Series 3 | Episode 1 Do the Math with Dr. Allen Pratt
Michelle Rathman: Hello, and welcome to the Rural Impact, the podcast that works hard to connect the dots between policy and rural everything. I'm Michelle Rathman, and it's great to be here with you today as we kick off a new series we're calling Do the Math, Calculating the Future of Rural Education. Now, before we get into our first episode of this series, a few reminders.
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And for that, I honestly could not think of a better person to reach out to have this conversation with than Dr. Allen Pratt. Dr. Allen Pratt is the Executive Director of the National Rural Education Association. And honestly, I think you should just consider him kind of our instructor of a master class on this subject.
He never disappoints. I believe that you'll feel that when you're done with this conversation. So make yourself comfortable. Have a listen to my conversation with Dr. Allen Pratt. Let's go.
Michelle Rathman: Dr. Allen Pratt, Executive Director of the National Rural Education Association. Welcome to The Rural Impact. It is truly great to see and talk with you again here in my new podcast home. Thank you so much for joining us.
Allen Pratt: Hey, thanks for the invitation. And I like your, I guess the use slang, your new digs or your new space. It's very nice. And I like the platform. So whoever decided on the platform, they get kudos. Good
Michelle Rathman: Oh, I appreciate that. You know, I was, our listeners who we've already been through our rural health series. We've done an entire series on rural food insecurity. Dr. Pratt, Allen, we're going to talk about that just a little bit because, you know, everything that you're doing. We say all roads to quality of life are paved by policy and policy is driven by people who are willing to collaborate more together.
And food insecurity certainly does touch our school children. So we'll get into that, but before we get started, I did see some news today across my scroll that there was a special announcement made, something about a rural teacher of the year. So if you could just tell us a little bit about that, before we get into the broader subject, kind of our masterclass on rural education.
Allen Pratt: Yeah. If you go to our social media, especially Twitter, or I guess they're calling it X now, whatever
Michelle Rathman: Yeah, we know
Allen Pratt: See we made an announcement that Jennifer young lady, Jennifer Meraz from Minnesota, she is our, yeah, she is our rule teacher of the year selected by many many potential candidates or candidates, so to speak.
And she was one of the three finalists, national finalists, and she really did a great job. And the finalist states were Arizona, Montana, and Minnesota. And this may be our first winner for Minnesota. Probably if not, I know it's my tenure, our first winner for Minnesota. Minnesota does a great job.
Minnesota Rural Education Association is a great organization. It's our state affiliate. They produce great leaders and teachers and when I first saw, looked at kind of what Jennifer's application was about, and then I spoke with her on the phone. I was like, this young lady's probably going to win.
She has a good shot and she's very charismatic. She cares about her students. She's a vocational teacher out of Minnesota. So I'm excited about what she's going to do for our conference, but she's really, she's an ambassador for our organization for a year. Last year's winner was Ty White out of Arizona.
I just got finished visiting his classroom. Ty did a great job. We had a great visit. We visited their students. We really got to talk to them about the issues that our country's facing. And I'm just going to be honest with you. We probably need to, Michelle, we need to probably let me talk about that just a little bit because it fits on what you've already talked about.
Michelle Rathman: Yeah. I really want to, and because, you know, also, I'll just put a pin in that because Minnesota, I mean, I just came back from an RV trip up through up the Mississippi, Wisconsin, Minnesota, my family reunion. But Minnesota's making the news about the governor's commitment to schools and not just rural schools.
So the floor is yours. Tell us what we need to hear about this.
Allen Pratt: So what was interesting about this, you know, the meeting with Mr. Weitz or Ty Weitz, he's a chemistry teacher and he does 4 H, he does a lot of STEM, he does a lot of stuff, and he was a great teacher of the year. Did a great job. We were in Wilcox High School in Wilcox, Arizona. Shout out to those folks.
Great host. I met a lot of great people. But we met with students and we said, hey, what are the problems? When you see the country, what do you see as issues? And one of the things they brought up, which they were not prompted or anything. They brought up teacher shortage. They brought up that the teacher pay and teacher shortage is a big issue.
But here's the two big areas. They talked about how we fund our government. And why are we in debt?
