators implement critical improvement initiatives through rural collaboratives. This blog series will share and build on lessons and best practices that are working in rural districts. An introductory blog post outlining the series is available here.

In Colorado, many of the districts across the state are rural and, like many rural districts, have long faced challenges around limited resources or staff to support stakeholder engagement and implementation activities. In 2015, 55 of these districts and their associated boards of cooperative education services (BOCES) came together to form the Colorado Rural Education Collaborative. Since then, these district and regional leaders have collaborated around many shared initiatives targeting common needs, including new career pathways, distance learning opportunities, and science and technology integration. By establishing a partnership through a regional collaborative, these rural districts in Colorado are utilizing existing resources more efficiently and building local capacity to support innovation.

The Colorado Rural Education Collaborative is one of many such collaboratives across the country working together to support rural leaders, educators, and students .There are many different approaches to rural education collaboratives, but in general, these collaboratives are organizations comprising leaders from rural districts, sometimes including support from other education organizations. Successful rural education collaboratives are:

  • Committed to a common purpose
  • Organized and orchestrated through a member-led governance structure
  • Focused on establishing practical and sustainable solutions to defined rural education problems, with clearly defined outcomes and metrics of success

Rural districts tend to join or form rural education collaboratives for four main reasons:

  • Sharing resources. By pooling resources, member districts can provide programs and services that individual districts would not be able to provide as effectively or as economically on their own.
  • Leveraging voice. Advocacy efforts provide a common voice for districts across local and state regions by, for example, documenting and sharing stories and influencing polices in the state legislature related to rural issues.
  • Designing and/or scaling up innovative programs and best practices. Some collaboratives develop common processes involving curriculum, instruction, assessment, and professional development.
  • Implementing initiatives to support students’ college and career readiness. Many rural collaboratives are formed to increase cooperation and coordination among school districts, other governmental units, and postsecondary institutions with the goal of increasing students’ college and career readiness. Many rural collaboratives support initiatives such as career pathways, dual credit or articulation agreements, and personalized learning. Through these collaboratives, districts can increase students’ access to meaningful learning opportunities (e.g., advanced courses, dual credit opportunities, and work-based learning experiences) by increasing the pool of students and sharing instructional personnel.

One of the most significant benefits of rural education collaboratives is how they can help small districts with limited staff build their long-term capacity through staff or cost sharing. For example, the Maryland Educational Collaborative uses three approaches to sharing costs:

  • Health insurance sharing: Six counties share a health care system, increasing the pool of insured members and decreasing costs.
  • Special education services sharing: Four school systems share services for special education students (e.g., occupational and speech therapy).
  • Energy sharing: The Eastern Shore Collaborative of Maryland runs an independent electricity procurement cooperative to share costs.

In addition, collaboratives may pool together various grant opportunities so that districts have a one-stop place to search for grants. Rural education collaboratives can collaboratively seek and apply for grant funding, which may allow smaller, individual districts to meet minimal funding requirements they might not meet individually.

Interested in learning more?

To learn more about rural collaboratives across the country, check out more information on rural collaboratives gathered here. To learn more about the steps needed to establish a rural collaborative, you can contact the State Support Network, Battelle for Kids, or the Rural Schools Collaborative.

Over the next few weeks, this blog series will share more detailed strategies around rural education collaboratives, including key factors for success and examples of initiatives supported by collaboratives, such as personalized learning and professional development for educators.

Click here for the next post in the series, “Essential Factors for the Success of Rural Education Collaboratives.”