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Latest Arkansas Policy Program Report Provides Case Study of Challenges in Improving Rural Education

CONWAY, Ark. (August 20*, 2019) – Treating struggling public schools with a “one-size-fits-all” approach tends to help rural schools least of all, according to a new report from the Arkansas Policy Program (APP).

Adam Williams ’19, an international relations major and psychology minor who graduated from Hendrix magna cum laude, spent much of his senior year researching the Earle School District in the Arkansas Delta and developing a case study that leads readers to consider the multiple challenges rural schools face on the path to positive transformation. The result is this APP report, Learning from Earle: Determining Best Practices for Rural Education Policy. Issued by the Arkansas Policy Project at Hendrix College in collaboration with ForwARd Arkansas and with support from the Rural Community Alliance, Learning from Earle highlights the need to consider the distinctive attributes of schools in need of improvement.

The most common school turnaround strategies work best for schools in urban settings—particularly problematic in Arkansas, which has a higher proportion of its students in rural schools than all but a handful of other states. Already under-resourced schools seldom benefit from firing staff, closing down entirely, or pursuing charter-based strategies because these options fail to address the inherent challenges of a declining rural population. 

After outlining why other approaches are unlikely to work in a place like Earle, Williams concludes that the tactic with the greatest promise for success in rural districts like it is the “community school” model. This strategy focuses on bringing down the walls between schools and the surrounding community to enhance services offered by community-based organizations to support education in the district. 

“Just as the schools are strengthened by the services—from health care to afterschool care to computer access—offered by community organizations, there is a mutual benefit as school improvement offers enhanced quality of life in the community,” said Dr. Jay Barth, who advised Williams in his research. 

“The success of this model in Earle and any rural area requires an ongoing commitment from the community and its school,” Williams said. “Both must buy into reform to fully overcome the limited resources these areas face and create a thriving community school.”

“Every student deserves access to the best possible education to prepare them for success in the work force and beyond, no matter where they live or what school they attend,” said Susan Harriman, executive director of ForwARd Arkansas. “This desire for educational equity guides the work of ForwARd, and we were proud to collaborate on this important report that highlights ways to best serve students across Arkansas.”

About Hendrix College

A private liberal arts college in Conway, Arkansas, Hendrix College consistently earns recognition as one of the country’s leading liberal arts institutions, and is featured in Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges. Its academic quality and rigor, innovation, and value have established Hendrix as a fixture in numerous college guides, lists, and rankings. Founded in 1876, Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. To learn more, visit

* This release, originally posted Aug. 13, 2019, was amended Aug. 20 with a quote from Susan Harriman.