Michelle Rathman: Wow.
Allen Pratt: And they didn't mean it in a negative way. Like we shouldn't be spending. They meant like, where are we spending our money and where should we spend it in a more strategic manner? So if there's people that don't have certain services, why don't we spend our money to help those folks catch up?
We're talking about equity earlier. They, they get it. And they should, they could teach some of our adults a lot of lessons in life, really on equitable services. And that's what we ended up talking about was like, why is it important to have high speed broadband internet for all? Why is it important to have health care for folks in certain areas that can't afford health care? Those are big issues. And the biggest thing was teachers in general, but education and the students having a choice in that education, meaning decision making and in alignment to careers. Which I thought was amazing.
Michelle Rathman: That is amazing. And when you think about you and I were just chatting earlier about kind of the national conversations that we're having that are more driven by sensational media, when you hear the young people, you know, whether they say, listen to the young people. They know and they're watching us and I think, for them to talk about those things that many adults don't even think about, you know, Alan, when I hear adults say, you know, I don't watch the news and I don't pay attention to the policy.
My follow up question is, you know, why and I, and I'm not saying traditional news media, but why not understand about policy? And I think one of the reasons why I'm so excited to have you here to kick off this series is because your organization doesn't focus on one thing. You focus on many things.
And one of those things is that you have a legislative agenda. And, because public education is funded through public funds, you need to have a legislative agenda. Would you mind just kind of, going over kind of a broad overview of the priorities the progress that you've seen with this agenda?
Maybe some of the setbacks and then kind of round this out with some of the asks, some of the advocacy, advocacy being a very positive approach to getting things done.
Allen Pratt: And I think first of all the credit goes to our NREAC team and committee and Heather Zellers is out of New York as the committee chair or the kind of that she runs our this team for us for NREA. And NREAC is a 501c4 that is actually housed under the parent organization which is NREA. So they are a legislative arm and you know coming up with an agenda is not an easy thing to do because you're talking about you, you probably got 20 or 30 states represented. They all have their own home issues that they would like to see in a legislative national agenda, but also relate this agenda to their local politics and state politics. So that's the kind of mesh that you have to work with.
One of the things as big as we look at poverty, we look at poverty indicators as far as in educational programs, but also community wise community wide. And one of the things we really worked on with our folks from California and 24 other states that deal with this issue, which is the secure rural schools program or SRS.
And that's kind of you know, for these districts that are impacted by federal lands that they can't draw tax base or taxing income from. So we were seeing a movement in this that we think you know, that this could be a positive and we see some changes and that's a big item on our legislative agenda.
We also look at title two grants. We look at, you know, anything to a title of federal funding, broadband, of course, higher education investments, but the biggest thing that we look at in general is how do we create relationships? And that's what we've kind of refocused or reset our goals to say we are going to be proactive on the state side and the local side.
So we're going to be advocates at local, state, and then the state offices of our elected officials in D. C., and we're going to follow that chain. Cause what we have noticed if we're active at the state level and they know about the work we're doing, when we fly into DC and do work, they're already aware of our issues and it kind of keeps us ahead of the game so we can just move forward and say, here's what we're seeing. Here's the story. Here's the context of what is, what we're seeing from the field, which I think is very important.
Michelle Rathman: So I have a question for you, I take a look at the legislative agenda and, you know, one of the many things on here is establishing just in plain, you know, plain talk, establishing a commission to address the longstanding educator shortage exacerbated by the pandemic. I know this is not something that we are talking about kind of.
Well, we are, but many people, this is not making their kitchen table conversation if you will, we hear about shortages. What is the appetite of our state and federal legislators to have this conversation in the context of solutions? I mean, do they, do you in your estimation, do they see that they play a role in addressing our teacher shortages?
Allen Pratt: Yeah. I think you look at it from the sense of number one, most politicians. They get buzzwords or keywords from their folks, but also from their, maybe their committee, their staff. So grow your own is obviously often been overused. So we like the teacher apprenticeship model, meaning the Department of Labor certified.approved teacher apprenticeship programs. And I think we have 22 states that are in that world playing Tennessee's one that we were one of the first to do this work. And I was fortunate enough to be at the university here doing this teacher apprenticeship. So when you talk about kitchen table, when it gets to the point where you're doing something teacher apprenticeship wise.
It's at the kitchen table because you're changing opportunity for people that may be paraprofessionals that never had the opportunity to be a teacher. And now you're given a pathway to become a paid adult teacher, you know, and I think those are kitchen table issues when it comes to you're changing a trajectory of someone's life.
And that's what you're doing. And it's why it's so important.
Michelle Rathman: Can you give us just a bit of information about what the teacher shortage looks like in rural? I mean, I know it looks different in urban, but in rural, I mean, what are some of the, what are the things that are happening to really address that in not just the shortages that we have today. I mean, I'm thinking where are we going to be five years from now if we don't put some significant provisions in place to change the course.
Allen Pratt: I think every state is reporting a shortage and that's urban, suburban, and rural. So, we know that up front. I know at one point locally in our state, there was probably. The three metro districts, probably three or 400 teacher shortages across the state, maybe more. I think we're at 670 in our state possibly, um, that would be teacher shortage or started the year without a teacher. The biggest thing in rule is we know that we have teacher shortages. The positive is what they're doing in our state and other states, is the teacher apprenticeship program, you know. We have about 600 students in Tennessee pipeline that were not going to be teachers that now are, so you're going to see a balancing.
I think once we get states to take these paraprofessionals and rural communities and find a way to fast track them to become teachers, we're going to see a dent in that process. But you're right, when you look at five to 10 year projections, we still see shortages. So we still got to find ways to be creative on how we recruit, retain, and move this process forward because we forget the retaining part.
We can get them in the door. We got to keep them. And it's the same thing in nursing. It's the same thing in anything. We train people in a service area. We have to give them support. We have to have good leadership in front of them, and we've got to make them feel a part of the process because we all want to talk about teacher pay and is not good, but pay is not going to be the end all be all pay is going to be part of the solution.
But this training and making people feel a part of something is vital. That's the next step.
Michelle Rathman: and benefits and respect and collaboration with parent organizations. I, those are all factors. Okay. So now let's move on because, you know, legislative being what it is. That's it's a never ending process. I understand, I go to DC every February to advocate for money, we have our handout all the time.
And, but then we take a look at another really important part of the work that you're doing, which is your research agenda, the 2022 through 2027. And I love that you've taken this big, because we. The dial moves very slowly one at a time and I've got this graph in front of me. And I'll let you explain it, but really this research agenda touches on a number of things.
So, if we can start in the middle, if you will, which is all about educational equity. And then it grows out from there. So let's go through each one of them. Let's start with the, at the core of this.
Allen Pratt: So it would be wrong for me not to give credit for the folks that wrote this and pulled this together. So I like to do that first if I can. So Dr. Catherine Biddle, University of Maine. She was a major part of this. All the ladies names that I read are, A really high esteemed researchers in the field. Dr.Pam Buffingham from Maine as well. Dr. Sarah Hartman from Ohio University, who's also on our committee and our research team for the Why Rural Matters report Dr. Aaron McHenry's server, who's from West Virginia university. Great work. Dr Kessa Roberts from Utah state was an SMU a year ago and then now at Utah State and then Dr. Sarah Smith Wilson from Montana State.
So number one, from the states represented, you have a good rural context of what's going on. They understand rural. Number two, they've been in the field long enough. to really take care and really steward this process along with our research team. And there's so many researchers that work with us and they can't, they did survey data, they did information sessions at our conference in Indianapolis.
And then last year we rolled it out in Green Bay at our 2022 NFAIR conference. Really strong work with what we had set up. So let's kind of talk through those. I'll go back to your original question. So one of the things that came out early was spatial equity and educational equity, and really about how in spatial inequity or how equity challenges are related to place.
Well, we always talk about rural context or rural place, about what it means to be from your rural context, I understand. Well, we'd, sometimes we don't always look at the “Is it equitable in those places that we're talking about?” And sometimes we kind of glamorize those places. Can we remember it like it was when we were younger?
But we also need to remember what it's like for folks that may have not had the same advantages or opportunities that we may have had. And I think that's very important for this. The other thing is, you know, when you look at social circumstances with that spatial and educational equity, I think those are big.
And then if you go to our website, nrea.net, you can pull up the research agenda under our research tab and you'll see all of these, but we're looking at intersection, intersectional perspectives. We're looking at with the power within and across the communities, but I think it's important remoteness, isolation.
We're looking at you know, maybe portrayals by the government and, or National media on what rural people and places actually look like and then are we really saying most rural areas in our country are monolithic that basically in slang that do we think rural areas across America are just only white people and white folks?
That's not the case. So that's one
Michelle Rathman: I'm so appreciative of the last bullet point, which is the dynamics of white supremacy and identity. And I'm at a place in my life, Alan, where we have got to talk about these rather uncomfortable, but incredibly critically important perspectives. So thank you for including that to all the researchers who contributed this.
So the next thing that I have in front of me is just health and wellness. And I'm also so appreciative for that because, you know, people say, well, that's my work life or my home life. No health and wellness is woven into everything we do. And if we're not creating an environment where students can thrive where teachers are thriving, where health and wellness.
So go through that piece of the pie, if you will.
Allen Pratt: Yeah, and I think the two, you know, like, it says mental health. And then the effects of chemical and drug dependency. And those two are biggest, a large part of what happens to our rural communities. Mental health, we don't address enough in rural communities a lot of times simply because Wwe don't talk about that to people.
And I think, you know, I know you and I've been on different podcasts or different webinars when we talk about rural folks are proud folks, most of them, they're not going to share their business.
Michelle Rathman: Right.
Allen Pratt: We need help. People need to talk to people. People need professional help, or sometimes it's someone in the community that is the, I guess, the trusted person or trusted soul in that community that can help you mentally.
You know, we all have a mentor or someone like that, or we've had that in our life. You know, there's, but there's certain people I go to and say, “I've got to have a break. I'm mentally at the point. I need some help. And there's a lot going on,” and that's a minor part, but we also have folks that have major chemical dependencies that may have been over medicated or have an addiction to something that's coming to the community.
I think that is important. We have to solve that issue. We have to help our community members so we can be a sustainable community down the road. Cause we need all those folks. To be high functioning folks in our community and their parts important.
Michelle Rathman: Alan, I worked with in a community because every community work with the hospital, we really work to help provide meaning. They have great relationships with their schools, however, it looks more like transactional like we will, we'll provide this health service. We'll do this. So we take a look at broader strategies.
And this is many years ago where we brought the entire high school, every parent or caregiver with their student. And we had an entire panel talking about synthetic marijuana. Fast forward. I'm in a community now where the prevalence of heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl, you know. It's to your point. I mean, it could take a community down to its knees.
And so the other thing that I think is so deserves a great round of applause here is that under the health and wellness category, you are looking at the long term effects of Covid-19 because honestly, how do we prepare for the next pandemic? And there will be one, if we have not learned the lesson, so could you just, you know, under that model, is there a few examples of that?
You can give that have already the wheels are already turning about how to address the long term impacts.
Allen Pratt: I think when you look at it from this, health and wellness is directly connected to instructional wellness. And when I look at how we educate children and this long term effects of COVID, we know there's items and things are going to come about from either the isolation, the being, not around people, but also the learning loss in general.
And part of that learning loss is to be to the health and wellness of our community. So I think it's the, sometimes an education or an update, but also sometimes it's a unlearning of the behaviors and learning new behaviors that make us more effective and be able to broaden the support from the school as the hub of that community and help with community members to understand what is safe, what is practical, and how we're going to help each other out.
Michelle Rathman: Awesome. All right, so now we go around the circle and we have partnerships and community relationships, which seems pretty, like a no brainer, but it's more, it's a bit more complicated than that. I know.
Allen Pratt: Well, I'm going to use, this is a little different, but number one every wheel, every part of this puzzle is vital. I really believe that if we get the partnerships and community relationship piece right, and we get the right people at the table and we don't care who gets credit and we work together, some of these others are going to eventually, spawn and take care of themselves, not take care of themselves, but move in that direction. And I think the partnership or the collaborative piece is vital because I'm going to go ahead and tell you, this is not research basis is my, but this is my thought process. The communities prior to COVID that had great partnerships and community relationships, probably withheld stronger during COVID and came out of COVID stronger because of that connection.
And they are still moving forward because they think about the community in a whole piece. And all of those parts of the puzzle, those pie pieces make more sense and they address them easily. And if the next pandemic comes to go back to health and where they're ready for that one, because they've already taken lessons from what happened.
Michelle Rathman: And that, in my opinion, is the purest definition of resiliency. It's not how quickly you can brush yourself off. It's how prepared you are to respond to the next, you know, and I love that. I love the other, one of the other things that I see on here is, understanding partnership power dynamics.
And then from that, the ways that public and political discourse on contentious topics shape relationships between communities and school districts and leaders. This needs to be said out loud.
Allen Pratt: So true. So true. And here's the, here's the beauty of that. I think sometimes it's a, it's like I was in Georgia last, this week first of the week and meeting with some folks and one of the members of the community, but he also works in the department. He goes, you know, anytime there's an issue that flares up on CNN, Fox or MSNBC, whatever it may be, he goes, I get a call from someone and they say, is this going on?
He goes, nope. Or it's not what the news is reporting. And I think sometimes that communication factor, that's where rule has an advantage. We have a partnership in community where we can say, “Hey, I'm going to call the principal and see what's going on. He can translate this for me.” And that's what we do.
Or she can translate this for me. And that's what I did as a principal. I would say, look, this is what they're saying. It's what it means. We're not going through it. We're okay. And I think that's what people want to hear. It's that basic honesty,
Michelle Rathman: Real time fact checking. I mean, at the end of the day, what is that, that, that phrase? Relationships are built at the speed of trust.
Allen Pratt: you know, it's so true. There's a good one.
Michelle Rathman: Okay. So the next one obviously very significant for this conversation, teacher and leader preparation, recruitment and retention and in healthcare, you know, I hate to sound like a broken record.
We all, we talk about recruitment and retention, the recruitment part. Okay. We get, like, you got to cast the net wide hope that there are people in the pipelines who want to pursue a career in rural health. Same way with rural education. So, let's kind of talk about. What that looks like in the context of your work and this research agenda.
Allen Pratt: And I think this is really is a workforce issue. It's a workforce development issue for rural schools and rural communities because a lot of times a rural school in the rural school district would be the largest employer in that area. I think. To me, the best one is identifying approaches to addressing rural teacher leadership recruitment and retention.
I think identifying those items that work, say, if Montana is doing something in teacher recruitment and retention, and it's working in rural, remote Montana, then we know there's a lot of rural, remote places across the country that could use that same kind of access or idea. That's why we talk about our conference all the time.
These ideas are going to be presented on at our conference. And I think, addressing. And the last bullet, and it's really important as well in that one, is recruiting, retaining more racially or linguistically diverse teachers. We all think it's the right thing to do if you're a, if you're a high, African American population district or school, then there should be teachers that look like the students in that building.
And that's the right thing to do. And that goes for, you know, a native school or whatever. That is important, and that's the goal. But we have to identify and we have to do these other models sometimes to get to the point where we have enough teachers in general. But part of that goes to recruiting those students that, students of color that need to be in the classroom.
And sometimes that's us as a university, that's us as, you know, an organization going and say, do you want to be a teacher? And in looking at adults, what we call second career folks that say, you know, I got a four year degree or got a degree, associate's degree, I don't want to do this job anymore. I want to be a teacher.
Those are the folks we need to go after because they've been, they've lived life, they've been through things, they can understand, they have great lessons for our students. So, this is vital.
Michelle Rathman: you know, and I like the attention that you're focusing on leader, because, we say leadership is the shared observation of that leadership team. Culture is the shared observation of a leadership team. So I have never worked in a rural school. I'm just comparing it to just the experiences I've had, which is if you have a strong leaders within.
A rural school whose focus is equity, wellness, all these things we're talking about. It would stand to reason that the student body population, then, you know, not that it's just a, this carefree zone where everyone's happy and out of a storybook, but you have a more balanced teachers, more balanced conversation, students who are able have coping skills very differently.
I mean, that seems reasonable. Right? Right.
Allen Pratt: Yeah. And I think, you know, you talks about everybody being happy. We also have to remember that school probably, for a lot of our students, is not going to be the safest place they can come to. It's a place they're going to get food, meals. You, if you have a good culture and a good setup, you're probably going to see some happy students because that's their happy place, so to speak.
So it is kind of like that in a way. And I've been a part of schools where I knew students going home to rough environments. But our place was the best place for them, and our place was heaven. And some of them would never admit this out loud, but they admit it to me as the principal. They didn't want a break.
They wanted to stay in school because they like to be there. You know,
Michelle Rathman: I mean, I'm drawing on my own experience. It was the safest place for me during a period of time when I, we had a lot of unrest in our home. So absolutely. That's where that's, you know, I remember my fifth grade teacher, she saved me. I think she really, she saw gifts and talents in me that nobody else did.
And, and so, the rest is history at this age now with six grandchildren. All right. So the next one around the wheel is college and career trajectory. And I was having a conversation about just understanding the opportunities for rural students to then go on to post-secondary education. So let's talk about college and career trajectory.
The category recognizes the need for research on both college and career pathways for rural students, including expectations and aspirations, access to information and academic offerings and a transition to post secondary pathway lines of inquiry include go down that list for us.
Allen Pratt: Yeah, I think access in general I think that's the big, and in diverse rural contexts and communities. So all of our rural communities should have access to some type of training or some type of post secondary. And we all know that could be a four year school, a two year school, or a trade school. And I think that's key.
I think career and then what training is needed, career awareness, and then what training is needed to obtain that through some form of post secondary college or a trade school or a vocational school. I think that's important. I also think that you've got to look at the process of what are barriers, that we know are in place in some communities and a lot of communities that are holding certain groups of students back that we know they're never going to be able to jump that barrier.
We got to eliminate those and it shouldn't be that you're from a certain part of town or in a system that is going to penalize you from your background. And it shouldn't be that way that your skin color or what you believe or how you feel should just should hold you back. And I think that's the big thing.
And I think that's where opportunity for all is the key. And if you approach this to all communities, I think with this is an opportunity for all your folks to be better, all your students to be better, all your members of your community to be better. If you approach it in those terms, a lot of times, I would say a large part of rural communities would be like, yep, I'm good with that.
Cause we wanted to, we want people to be productive and be part of our communities. Now you do have issues, obviously we deal with those every day, but I think we got to find common ground to move things forward. And this is common ground approaches. I mean, you're looking at promising pathways. That's big post secondary education.
And understanding both secondary pathways and local labor markets. That's the other one that a lot of times students don't even know there's local regional jobs that pays a living high wage. They don't even think about it because we don't partner. Goes back to the partnership one with some of our industry folks to say, yep, if you come here, we're going to pay you well.
And we're going to give you the opportunity to move forward in life. And I think that's important.
Michelle Rathman: I agree with you a thousand percent because at the end of the day, I mean, you don't just go to school to one day, you know, just drop off the face of the planet. The goal is that you see opportunities for yourself. I will date myself, but years and years ago when I was working in the city of Chicago with a major academic medical center. I had a program that we partner with Chicago Public Schools, and it was all about building self-esteem and young girls, grades four through eighth grade. And when we did a survey, and I don't think this would be different any where you go, no matter your zip code. We asked the students kind of what they wanted to do in their future, just to get a sense.
And for so many of the children who answered this question, it was entertainment or sports. Did not see the pathways opportunities to, to be a pharmacist, to be a phlebotomist, to be a surgeon. And so it was really just exposing them and then providing those pathways, opening up those doors and introducing them to mentors.
And I just think that, that. That is such a powerful, I mean, that's an impression that so many young people, that not only does it not escape them, but it's a seed thought that, hey, that could be me thought somewhere in my career.
Allen Pratt: Yeah. And that's a great point. And one of the things that. We're looking through and we're releasing a Why Rural Matters report that we really inherited from Rural Schools Community Trust and Rob Mahaffey has led that group for a long time, and Rob has worked with us to make the transition for Why Rural Matters.
One of the things that came up, and this is, we're looking at rural locale codes and rural realities of rural America. What we're seeing is a positive to answer your point on policy funding and shifts. We saw that a large part of our country, over 50 percent in rural communities had female students in gifted programs which align to STEM products and align to, you know, this higher order really instructional courses.
That's a positive because when you're looking at, this is a projection of the future. If more than 50 percent of females are in this, then we were reaching a higher number than say, when you're talking about the surveying of those young students in Chicago. And I think that's a positive. What we also found is that students of color may not be given those same opportunities.
So when you look at policy and funding and how policy can shift things, we need that number to be way above 50 percent for both of those categories. And I think that's, we're heading in the right direction, but we want to make sure we're really hitting the right way.
Michelle Rathman: All right, so I'm glad you brought that up because our last subject in this wheel, if you will, it is policy and funding and so I think about you know, how do you achieve funding formula equity? How do you identify nimble policy, funding responses to changing student, racial and linguistic demographics?
How do you articulate the impacts of school consolidation? These are the things that we need and I, Alan, you might agree with me, I think that if you are going to any ballot box, and this is not a political podcast, this is a podcast that helps to connect the dots between policy and everything else.
We need to be asking these questions. What is not just your position, what are you prepared to do to move the dial forward?
Allen Pratt: Yeah.
Michelle Rathman: a little bit about policy and funding. What needs to happen?
Allen Pratt: Policy's vital. I mean, obviously, and I tell people all the time, I tell young people, if you want to make changes in the world, start local. Start local voting, start local policy, and it'll change our country. I'm not saying don't vote pop, you know, federally. Don't get involved. No, you must do that.You got to do all of it. But state and local politics addresses a lot of these funding inequities at the state and local level. And you got to change people. People don't want to do things the right way. Need to vote people out. That's the bottom line. Now at the federal level, the funding formula, that's been tried and we're still working on it.
This, this achieving this equity in funding. You know, I think, how we look at our rural communities, how we identify. I mean, one of the things that federal government in general, we have so many definitions for rural, we need to find a definition for rural. That's more equitable. And then we can assure that I'll ensure all of our folks are getting the funding they need to help their school system and we'll help their community in general.
So that's a big part of it. Nimble policies. I'm going to be honest with you, it might be like an oxymoron. I mean nimble is a great word to use, but we've got to find a way to involve our regional community members to influence that nimble policy or funding, but also take the federal government's money and use it to be very innovative and find really outside the box ways to help each other out. And I think we don't do that enough in our country. Now we'll see innovative approaches that may be philanthropic funded and federal government funded. Then we try to just take that model and copy it other places and that usually doesn't work all the time. So we got to find those ways to let people be innovative and help each other.
Michelle Rathman: We make it really complicated if you I'm sure you're familiar with the Brookings Institute that spaghetti spaghetti graph. I call it a hot mess. You know, we have well intended intentions, but we have so many offices that and I know there's a rural office within the Department of Education.
I just think, you know, for me, we're stepping all over each other and we're just creating. We're making things. It is complex, but we're making it pretty darn complicated for us to achieve equity
Allen Pratt: Yeah. We're not talking to each other, period. I mean, and you've got offices, so many different offices in the federal government, state government. They don't communicate. So, how can we expect people to be collaborative and have communities of practice when we don't do that at the, we don't model that or, yeah.
Michelle Rathman: not absorbing. They're not, we're not here. We're not hearing each other. To the last bullet point, which I really also, I mean, this whole I folks, we're going to put this link on our website. So people can just access these documents, even though they can go right to your website.
We'll put your website there and we'll kind of remove some of the layers, but policies related to early childhood education and access to system building. And I want to say. Thank you. You know, adverse childhood events are perhaps one of the most influential pieces of a young learner's life.
And so, if we are not providing any funding, there is. I, Allen, I would venture to say that there's, there's examples of what's working, but we have no system for ensuring that we have solid foundation for early childhood education. So, why was it important to have early childhood education, which doesn't really seem to fit into you know, that K or, one and one through 12, tell me what you mean by that.
Allen Pratt: Well, I think number one is if you can reach out and meet children that before they start kindergarten or pre-k, then you're eliminating some of the issues those kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade teachers are going to face. You're catching a student up that may not have the same access to someone reading to them.
The vocabulary in general, they're speaking vocabulary, the vocabulary they're going to hear on a daily basis. I think that's important. And if we really care about our future as a country, then we have to educate all, and we have to educate our students at the youngest time period they can. And then we open up those experiences that they can grow and move on to bigger and better things, which sounds, it is a cliche, I know, but.
It's the truth. I mean, that's what we're trying to do. You mentioned someone in your life, a teacher of fifth grade that changed the trajectory of your life. I had the same thing. I can remember a teacher in elementary school that said, hey, you know, you're struggling, but you're going to be do some pretty cool things one day.
And I was like, yeah, I think so. And I think she's right. She was right. And I think that's what we always want to do. We want to help our next generation now.
Michelle Rathman: Well, you are doing a lot of things, right? Before I let you go, I just have one just one quick question, because I think about our rural students being able to harness all the opportunities that await for them in their bright future. And there's a lot of talk these days about AI and things of that nature.
What though? Again, kind of your crystal ball. I mean, how are rural students going to fare in this world of AI and all that it promises and then some of the things that maybe we haven't really thought through.
Allen Pratt: Yeah, we've done some stuff already, meaning like we've had some information webinars for our state folks, our state affiliates and superintendents around AI and understanding what the educational AI world may look like. I'll be honest with you, just selfishly, I use it all the time now and I use it all the time for understanding education briefs or understanding the laws that have just been introduced.
I'm dropping in AI and ask the AI to, I use I think it's Claude. AI, I think that's right, or IO. I'm going to have to remember, but I always said, give me five points on this. That makes sense. Or that, that would help me understand rural context of this and I can get it quickly. I use it for emails. I use it to set up a lot of different things we're doing.
That's me personally. We're trying to introduce as many ways possible as schools can use this and how they can use it effectively and not be scared of this technology. We know there's going to be bad. There could be bad actors and bad players in this world. We also know students are going to use it to plagiarize probably, or they do to write reports for them.
I think we have to be aware of that. We also need to say, okay, if they can do this, then how should we do instruction? How can we instruct them in a different manner that we can still see their learning and not use the traditional way of grading? So there's, we've got to find a way to round this.
We've got to find a way to be more proactive and let the student choice factor come in because student agency is going to be a big part of this on how they look at careers and futures. And I think AI is going to be a tool and component.
Michelle Rathman: you know, I think what so many, what I would like for, and I don't want to over, you know, generalize this, I think it's important for people to understand that rural is a hotbed of innovation.
Allen Pratt: Yes,
Michelle Rathman: I mean, anywhere you look, it is a hotbed of innovation and even more so because of more of the restrictions on available resources.
So we got to make sure like key takeaways. We have to make sure that there is a level playing field with rural broadband. We got to expand it. We have to make it accessible, affordable, that's a part of the equity conversation. We've got to ensure that our young people are able to access, quality health care services where they live. Because where there is a, you know, a rural school, we need rural primary care and do a lot more conversations around health, wellness, mental health again, huge issue.
The young people are watching where we need to be. We need to have their back as a result.
Allen Pratt: I agree. Yeah, I agree. Well said. You did a good job.
Michelle Rathman: Well. You did a great job. Dr. Allen Pratt. We are so thrilled that you could join us here on our new little home here at the Rural Impact and I just want to share with our listeners. Listen, if you are doing some really amazing work around rural education, if your organization is serving rural education, rural schools, rural teachers, we want to hear about you.
So just go to our website, theruralimpact.com. We make it so easy. This has been the kickoff of our series on rural education. We've got a lot more coming at you. Remember, I always say these are not light subjects. And in the time that we spent with you, we really hope that we have done our a little bit of work to help enlighten you on them.
And again, Dr. Allen Pratt, thank you for joining us all our best. We hope you'll stay in touch when that report comes out. We'd love to visit with you again.
Allen Pratt: Yeah, and thanks for the invite. Thanks for having me on a great part of my day today you know, on a Tuesday. And I even forget what day it is, sometimes life's been busy, but yeah, the report's released at our conference, November 16th to 17th in Chattanooga. So make sure you come check us out.
Michelle Rathman: That sounds great. All right, then we'll talk to you the next time on a new episode of The Rural Impact.